Popcorn and Politics: Debate Recap

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Sabrina Guillen
Communications Assistant
Tue, 02/04/2020 - 09:30

WUSA mic drop

Voting has officially opened for our next WUSA executives! Over the last few weeks, we’ve introduced your candidates, broken down their role responsibilities, and encouraged you to cast your ballot. Last night, they had their last opportunity to speak directly to you about their platform, address key concerns, and field your questions. Imprint and WUSA co-hosted a candidate debate to dig deeper into what each of them hope to bring to their prospective roles. After a complementary popcorn snack, the Imprint moderators dug right in.

Before we dig right in – read more about each candidate’s platform and remember to vote beginning today until February 6! You can do so online at vote.wusa.ca or at one of our on-campus polling stations in the SLC. Visit our elections page for everything there is to know – except who to vote for. You decide that. Okay, so let’s get into it!

President

The debate kicked off with the President Candidate from Team Vision, Abbie Simpson, a 4A Recreation and Leisure, Social Development Studies student with over four years of leadership experience. She’s worked with WUSA as a student councillor, orientation FOC, student ambassador, and much more. The other candidates running for this position are Kevin McGuire (Team Extinguish) and Stanley Wong (Team hey hey hey), who were unable to attend.

When asked why she should be trusted as the lead advocate for students’ interests, Abbie shared on her strong belief in collaboration. Team Vision hopes to improve advocacy with more town halls around campus. Should she be elected, Abbie believes the best way to do her job as president, is to take the unique and individual voices of our campus into account when making decisions. Team Vision intends to listen to students, take their direct feedback and make concrete changes.

Abbie recently attended the housing crisis meeting, and has personally experienced challenges while living at ICON. For her, the housing crisis is at the forefront of the regional issues she’ll be looking to address while in office. Working closely alongside Megan, she’ll work to complete and implement the housing strategy and bring those recommendations to stakeholders. On the recent transportation issues, she and Megan will continue to advocate that it be made an essential service for students.

Having worked in the Office of the President as a Communications Coordinator, Abbie had the opportunity to develop a relationship with Feridun, which she believes has set a solid foundation for open and honest conversation between them. She looks forward to continuing to bring students’ concerns to his attention and knows he is more than willing to hear them out and work toward change, where he can.

Another area for which she is passionate was revealed in her response to the question, “What is your stance for mental health and wellness on campus and what kind of priority is it?” Calling it a “major priority”, she went on to say her and VP Education candidate, Megan Town, have spent a lot of time thinking about this one. In her experience, she sees a correlation between excessive workload and stress/anxiety among students, but plans to rely on a data-driven process to address root causes. She hopes to create a stronger and more supportive campus community, to combat the isolation she sometimes sees among her peers. She plans to do this by better utilizing and unifying societies, services and organizations within WUSA.

Abbie hopes to continue the “great work” of President Michael Beauchemin, as she carries out the strategic long-range plan he and his team are currently putting together. While she acknowledges that some priorities may differ, she intends to work within the plan to create new ways of looking at the campus community to reflect the current needs of students. She summed this up by saying, “Life is a bit different than past years, so we need to adapt and take new approaches.”

Vice President, Operations & Finance

The debate progressed by interviewing the VPOF candidate Alana Guevara from Team Vision who is running uncontested, but still requires a majority confirmation of her position from the election.  Alana is a 4A Economics student who has been working with WUSA since 2015.

It was no surprise the first question for VPOF candidate, Alana Guevara, centered on the Student Choice Initiative. Imprint suggested there seems to be confusion around the purpose of some student fees. Alana clapped back saying she believes WUSA has done well communicating the changes to students at booths, on their website and other informational outlets. She feels the explanations are out there and plans to continue this transparency should she secure this role.

Another hot topic was the controversial closing of The Bomber. Alana was clear in her response that it will not be re-opening – at least not in the context it once was - within calendar year 2020. The capital improvement fee that will go toward the building passed in last year’s general meeting. In a survey of over 4,000, students suggested the space become a “lounge-like” spot with a bar, food, entertainment and bookable rooms. Current VPOF Seneca Velling is developing a plan for the renovations that Team Vision hopes to bring forward to students in a future town hall.

Alana hopes to create more student jobs within WUSA. She sees gaps where she believes they can more efficiently distribute the budget and plans to prioritize giving students more opportunity for leadership and responsibility. For example, part-time staff (students) can take on the administrative tasks of the current International News Manager to foster their professional development and expand their experience.

Vice President, Education

The next role up was VPED. The only candidate running for this position is Megan Town. Similar to Alana, however, Megan would still require a majority confirmation of her position from the election. Megan is a 4B Chemical Engineering student, whose focus is on organizing town halls, representing all of the unique programs, and advocating for public transportation.

Co-op was top of mind when Megan took the hot seat. She recognizes co-op as an integral part of many programs at UWaterloo and plans to advocate not only at the university level, but at provincial as well. Once again, Team Vision plans to consult with students on this one and bring that feedback directly to Cooperative Education. With our aging buildings – many of which were built years ago – accessibility was also brought forth as a core concern for Megan. Team Vision plans to leverage this as the advocacy issue it is and improve the appeal process students go through to file complaints.

