SSMU Elections 2017
2017-2018 Election Statement
The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has had years of tumult in the past–just last year, the building manager and the Vice-President (VP) Internal resigned, the subsequent by-election was marred by online attacks against one of the candidates, and the year ended with all the executives feeling burned out having worked, at times, over 100 hours a week. But this year stands out. The executive team lacks diversity. Further, two resigned following allegations of assault and gendered violence. Scandal has marred the Society and harmed many of its members.

Students are alienated and dismayed by such stories–many are even more upset by what appears to be a year defined by inaction and a lack of accountability. Yet this year, the ballot for SSMU elections is diverse–seven women and six people of colour are in the running. In the context of this year, they will all face incredible challenges in rebuilding trust between students and their representative body.

The Society exists to serve student interests. The McGill Tribune works to hold its representatives accountable. Thus, we interviewed each candidate, asking them questions regarding their experience, portfolio, and goals for next year.

Arguably, it is more important this year than in recent memory for students to inform themselves. Our coverage is a guide; ultimately, students must take responsibility in electing their leaders for next year. The impulse for dissociation is understandable, but change is only possible through engagement.
Tojiboeva has served as the chief justice of the Judicial Board (J-Board) of SSMU for three years and as the president of the Sociology Students Association (SSA), as well as McGill Students for UN Women in the 2015-16 school year.

Tojiboeva’s platform is based on transparency–she is aware that many students currently distrust SSMU, and strives to repair this relationship from within the system. She aims to improve mental health services for students, improve accountability in SSMU’s democratic, financial, and equity systems, and plans to create a sexual violence policy within SSMU.

Tojiboeva also plans to reform the J-Board by drafting a constitutional amendment to formally separate it from the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD). She hopes that this will ensure a separation of powers, making SSMU more accountable.

She has direct experience with the intricacies of SSMU governance bodies, and she hopes this will help her characterize her presidency by action, rather than inaction--which she believes has plagued this year’s SSMU executives.
Helen Ogundeji, U3 Arts, has three years of floor fellow experience, two years on the Black Students’ Network (BSN) executive team, and one year as president of the Sociology Students’ Association (SSA) under her belt. Ogundeji also served as Secretary General of the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) in the 2015-16 school year and she currently chairs SSMU’s Equitable Governance Reform Committee.

Ogundeji’s platform is built around rebuilding trust between SSMU and its membership, and ensuring that all students feel included and represented by student governance. Her platform is based on three core goals: Efficiency and collaboration, accountability, and student advocacy. As part of the first pillar, she plans to use the SSMU Projects Fund to create more paid positions that will support the work of SSMU executives in completing previous and implementing new projects. In keeping with her goal of achieving accountability, Ogundeji plans to create a code of conduct for SSMU executives, whcih she will work on via an ad-hoc committee.

Finally, as part of her plan for student advocacy, Ogundeji aims to make mental health services more accessible to racialized students on campus through the creation of a team of counsellors who are people of colour.
Lukas Shannon, U2 Science, has experience in comedy–having founded an improv group on campus–and his experience in high school football. Shannon believes that his skills as a natural leader, his dedication to the people he would serve, and his belief in the innate goodness of people would be his greatest assets in this position.

Shannon’s platform is based on accessibility and engagement with SSMU. He hopes to establish daily open-door hours for SSMU executives, in which students can speak freely and openly to them about their concerns on campus. He also plans to prioritize the establishment of a Sexual Assault Policy. Shannon cites his bilingualism as an asset to his campaign, and hopes to establish a clear outline for students who are interested in learning French to do so.

Endorsement: Muna Tojiboeva
Following a tumultuous year of scandals, all three candidates recognize the importance of rebuilding trust and engagement with SSMU in their presidency. While Tojiboeva and Ogundeji are both qualified candidates with strong backgrounds in student government bodies and campus matters, it is Tojiboeva who possesses a stronger action plan for establishing accountability within the executive team. As such, The McGill Tribune endorses Tojiboeva for SSMU president.

