UVSS ELECTIONS | All Candidates Forum sees Directors-at-Large discuss plans for mental health, divestment initiatives

Campus News

Candidates share stage with referendum proponents in two-hour forum

The University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) election week kicked off with an All Candidates Forum Monday afternoon in the SUB, with referendum proponents and candidates running for Director-at-Large (DaL) positions sharing the stage in a two-hour affair with discussion centralized around mental health, divestment, and decolonization. 

With students filling the seats and booths of Vertigo, the forum began by asking the proponents of the three referendum questions — Jonathan Granirer, Tuqa Al-Musawi, and Shayan de Luna-Bueno — to join the moderators on stage. With no representative from the Students of Colour Collective (SOCC) present at the forum, however, only Granirer and Al-Musawi took the mic. 

Granirer, UVSS Director of Outreach and University Relations, used his opening statement to explain how open educational resources — such as free online textbooks — would help students struggling to afford rent and tuition, and make education more accessible.

“I believe that the UVSS should be saving students money, and that’s exactly what this referendum does,” he said. “I think we need to be realistic and pragmatic in addressing the affordability crisis. The UVSS, by itself, can’t immediately lower rents or decrease tuition, but what we can do right now is decrease the cost of textbooks through funding the creation of open-source textbooks.” 

The next referendum question asked if students would support an increase of their fees to the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) to expand their student refugee program. Al-Musawi clarified to the audience what WUSC does, and how increasing funds to the program would help their group assist international post-secondary students who had to flee war-torn countries. 

WUSC sponsors three students every year to come to UVic, Al-Musawi said, and if the referendum passes she said there would be money to sponsor an additional student. 

“Every year, students receive almost $37 000, which includes everything — rent and courses for one year. But by increasing this funding, we would sponsor one new student and we would have more resources and money for the current students,” said Al-Musawi. 

The final referendum question will ask students whether they approve increasing student fees to help SOCC fund resources for minorities on campus

After a brief question period on the referenda, five DaL candidates at a time were welcomed to stage in alphabetical order. The first five candidates were Abdul Abuelazm, Isaiah Adachi, Jana Barkowsky, Ramneet Bhullar, and Marran Dodds.

Questions in this segment echoed the overall themes of the forum: divestment, decolonization, and mental health —specifically how each candidate would make services more accessible for students. 

Most candidates discussed expanding the resources of the Peer Support Centre, and using training to help decrease burnout among volunteers. Barkowski advocated for increasing the number of counsellors on campus to address mental health issues, and highlighted how students can use these resources. 

“There isn’t enough accessibility of these resources, particularly first years as they might not even be aware of how to access [mental health services],” said Barkowski. 

Addressing divestment issues, Dodds and Abuelzam both argued that they would hold UVic more accountable with divestment — with Abuelzam saying he would push for more student-led protests and discussions with university administration. While Adachi added that Jamie Cassels’s resignation coming in the summer could bring new opportunities for his successor towards divestment. 

“With the president of UVic being changed soon, and the new Board of Governors coming in, I think now is the time to turn on the heat of divestment,” said Adachi. 

Both Dodds and Abuelzam described how they would attempt to decolonize the UVSS board, and increase diversity among the members. 

Following another brief question period, Nick Gaina, Elizabeth Giesbrecht, Evan Guildford, Reeve Henderson, and Emily Hiser were the second quintet of candidates ushered onto the stage. 

When asked for their opinions on the previous UVSS board, a majority of the candidates commended their cooperation and the strength of their environmental policies — specifically there push for environmental materials and reusable cups for food services on campus. Hiser and Giesbrecht suggested the board could have done better outreach to and education of new students. 

“One thing I think needs to be improved is outreach to new students, as well as events that foster a sense of community on campus,” said Giesbrecht, who added as a current first-year student she didn’t feel supported by the UVSS as much as she would have liked. 

With the next question following up on student engagement, candidates were asked how they would increase participation within the UVSS. Hiser responded first by saying town halls should be implemented to drive up engagement, while Guildford highlighted that the UVSS should be putting more emphasis on the “Kick-Off” events at the start of the academic year to foster a positive relationship with students from the start of their time at UVic. 

Finally, after a couple of questions from the audience, the final five candidates — Isaac La Roy, Paarth Mittal, Jocelynne Parent, Victoria Ritchie, and Carlton Taylor — were brought to the stage. 

First, candidates were asked how they would support decolonization on campus, with Ritchie saying how she would hold the UVSS and the university accountable.

“When we talk about decolonization we can’t just use it as a buzzword, it has to be a movement to shift the language we are using and do it in a way that’s not just respectful, but brings in Indigenous perspectives,” she said. She suggested expanding land acknowledgements, discussing Lekwungen law, and not only using Robert’s Rules during UVSS meetings could help foster decolonization. 

The next question asked whether candidates would be in favour of running a deficit in order to complete their goals.

La Roy, who advocated for mental health, said there shouldn’t be a price tag for mental health and that the UVSS should do whatever they can do towards mental health initiatives. 

Transitioning into the final question period, one audience member asked the candidates about an issue that was seldom discussed during the forum: consent on campus. 

Parent responded first by saying consent training should be mandatory for everyone living on campus, while La Roy added that he would help revitalize the “Let’s Get Consensual” campaign. Many candidates echoed those statements, and advocated for in-person training opportunities for students, rather than online ones. 

Following a few more responses to the consent question, the forum was brought to a close after approaching the two and a half hour mark. 

For more, follow @TheMartlet on Twitter for our live-tweeting coverage of the UVSS Elections. Voting will take place from Mar. 4-6