June Li is a fifth-year PhD student studying laboratory medicine and pathobiology. She has been a graduate student at U of T for eight years, having done her master’s degree here as well. She feels that this has made her aware of what changes need to be made through the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU). In an interview with The Varsity, Li said, “I just want to take all of the experiences that I’ve had, and I want to leave a lasting change.”
Changes that Li wants to implement include making the UTGSU’s presence stronger in students’ lives, as well as creating more opportunities for graduate students to learn practical skills like networking, résumé building, and financial skills. Overall, she recognizes the changing nature of graduate studies as a whole, saying she wants to “support the students to let them know that there are more career paths and more things they can do with the degrees that they get here than just… academia or medicine.”
Jeffrey Lynham is a third-year PhD student in biochemistry. He is currently the co-chair of Grad Minds, the UTGSU’s mental health advisory committee, and also the editor-in-chief of Elemental, a mental health magazine affiliated with Grad Minds.
“I want the UTGSU to make student wellness more of a priority,” said Lynham on his reason for running. He would work to increase the insurance coverage for mental health services, which is currently $500, as well as advocate for the implementation of a peer support program.
Lynham would work toward creating a new executive position — a wellness commissioner — who would work closely with Grad Minds and focus on the specific health-related needs of graduate students. “They have a civics and environment commissioner, but why not a wellness commissioner as well?” asked Lynham.
He would also create a central website where graduate students could easily search the resources that are available to them, covering academic, financial, and wellness supports.
Mateja Perovic is a master’s student studying cognitive neuroscience, the current executive-at-large of the UTGSU, and vice-chair of its Finance Committee. Perovic has also taken on the responsibilities of the external commissioner following the resignation of Maryssa Barras in November.
Perovic’s main goals are to improve mental health support for graduate students, create more funding opportunities, and support students during disputes. This would also include creating more effective channels of communication between course unions and the UTGSU.
She particularly placed an emphasis on creating a “firm anti-oppression structure.” While complimenting the current executives on addressing equity issues, she said that she hopes to ensure that “such concerns have no ground to grow on in the first place.”
Jesse Velay-Vitow is a second-year PhD student in environmental physics. He currently serves on the UTGSU’s Policy and Operations Committee, and is the vice-president external of the Physics Graduate Students’ Union.
He wants to reach out to the students who opted out of the UTGSU’s fees during the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), a mandate that allowed students to opt out of incidental fees that were categorized as “non-essential,” to see why they felt the UTGSU was not meeting their needs. “They gave us a clear signal: ‘the union is not working for us.’”
He cited his main priorities as outreach to students and publicizing the work of the UTGSU. He would work with the departments under his jurisdiction to ask how the union can better serve their needs. “I really want to go to the course unions… and ask them, ‘What can the GSU do for you?’”