Through her experience on the SSMU J-Board, Tojiboeva has gained first-hand knowledge of the power dynamics both within SSMU and on campus as a whole, preparing her for a productive presidency.

Her fluency in French and understanding of the francophone community during her campaign are clear examples of her commitment to serving this group on campus.

Her focus on the Sexual Violence Policy is another impressive point of her platform. She plans to work with the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) and the Peer Support Centre to address allegations of sexual violence by SSMU executives and to call for the immediate suspension of those accused of committing such acts.

Tojiboeva’s approach to retrieving students’ trust in SSMU is realistic and efficient, making her the best candidate for the role.

While her thoroughly educated reform plans for the J-Board are an actionable and–given a recent motion to restricts its oversight–timely aspect of her platform, should she be elected, Tojiboeva should ensure that her past affiliation with the J-Board does not inappropriately influence her position as President, or blur the distinction between the judicial and executive capacities of SSMU.
Connor Spencer’s experience comes from her work organizing student protests on campus and across Montreal for the past four years, especially protests for McGill Against Austerity, where she worked closely with the two most recent VP Externals. Spencer has also been directly involved in off-campus organizations, including À La Rue Montreal, a student advocacy group that protests in pursuit of free education and against unpaid internships.

One of Spencer’s major platform points is to create a link between McGill and other Montreal campuses for students to be better educated and more unified when lobbying the government for change in education policy. Spencer also hopes to encourage McGill students to vote in favour of joining the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ).

In her platform, she outlines her intentions to support the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE) and other campus labour unions and to create a stand-alone Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy, distinct from the McGill administration’s Sexual Violence Policy. Spencer is bilingual and has expressed her intentions to address the francophone affairs and indigenous affairs portions of the portfolio, but has no official platform point addressing these groups.

Endorsement: Yes
Spencer’s extensive experience in student activism in Montreal gives her an advantage in preparation for the VP External portfolio. Spencer demonstrates knowledge and passion for organizing protests and working with student advocacy groups in both English and French. Still, Spencer exhibits considerable depth of thought and familiarity with provincial lobbying and other essential aspects of the portfolio, such as indigenous affairs and gendered violence. For these reasons, The McGill Tribune endorses her for the VP External position.

Spencer correctly stated that, regardless of personal beliefs, the VP External must support all SSMU-mandated student political campaigns. Yet she also stated that she would continue to support the controversial Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, regardless of the fact that it is not a SSMU campaign as it failed to pass in online ratification following the Winter 2016 General Assembly (GA) and the J-Board’s ruling that the campaign is unconstitutional in May 2016.

While Spencer is entitled to hold her own beliefs, she should be diligent not to cross the line between championing a personal cause and supporting what the portfolio is mandated to advocate. Spencer expressed strong commitment to joining AVEQ, citing a lack of information as the reason why McGill students voted against affiliation in the Winter 2016 referendum. She did not, however, have a concrete plan for how to educate students on the benefits of joining a student federation. Spencer plans to ensure that her platform–accessibility, and strengthening community–tier is implemented with sustainability in mind.

Aaron Rose, Areni Nicoghosian, David Watson, and Holly Cabrera disagree with the views expressed in this endorsement
Maya Koparkar is the only candidate running for VP Internal. In addition to working under this year’s VP Internal as Internal Logistics Coordinator, Koparkar has been a member of the Students’ Society Programming Network (SSPN) for two years, and was the VP Internal of the Molson Hall Council in her first year.

For Koparkar, the VP Internal is not only an event planner, but also the portfolio that humanizes SSMU as an organization. Accordingly, her platform focuses on integration and cohesion of the portfolio with other SSMU bodies and resources, diversifying and increasing awareness of events while maintaining their inclusivity and equity, and first-year engagement.

To improve the cohesion of the portfolio with other SSMU bodies, she plans to consult directly with various SSMU commissioners on how the outputs of the her portfolio can be improved.

Furthermore, she wants to introduce more diverse and smaller events to the SSMU calendar while implementing feedback methods for each event. She also hopes to sign a Memorandum of Agreement with Dean of Students Christopher Buddle to apply the McGill Code of Conduct to Frosh.

