You’d be hard pressed to find anyone at McGill who knows more about the inner workings of student politics than Rachel Simmons.
As parliamentarian for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), chief returning officer (CRO) for the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS), replacement speaker for the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University (PGSS), and speaker and CRO for the Education Undergraduate Society of McGill (EDUS) Council, Simmons certainly has her hands full.
In addition to these positions, Simmons is currently a first-year masters student in the research division of the Department of Family Medicine. The Montreal native is always busy, but for her, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I love [being] busy; if I don’t have a crazy amount on my plate I start looking for more,” Simmons says. “It’s a balancing act for sure [….] You get by every week, and you just try to get to Sunday [and] take it as it comes.”
It was during her undergraduate experience at McGill that Simmons’ passion for civic engagement started to burn. Despite playing an integral role in student government, Simmons has never wanted to take a representative position. She is more than satisfied in ensuring that the system runs smoothly.
“I actually have very little interest in politics,” she says. “I think student government is valuable and it’s excellent in doing what it does, but […] being a representative was not something I enjoyed as much as facilitating it. I’m more interested in making sure things happen [and] enabling people to do these positions and do these things.”
Simmons’ different roles all have a common thread – it is her duty to keep above the political fray and remain neutral even in the most ardent of debates. As speaker and parliamentarian, she ensures that proceedings are civil and motions are appropriate. As CRO, Simmons must both encourage candidates and make sure that they follow the election period rules. Given the personal nature of her positions, she is constantly tiptoeing on a tightrope that can be difficult to navigate.
“The hardest part is keeping yourself impartial [because] you get to know the people you work with as friends; [but when] you’re speaking or being parliamentarian […] it’s hard to make the distinction,” Simmons explains. “When you step into this room, you assume this position and you need to draw that line.”
Her responsibilities are that much greater due to her non-representative role. Being a neutral arbiter is tough for anyone who is engaged in politics or opinionated. However, Simmons realizes that her obligation is to the elected representatives.
“I am vocal. I do like to share my opinions, [but] I am not there to have an opinion,” she explains. “I am there to make sure everybody else is heard.”
Looking forward, Simmons hopes to combine her academic and extracurricular pursuits.
“We are starting a student government for family medicine […] so I’m working with the future student society of family medicine,” she says. “With SSMU, I’d really like to see the projects we started this year [to] be followed through [with].”
For the individuals who will step into the myriad of positions she currently occupies, Simmons urges that they persevere throughout the entire endeavor.
“Keep an open mind and keep on learning about it,” Simmons says. “You never stop learning about how to work with different people […] and patience—you must have patience.”
McGill Tribune: Robert’s Rules, a guide to parliamentary conduct, are an integral part of your job. Who is your favourite Robert?
Rachel Simmons: Robert(o) Luongo. That’s my favourite Robert right now.
MT: What was your dream job as a child?
RS: When I was three I wanted to be a palaeontologist; after that I started to be more realistic with my goals and wanted to be an astronaut. Only reasons I gave that up was [that] I was horribly motion sick and also physics was not my thing.
MT: If you could only eat one kind of food for the rest of your life what would it be?
RS: This is [something] I’ve thought about and come to terms with—different varieties of pasta, with different cheeses. No sauce, no tomatoes, just pasta and cheese together in different forms.
MT: What are your three most visited websites?
RS: I’m on Buzzfeed all the time, I’m on Facebook all the time, and currently I’m on olympics.cbc.ca all the time, all day, every day.
MT: Favourite song to sing to or dance to when nobody is watching?
RS: I am a sucker for Disney movies so I know the soundtracks for most of them off by heart. I will turn them on full blast while making dinner; Tangled, Frozen is a big one right now, Lion King classics if you’re in an old school mood.