WHAT’S SSMU UP TO?
Muna Tojiboeva - President
The president coordinates the activities of SSMU and determines the long-term vision of the society. Tojiboeva, elected in the 20162017 school year, describes the long-term vision of SSMU as one that will provide “services that enrich the student’s experience […] at Mcgill, making sure that their voice is heard not only within the administration [...] [and] bodies like the Board of Governors, but within their own undergraduate community.”
Tojiboeva is currently working on implementing the Sexual Violence Policy, which she describes as “the most important […] priority for the entire team .” The SVP first draft is currently being distributed to different stakeholders for consultation, after which it will be opened to various clubs ATMC gill. The SVP was a crucial part of Tojiboeva’s campaign platform, along with re forming the Judicial Board. She served as a chief justice on the Board for the past two years. Tojiboeva noted that the international regulations of the Judicial Board have not been updated since 2012, and stressed the need for reform regarding “internal clauses in the constitution.”
When asked about the resignation of Vice president (VP) Operations Anuradha Mallik this summer, as well as the recurring pattern of exec turnover at SSMU, Tojiboeva stressed the importance of mental health. Tojiboeva described the 2017 executives’ teamwork as “more cohesive” than previous years. “We are slowly trying to change the culture of SSMU by all working together, complementing our skills, […] and interests, and portfolios. […] I think we preach a lot of things about mental health so we need to exemplify good working conditions.”
Tojiboeva aims to address the lack of accountability seen in SSMU with regards to the incidents last year by promoting transparency. “We are trying to publicize more about what our operations are .[…] The executives are working on different campaigns to make sure that […] all students are more integrated into SSMU. Since especially the events of last year, it’s important to […] rebuild trust in SSMU and ensure that students understand that it’s in good qualified hands, and that we actually take […] not only their choices but their trust seriously.”
Arisha Khan - VP Finance
The VP finance administers the investment funding group and is responsible for the overall financial stability of SSMU. Prior to being elected, Arisha Khan was the previous SSMU Funding Commissioner and Finance and Operations Assistant at the VP finance office. Khan has advocated for social responsibility and effective resource allocation during her campaign, and received a‘ yes’ endorsement from the daily.
Khan’s priority has been to establish a financial portfolio for Socially Responsible Investing (SRI). Upon ratification, the funds will be moved to Desautels capital management, a university owned, student run investment management firm. Khan explained that the advantage of working with Desautels capital management is having regular financial analysis reports from students. All SSMU funds are currently managed by Lester, a professor at Mcgill running Lester Asset Management, who is also involved in Desautels capital management. Khan hopes to start a trial pod of 1-2 million dollars in the SRI. However, this will have to be ratified by the legislative council and Board of Directors. According to Khan, SSMU would be the first student union in Canada to invest in a mandate specifically dedicated to SRI.
In conjunction with the dental and health plan, a new program for mental health will be introduced this fall. “Empower Me is like the equivalent of an employee assistance plan. […] This gives students unlimited access to counselling […] be it for emotional support, financial, nutrition counselling […] and life coaching. Counsellors are available 24/7 either on the phone in person or in webchat”, said Khan. Piloted last year at Mcmaster University, Empower Me provides free mental health resources to plan members. Khan also sees Empower Me as an interim program where students may potentially have faster referrals to Mcgill services based on their records with Empower Me. “We need to do more than rely on Mcgill [...] Mental health and counselling, even with their extended hours, they are hard to reach, so hopefully this will be able to bridge the gap between those programs. […] We are hoping that by introducing this service [..] they will be able to use this service as an interim,” added Khan.
Khan noted the changes above may involve an increased student fee, which is currently estimated to be around $350,000. SSMU is to hold a referendum regarding the amendment later in the year. She advised students to visit the Where is my Money Going brochure available on the Mcgill website to track SSMU spending on student money.
Maya Koparker - VP Internal
The VP internal is r esponsible for facilitating communication with the s tudent body and fos tering community engagement. M aya Koparkar was the previous SSMU Internal Logistics Coordinating and Molson Hall VP internal before running for SSMU in March 2017. Koparker stressed the importance of accessibility in firs t-year engagement at the s tart of the semes ter. “We’ve […] focused on fl agship events that involved the same sort of elements such as drinking […] and party cultur e […] which is one aspect, but ther e is room to integrate […] aspects more inclusive to the student body,” said Koparker, referring to the Frosh events from 28 August to September 3. Koparker mentioned the implementation of the Crashpad program, which provided students with a place to sleep in on campus. Students living off-campus who are potentially discouraged from participating in Frosh due to the long commute were encouraged to take part in orientation sessions and to sleep in the SSMU ballroom.
Maya also sees the first-year engagement program as a crucial element in “rebuilding trust in SSMU and the student body”. The Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) is currently working with SSMU and other committees to develop a passport program for the First Year Council (FYC). The passport program is a four-part training workshop which would focus on creating inclusive and diverse spaces at events. According to Koparker, the training will “foster […] a sense of accessibility and inclusivity from the very beginning, […] making sure that the portfolio is diverse enough so that it [...] can appeal to a variety of different people instead of the same people that are being engaged with SSMU events.” The FYC council will be chosen by Koparker in early September, and the workshop will be available to the general public once it is developed and implemented.