She emphasizes first-year engagement as a means of fostering a positive relationship with SSMU across each student’s McGill experience. To this end, she plans to work closely with the First Year Council (FYC) through regular check-ins and assistance with budgeting and calendar structuring.

Endorsement: Yes
The McGill Tribune endorses Maya Koparkar for the role of VP Internal. In addition to her strong interpersonal skills and clear commitment to the job, her event-planning experience on the SSPN and direct engagement with the VP Internal portfolio as an Internal Logistics Coordinator give her the necessary tools for next year.

Koparkar recognized that the VP Internal is the most visible portfolio on the SSMU executive team. Beyond planning parties, the VP Internal is responsible for effective communication with students and keeping the pulse on student life. However, the most concrete parts of her platform are events-centric. Should she be elected, she should be sure to afford the communication and outreach aspects of her portfolio the same attention and thought that she will give to the SSMU events calendar.

Additionally, while well-intentioned, Koparkar’s promises of diversified, smaller events and increasing first-year engagement do not necessarily bring anything new to the VP Internal portfolio, and her methods to implement these ideas lack specificity. She must for further to complement these intentions with actionable plans.
Jemark Earle, U3 Music, has been as a floor fellow for two years and served as the VP Health and Athletics representative for the Music Undergraduate Students Association (MUSA) and the Frugal Scholar for the Schulich School of Music for one year. His platform focuses on three things: Mental Health First Aid, student-led campaigns, and his own personal projects.

Earle is cognizant of how long the transition to the current Counselling and Mental Health service has taken, and hopes to further ease this transition through the training of SSMU executives in Mental Health First Aid and more resources in mental health. He also hopes to bring more student-led advocacy and awareness campaigns to campus, including the “I don’t say” campaign, which raises awareness about language that is offensive to marginalized identities, and the “Pro-Pronouns” campaign, which normalizes the use of correct gender pronouns in daily life. Further, some of Earle’s own personal projects include the establishment of a Mental Health minor and the reallocation of club space in the SSMU building.

Endorsement: No
Though Earle has extensive experience working with students as a floor fellow and member of student government at the Faculty level, and shows passion for their needs, he does not show adequate understanding of the responsibilities of VP Student Life. As such, The McGill Tribune does not endorse him.

While his strong focus on mental health is admirable and mental health was moved under the VP Student Life portfolio this year, his platform ignores the essential day-to-day responsibilities of the position. In addition to a thorough understanding of the functioning and requirements of student clubs and services, tasks include organizing Activities Night, transitioning clubs to Independent Student Groups, and manage the SSMU Services Review Committee. The VP Student Life is tasked with the management of over 150 student groups and has experienced difficulty this year as current executives placed a moratorium on the creation of new clubs that has yet to be lifted. Because these are the established priorities of the position, all other long-term projects should come second to these. Neither Earle’s platform nor his interview conveyed adequate knowledge of his mandate. His failure to address these aspects of the portfolio is troubling, and makes him an unfit candidate for the position.

Daniel Freed disagrees with the views expressed in this endorsement
Anuradha Mallik, U2 Science and Music, is running unopposed for the position of VP Operations. Mallik has worked as the head of communications for the Water for Life project in 2013-2014 and has served as the chargée d'affaires of the Secondary Schools' United Nations Symposium (SSUNS) in 2017. She also served as a floor fellow from 2016-2017.

Mallik’s platform is heavily focused on sustainability, intending to develop strong cooperation between McGill’s Office of Sustainability and SSMU to ensure further distribution and development of various sustainability projects. She also plans to continue to work on McGill’s Sustainability Policy alongside the VP University Affairs. Mallik emphasizes building on SSMU’s recent ratification of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. She states she will continue the Environmental Committee of SSMU–a roundtable discussion on sustainability with representatives from different faculties and SSMU.

Mallik believes that the success of Gerts relies heavily on continuing BARmacy and encouraging active bystander culture. She would also like to continue the current VP Operations’ efforts to advertise Sadie’s and plans to develop an equitable hiring strategy.