Megan wants to put more emphasis on the experience of our international students. She believes domestic students have a lot of support from the government and wants to extend that to reach those who are international. Specifically, her goals center around improving funding for academic research projects and developing community-building initiatives to help these students feel more welcome in Canada, and more inclined to stay.

On transit, Megan wants to look at ridership data from UPass to identify the key routes students need and ultimately help the Region figure out profitability. In terms of service disruptions, she believes public transportation should be an essential service and plans to advocate toward that change. Despite her hopes of that, she acknowledges this as a municipal issue that if she is unsuccessful in accomplishing, she will be sure to collaborate with the university to provide alternative transit options.

As Abbie mentioned, addressing workload and its effects on mental health is a key initiative for Team Vision. Megan emphasized that there seems to be a discrepancy between what students and instructors think is necessary to achieve a 'good mark.' She believes this to be a major factor in the difficulties students are facing and wants to quantify that gap using a data-driven approach. Team Vision will then take that data to their talks with faculties and the university to address overwhelming workloads. Megan is passionate about reducing the stigma around mental health and plans to use her role to do just that.

Vice President, Student Life

Last but certainly not least was Vice President, Student Life. The three candidates present were Nada Abouelnaga (Team Vision), Manas Suri (Team Beeba Bois) and Ian Tan (Team Ian Tan for Student Life). The final candidate, Zihui Qin, was unable to attend. Nada is a 3B Biomedical Sciences student with several years of experience with WUSA including the Clubs Support Team, Orientation, and UW Chess Club. Manas is a first year student who believes his connection to his peers will help him excel in the role. Ian is a 1B Geography and Aviation student who serves on the Honorary Lifetime Membership Committee.

The first question for VPSL candidates compared Laurier’s “bursting student life” with ours at Waterloo. When asked what they envision for the future, Manas spoke of plans to open the Bombshelter as a host for events, including parties and concerts. For Nada, the perspectives on student life are as diverse as WUSA’s 250+ clubs, but she too will carry forward plans to reopen The Bomber. Ian also mentioned the importance of clubs and what they do for student life, and is excited to re-envision and reopen the Bombshelter space, should he secure the position.

WUSA Wellness Days were also a natural topic for this group. Ian believes they would do better with more advertising across campus, while Nada feels the focus on mental health should continue throughout the entire term. She will incorporate student feedback into the planning of these events and look to students on whether they appeal to the majority. Manas would like to explore hosting events on the weekends, as he believes students like to party and sees this as the best way to relieve stress.

For Nada, satellite campuses and part-time students are “very important.” She hopes to expand student-run services beyond the SLC (as has been done with MATES), making them accessible for all students regardless of location. Ian would like satellite campus societies to have a bigger role in student engagement. “For example,” he begins, “the GBDA society is small and can’t be as effective. WUSA should be more active in helping these societies achieve their mandate.” Manas wants to see an increase in awareness and an expansion of services throughout every campus.

When asked how your VPSL candidates plan to reintegrate co-op students and better engage with them, Ian suggested the creation of a platform where they can share their thoughts and join the conversation. He thinks giving students a touchpoint back to the university would go a long way. Nada believes co-op connection is already bridging this gap, but does see opportunities for improvement. She’d like to see more presentations to students on this service, possibly including the creation of advocacy positions on their behalf. Manas believes every club needs their own website and/or app to collect feedback and respond to student concerns.

On Orientation, Ian suggests WUSA save money by cutting it from five days to two, while Nada feels different faculties need their own programing and should be determined on more of a case-by-case basis. She likes the idea of faculties co-hosting events to make it easier on each faculty. “Budgeting isn’t an issue if the projects prove to have valuable effects on all incoming students and are appropriate for each faculty,” she says. Manas had no comment.

With two candidates in first-year, they were asked what qualifies them for these positions. Ian made the point that comparing first year to fourth is akin to comparing junior kindergarten with senior. He believes they are all equally inexperienced. Manas sees this ‘inexperience’ (as Ian positions it) as an asset to his platform. He believes he has a better understanding of first-years because of it and therefore knows both what they face, and what they need. Nada, a third year student, has worked with the Clubs Support Team and been a Clubs Assistant for almost a year now. She has also served as an orientation leader for two years and worked closely with RAISE as a coordinator this term. She believes this experience qualifies her to be your Vice President, Student Life.

Get out and vote!

Current Vice President, Operations & Finance, Seneca Velling, believes the final debates provide some great insight. “The executive debates offer a unique window into the platforms and perspective of future student leaders. They have profound impacts on group benefits, critical services, and advocacy to the government and university to solve problems for students".

Seneca fondly remembers his own experience running last year, his participation in a very similar debate and how he was able to give the Federation a financial facelift, ensure UPass was renegotiated, and implement the new legal protection service for students. As he says, “the debate was an opportunity to showcase these key priorities so students knew what I stood for and would deliver”…. Which is exactly what this year’s candidates hoped to show their fellow students.

The election period began today and runs until February 6. Cast your ballot at vote.wusa.ca.