Two slates are vying for executive positions in the 2015 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections.
The campaign period for UTSU executive and Board of Directors positions began at 9:00 am on Monday, March 16, 2015.
Team Change U of T is led by presidential candidate Cameron Wathey, incumbent vice-president, internal and services for the past two years. Team Brighter U of T’s presidential candidate is Ben Coleman, who currently serves on the Governing Council as an Arts & Science full-time undergraduate student representative.
Wathey hopes to harness the knowledge and skills he has gained from his two years working as vice president, internal and services to continue the work of the UTSU. “I’ve been involved and done a lot of great things with the previous teams from small things… like expanding upon our printer, so students can continue using our cheapest photocopying and printing on campus, to bigger picture things such as working on flat fees,” he says.
Wathey adds that, though he has had the privilege to do good work with two UTSU presidents in the past, he hopes to approach a new role with the students’ union with his own set of priorities. “This year I really want to focus on making sure there’s more of a community at U of T, as well as making sure that students from all over are being represented,” Wathey says.
According to Wathey, the main focus of the Change U of T slate is improving student life. “We want to make sure that students are prioritized first,” Wathey says. To Wathey, this includes providing support to student-run clubs and campaigns, as well as increasing mental health support. If elected president, Wathey says he will also focus on advocating for representation on Governing Council for international students and including international students on the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
For his part, Coleman wants his team to be “strategic and realistic.”
“When we put more detail in the next week about our platform, it’s not going to be bullet points. It’s going to be, ‘this is how we think we’re going to achieve this, this is what we’re going to do’… and then at the end this is the change that is realistic that we think we might see,” he explained.
On academic matters, Coleman says he wants the university to guarantee all first-years a place in a seminar course and to strengthen the UTSU’s Professional Faculties Committee. He also wants to see more information and access to financial assistance for students from lower income families or students who face barriers to education.
Overall, Coleman hopes to have a positive campaign. “I’m hoping to have fun… I mean, it’s a big deal, it’s important, there’s a lot the UTSU can do for students. We’re trying to stay really positive, we don’t want to be like the kind of opposition campaign that’s really negative,” he says.
Ryan Gomes, candidate for vice-president, internal, emphasized his time on the UTSU’s Board of Directors as engineering director, on the executive of the Engineering Society (EngSoc), and as club representative of LGBTQase. “I know how an executive is supposed to work, and how people work together,” he says.
Gomes has been closely involved with issues around the board restructuring debate, which he saw as something of a lesson in compromise and moderation.
He hopes that his experience will help him implement the kind of initiatives he feels the UTSU needs to take on — namely, branching out to take services to students. Gomes says his priority is to partner with colleges to bring union activities and resources more directly to the general student body.
Grayce Slobodian is running against Gomes for vice-president, internal and is also hoping to draw on her experience to provide quality services to U of T students. Slobodian is currently UTSU vice-president, external and previously served as UTMSU’s vice-president, campus life.
Slobodian is focusing primarily on service delivery as well as continuing initiatives that have been priorities of the current UTSU executive, such as eliminating the exam deferral fee.
Agape Amponsah-Mensah is Change U of T’s candidate for vice-president, external. She is the current president of the African Students’ Association. She cites her previous work with other campus organizations and Black Lives Matter as experience for her candidacy.
With her background in equity studies, Amponsah-Mensah is committed to improving accessibility issues, such as transit. Amponsah-Mensah wants to “[eliminate] having two TTC cards when you’re taking the bus.”
Jasmine Denike is the only Brighter candidate that was not previously a member of the UTSU executive or Board of Directors; she has served with the Innis College Student Society (ICSS) as a marketing director, student representative, and a graduation representative.
Denike was also one of the core students involved in the Students Against Sexual Violence project and with the Thrive Initiative.
Though she actively participated in student life at Innis College, Denike said that she had a difficult time learning about and accessing services and resources in her first two years at U of T. It is a priority for Denike to ease the transition for new students before frosh week to make sure students are coming in aware and prepared to connect to the services they need. “A big thing for me is accessibility for first- and second-year students,” she says.
Vere-Marie Khan refers to her extensive involvement at St. Michael’s College (SMC) as preparation for the position of vice-president, university affairs. In addition to her previous role as the SMC representative on the UTSU Board of Directors, she has served as finance commissioner for the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU).
Vere-Marie Khan says that she was motivated to run for Brighter because, though she was initially disenchanted by the UTSU, she now sees opportunity for action. “Watching the changes that have just started to happen, I’ve really… been encouraged to see the difference that I can make,” Vere-Marie Khan says.
Vere-Marie Khan will prioritize mandatory mental health training for faculty and teaching assistants, as well as outreach to international students and lobbying for the drop credit should she be elected vice-president, university affairs.
Xinbo Zhang says he would prioritize the development of a world-class career fair if he is elected vice-president, university affairs. “One of my goals for next year is [to] have an on-campus career fair that targets everyone and all students, and all of the majors, including majors such as philosophy; those majors people don’t really think of [at] the career fair,” Zhang says.
He adds that his experience with U of T clubs has given him the tools to successfully execute Change U of T’s plans. “I would try to make [the career fair] at least the largest in Ontario, if not Canada,” Zhang adds, saying that the career resources currently offered at U of T do not befit the caliber of the school.
Brighter U of T candidate Sania Khan, associate to the current vice-president, equity at UTSU, is hoping to take up the same mantle. Sania Kahn believes that her background in women and gender studies and peace, conflict, and justice studies has prepared her uniquely for the position of vice-president, equity. She is the president and founder of the Pakistan Development Foundation, a non-profit, student-run organization.
Sania Khan says that her experiences as a Muslim, a Pakistani, and a woman have helped her realize the need for spaces to accommodate marginalized and racialized groups. “I understand the difficulties that minorities face,” she says.
Should she be elected vice-president, equity, Sania Khan says she will prioritize the representation of minority groups, equal opportunity for campus club funding, and lobbying the university for action on mental health and sexual violence policies.
Change U of T candidate for vice-president, equity, Frishta Bastan was not available for comment.
The All-Candidates Debate is scheduled for Thursday at 6:00 pm in Medical Sciences Building room 2170.