Additionally, Mallik intends to advance the “crash pad” project–an area in the SSMU building where students can spend the night on campus–expanding it for Frosh and implementing it on other late-night events, such as exam seasons or Nuit Blanche. She also wishes to increase the SSMU lounge space to the second-floor cafeteria.

Endorsement: No
While Mallik has a fairly robust background working in logistics and operations, her lack of experience directly working with SSMU is a clear weakness. More importantly, she seems to lack adequate understanding of and planning for her portfolio.

Mallik does not propose many original ideas to improve the operation of Gerts and Sadie’s, opting to encourage initiatives that are already in place, such as BARmacy. She also did not seem knowledgeable of the difficulties that arise in operating a student-run business, and was unaware of the financial difficulties that have faced Sadie’s (formerly the Student-Run Cafeteria) in the past. Similarly, although Mallik’s focus on sustainability is admirable and necessary, she does not bring enough concrete ideas in the context of her portfolio.

Her plans to continue the Environmental Committee of SSMU and bolster SSMU’s relationship with the Office of Sustainability are good preliminary steps, and display a willingness to collaborate with experts on matters of sustainability. However, her explanations were vague and she did not provide sufficient practical plans to actually improve the sustainability of the building’s day-to-day operations.

Overall, Mallik seems to have a weak grasp of how the SSMU building operates and the problems its users and tenants face. Her proposal to expand the SSMU lounge, while idealistic, lacks careful planning. Her idea to introduce equitable hiring at Sadie’s is admirable, but she could not fully elaborate on how she would approach this agenda in relation to the business’s current hiring procedures.
Arisha Khan, U2 Arts, is running unopposed for the VP Finance position and is the current SSMU Funding Commissioner. Khan is also a SSMU Representative on the McGill Innovation Steering Committee and is conducting research for SSMU on students from foster care who attend McGill. Additionally, Khan was a finance and operations assistant at SSMU during the 2015-2016 academic year and has experience working for the Government of Ontario. Notably, Khan helped develop a $450 million funding model in her position with Ontario Public Service in 2016.

The main points of Khan’s platform include updating SSMU’s operational systems in order to reduce the current burden on human resources, making SSMU’s financial information more readily accessible via a VP Finance website, creating opportunities for professional finance development that will be accessible to student group executives, and creating a working group to guide SSMU’s socially sustainable short and long-term finance strategies.

Khan said she plans to reach out to other Canadian student societies in order to get a better idea of financial strategies that are working at other universities and see if they can be applied to SSMU. She also believes that SSMU’s Ethical Investment Plan should be more sustainable and would like to formulate it so that the plan is re-examined more frequently to help students understand where their money is going. Khan plans to create graphic summaries of SSMU finances and share these on the new VP Finance website.

Khan’s extensive experience with finance both in and outside of SSMU makes her an ideal candidate for the VP Finance position. Khan’s concrete ideas for streamlining SSMU’s current financial operating system and support for clubs are promising for SSMU to cut costs in a way that is efficient and non-detrimental to SSMU services and clubs. Her initiative to communicate with other student executives outside of McGill also shows Khan’s dedication to SSMU’s success and genuine interest in the VP Finance portfolio. Khan also stated that she considers herself to be more of a public servant than a politician, demonstrating her goal to put students first.

Additionally, through her acknowledgment of SSMU’s current lack of financial transparency and her clear plans to improve dialogue and student interest, such as through the creation of a dedicated VP Finance website, Khan demonstrates that she intends to rectify the issues that she became familiar with in her time as funding commissioner and finance and operations assistant at SSMU. Khan’s comprehensive platform, strategies for positive change, and relevant work experience all indicate that she will easily be able to assume the role of VP Finance and build on the work of this year’s executives with a relatively flat learning curve.
Isabelle Oke, U3 Arts, focuses her platform for VP University Affairs on three main pillars: Campus outreach, student rights, and accessible services. Oke draws from her experience as the president of McGill’s Black Students’ Network (BSN) and a floor fellow in Carrefour Sherbrooke. Furthermore, she serves as the floor fellow representative on the executive for AMUSE. With equity as a central tenet of the VP University Affairs portfolio, Oke emphasizes the importance of the VP University Affairs’ role to push forward the accountability process within the SSMU executive.