When asked about the significance of her role, Koparker referred to the trust between students and SSMU. “It’s about creating those events and spaces and that line of communication where students are able to feel included, […] engaged and ultimately establish that trust […] While the VP internal can still participate in a lot of the governances, […] it also offers a portfolio that is able to humanize SSMU […] and take away […] from the bureaucratic elements,” said Koparker.
Connor Spencer - VP External
The VP External’s portfolio can be broken down into six umbrellas of responsibility: lobbying on behalf of the student body to the municipal, provincial and federal governments, focusing on franco phone affairs, indigenous affairs, and affairs in the Milton Parc community, supporting campaigns such as Div est Mcgill and Demilitarize M cgill, and providing support for the labour and student unions on campus.
Spencer is hoping to focus on Francophone, Indigenous, and community affairs this year because she feels that these issues have been “bulldozed by the campaigns” in the past. In emphasizing this, she stressed that she is neither Francophone, Indigenous, nor a member of the Milton Parc community. “In saying that i’m going to focus on [these things] it’s really important to know that I don’t have the answers for them and I shouldn’t pretend to.” Instead, Spencer is forming committees on these issues and hiring specialized professionals who will determine SSMU’S path forward.
With regards to Indigenous affairs, the Indigenous Students’ Alliance( IS A) is heavily overburdened, and SSMU hopes to ease that pressure .“Everyone reaches out to[ the IS A] being like‘ can you like make sure we’ re allies’ and‘ can you speak here, and it’s tomorrow ’,[...] the IS A is like, ‘that’s kind of not the labour we wanted to be doing, we’ re supposed to be are source for indigenous students, not for white settler students.”
Spencer is working with community leaders of the Milton Parc Community to explore the possibility of establishing student coops, which would move students out of Milton Parc and be less “extortionately expensive” and “reduce the gentrification in the Milton Parc community.” The Committee on Francophone Affairs at SSMU is also starting up again this year after two years of inactivity.
Other projects Spencer is focusing on include affiliation with the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) to gain provincial representation. “SSMU is not a member of any Quebec provincial level student association so therefore it’s really hard for us to make our voices heard at a provincial level.”
Finally, Spencer is working to develop a Sexual Violence Policy at SSMU. She believes that it should beast and-alone policy so that incidents are handled by people with proper training. “When there isn’t a system in place [...] there are fumbles and people fuck up and it gets put in the wrong hands, [...] so [we’re] trying to avoid that ever happening again and also hopefully using it as a way to pressure changes in the larger Mcgill policy.”
Jemark Earle - VP Student Life
The VP Student Life is the liaison between SSMU, student services, clubs, and independent groups. They are also responsible for the promotion of SSMU Mental Health and Counselling services. They are the executive that deals most directly with the student body. When asked about recent changes in SSMU affecting students, Ear le referred to last year’s moratorium on the approval of new clubs put in place due to resource constraints. “The moratorium on starting new clubs was lifted and we’re working hard to get the application up and running so that should be available within the next two weeks approximately,” said Earle, encouraging students to apply for interim club status.
Earle stressed that the true value of his role comes from the relationship he has with the student body. “If the other six [ Execs] were to operate on their own I think it could still work, but it would be a lot harder to communicate with the student body just because their positions don’t necessarily deal with direct student engagement.” On this note, Earle is working on revitalizing the club workshop at the Services Summit at the end of September. He also wants to make SSMU more accessible by being more approachable and being physically available to answer questions.
With regards to Mental Health, Ear le plan store work SSMU’S Mental Health Awareness Week, as a result of the organization of too many workshops in the past, most of which were poorly attended .“We’ re going to hopefully move away from the workshop heavy thing and have more movie screenings about Mental health and/or panels where students can talk to professors or alumni who think mental health is important.”
Isabelle Oke - VP University Affairs
The VP University Affairs advocate son behalf of the students to the administration by communicating with various student representatives, like the Senate. They are also responsible for equity initiatives within SSMU, as well as the Library Improvement Fund.
Oke’s main focus within the equity portfolio is to increase Mcgill’s accessibility to students from the child welfare system. “A research report … came out [last year] about students who are coming from the child welfare system and the institutional barriers that are set in place in post-secondary institutions.” She continued, “that set the knowledge base for us to [...] move forward […] and see where in the university there’s space for tailored supports.”
According to Oke, there are already programs in place at M cgill trying to broad en the pathways for those in the child welfare system pursuing a post-secondary education. The programs are mostly workshop style events meant to familiarize participants with the university setting. “if people feel comfortable in the space, if people see what the space looks like and see themselves in the space, then they will like be more likely to set goals to get here eventually.”
However, Oke has struggled in creating a more dynamic structure of support for this population. Students from the child welfare system are poorly represented at Mcgill. It would require an unbalanced allocation of resources to setup a“sweeping program of supports” for a small portion of the university population. “Numbers shouldn’t matter, but it seems like in this context they kind of do,” said Oke.
Oke is still exploring other ways that SSMU can provide services for this community. “We have this new office that’s supposed to [...] act on the recommendations of the provost task force on Indigenous education and Indigenous studies. There’s a big portion of Indigenous children who are over-represented in the [...] child welfare system. Is that another avenue that we can use to get resources to support students that are trying to make it to post-secondary from that system?” She continued, “There’s also a bursary program that has been started with scholarships and student aid. That fund is specifically reserved for students [...] who came from the child welfare system.”