Forum consisted of opening statements, three rounds of questioning
Aaron Panciera NEWS EDITOR
Bardia Besharat ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR
Photo: screencap from video posted to SMCSU’s Facebook account.
On March 28, the University of St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) held its all-candidates forum for those running for 2018–19 executive positions.
The forum was held from 4:30–6:00 p.m. in Brennan Hall’s Coop, and participants included candidates for the nine members of SMCSU: President, Vice-President (VP), VP Finance, VP Academics, VP Community Life, VP Communications, VP Athletics, VP Arts, and VP Religious and Community Affairs (RCA).
Each candidate began by giving their prepared opening statements. After this, there were three rounds of questions. The first were general questions for all candidates. The second consisted of a position-specific question. The third round of questions was open to those in attendance, where participants could ask questions specific to a position or questions open to all candidates.
The opening statements began with the candidates running for President, Kate Strazds and Jeremy Hernandez-Lum Tong.
Strazds, who is going into her fourth year at the University of St. Michael’s College (USMC), is SMCSU’s current VP. In her opening statement, she highlighted her responsibilities on the current council, which include “dealing with internal relations within the council,” creating and advertising events, overseeing various SMCSU commissions, and finalizing the budget for council expenses.
“Being on the current council [has] provided me with the necessary experience in showcasing which ideas are actually feasible, and what other areas should be focused on,” Strazds said.
The rest of her statement focused on representing all students at USMC, improving relations between SMCSU and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), working with other USMC student groups to strengthen the community, and efficient, organized, and timely club recognition by the council.
Hernandez-Lum Tong, who is set to graduate following the completion of the next academic year, was not able to attend the forum, and sent a proxy to read his statement.
Hernandez-Lum Tong, despite an unsuccessful bid for President this year, has SMCSU experience from his time on the council last year in 2016–17. His platform, as advertised on Facebook, is focused on enhanced community life, academic and career networking, equity, and accountability.
“Why am I running again? It is because I have been on SMCSU, and then not have been on SMCSU. I have seen how widely the community has been divided,” Hernandez-Lum Tong’s statement read. “Residents, and most especially first-years, are living separate worlds from upper-year commuters.”
The opening statements continued with candidates for VP, Joey Gratkowski and Shervin Shojaei Baghini, along with those for the other more specific VP positions.
In his opening statement, Gratkowski highlighted major points concerning accountability of the council and an expansion of the St. Mike’s community. Gratkowski stated he wants to bring “new life to St. Mike’s because without it, it will die,” in his opening statement. He continued to address USMC involvement in the greater University of Toronto (U of T) campus, stating his goal of introducing USMC to the rest of campus. Additionally, Gratkowski offered a proposal to reinvigorate clubs at St. Mike’s by creating a better system for club funding as well as increasing the council’s accountability.
Shervin Shojaei Baghini began his opening statement by addressing issues in student accessibility to council agendas, meetings and voicing concerns. He introduced a proposal to create easier access to SMCSU agendas by posting them on social media, as well as allowing the public to have access to SMCSU meetings. Baghini stated his goal of guaranteeing that “[students] feel even if [they] are not part of the council or administration, that [their] concerns and ideas are heard.” He also stated interest in inclusion within the council by working with other VPs so all voices are heard on SMCSU issues.
All candidates for executive positions gave an opening statement, including candidates VP Finance (Philip Conforzi and Jason Gardner), VP RCA (Sam Gearing and Paul Nunez), VP Academic Affairs (Nicholas Pagano), VP Community Life (Sarah Morgan), VP Communications (Seijoong Chu), VP Athletics (John Russell), and VP Arts (Aisling Baroey).
Following the opening statements, each candidate was asked the same question regarding the USMC community. The question was as follows: “Do you feel that all students find a welcoming, safe learning environment at [USMC]? Why or why not, and how would you try and rectify this?”
While each candidate’s answer varied, the general consensus was that every candidate for an executive position has found a welcoming and safe community at USMC, but nevertheless, they feel that the perception around campus is of a secluded, hostile environment.
“I think the reason that all of us probably agree that St. Mike’s is a welcoming community is because when we first arrived to St. Mike’s, we experienced what St. Mike’s is capable of being,” Strazds said. “Unfortunately, in the past, we do have a bad reputation and that is from incidents that happened years ago, and it’s going to be our job as a council to rebuild that image.”
The second round of questioning was position-specific, and included questions regarding changes to the SMCSU Constitution (asked to the VP candidates) and appropriate use of SMCSU levies (asked to candidates for VP Finance). This was followed by opening up questions to those in attendance.
It remains less than a year since the return of SMCSU following a nine-month prorogation during the 2016–17 academic year. The incoming council will be the second since the USMC-involved “re-imagining” of SMCSU. The voting period for SMCSU executive elections will be from April 4 to April 14. Eligible USMC students can vote here.