Oke plans to use campus outreach as a method for rebuilding student trust in SSMU. In order to best advocate for student concerns, Oke recognizes the need for conversation; however, when executives get overwhelmed, Oke cites outreach as the first thing to be neglected in their portfolios. Oke plans to mitigate these effects by hiring students to talk about SSMU in positions dedicated specifically to campus outreach.

In her platform, Oke seeks to address the obstacles and barriers to success for students of specific backgrounds, namely first-generation and foster-care students. She plans to use McGill-specific data and the reports conducted by previous VP University Affairs to enhance the accessibility of campus resources such that McGill achieves a higher retention rate and recruits from a wider range of demographics while ensuring adequate support is in place.
Alexander Dow, U3 Engineering and current Student Senator for the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS), brings substantial experience to his candidacy for the VP University Affairs position.

Per its slogan–“students first”–Dow’s platform’s goals include representation of the voice of undergraduate students at the McGill Senate while assisting student senators in understanding the priorities of the students they serve. He seeks to hold the university accountable to the documents that they present by ensuring that they provide information as well as the methodology for how they came to conclusions.

His experience on various Administrative Committees, including the Academic Policy Committee, the University Teaching Lab Working Group, the University Health and Safety Committee, informs his platform. He seeks to adjust the Faculty Academic Roundtable–chaired by the VP University Affairs–to become a space to develop solutions for problems that span across faculties at McGill. Furthermore, he would seek to improve the transparency of student funds across campus by developing templates for its governance.

Dow identifies the VP University Affairs’ role as Equity Officer as the portfolio’s most important. As the SSMU Equity Policy is expiring in 2018, he would hold open consultation to ensure that its language is appropriate and up-to-date. He identifies McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services as a space that requires a greater student voice in particular, which he would work toward by communicating with the Executive Director of Student Services, the VP Student Life, and senators. Further, he would seek to improve the Code of Student Conduct, which will be open for revisions in September 2017. His platform states that he will consult students and stakeholders in this process.

Finally, Dow hopes to improve the communication and outreach of the Library Improvement Fund while holding the university accountable for its plans for the Fiat Lux project.

Endorsement: Isabelle Oke
With a strong emphasis in both her interview with The McGill Tribune and her online platform, Oke has demonstrated a thoughtful and clear notion of equity–an essential characteristic for the VP University Affairs position.

Oke has cited specific policies and research projects she hopes to leverage and advance within the VP University Affairs portfolio, including the Sexual Violence Policy and the first-time deferral request initiative.

Oke seeks to broaden the range of groups brought in for consultation. With plans to hire students in campus outreach positions, Oke stressed the importance of flexibility and hearing the concerns of all student groups, rather than only those involved with governance directly. While both Oke and Dow hold considerable qualifications for the role, Oke’s experience as the floor fellow representative to AMUSE provides her with a nuanced perspective of negotiating with the university administration. Moreover, through her involvement with the BSN, Oke has experience facilitating meaningful consultation with minority student voices.

If elected, Oke will likely have a steeper learning curve for the position as she has not held a seat on Senate, unlike Dow; however, Oke exemplified a thorough understanding of the needs of students and experience bargaining with the university in advocating for their rights.
In order to present the most informed endorsement decisions possible, our editors were mandated to attend the PGSS and SSMU debates in person. Furthermore, we conducted in-person interviews with all of the candidates for both PGSS and SSMU, which all editors were required to attend. The endorsements are the product of an Editorial Board meeting in which we addressed every position, debated, and voted. In order to earn the Tribune’s endorsement, a candidate had to receive a two-thirds majority vote, while a simple majority would result in an endorsement with reservations. Reservations could also be appended to any “Yes” endorsement with the approval of a simple majority. In the spirit of transparency and as a matter of upholding The McGill Tribune’s credibility, we feel it imperative to make the process behind these decisions public. Should you have questions or concerns about our editorial process—or its outcomes—please send us an email at [email protected].