The Inspire UVic cooperative (R.I.P., slates) is campaigning with five candidates for Lead Director positions: Isabella Lee is running for Director of Outreach and University Relations, Katy Berglund for Director of Student Affairs, Shaun Zhang for Director of Finance and Operations, Tal Katz for Director of Campaigns and Community, and Sebastian Franco-Monroy for Director of Events.
Abdul Abuelazm, Carlton Taylor, Elizabeth Giesbrecht, Evan Guildford, Isaac La Roy, Jana Barkpwsky, Jocelynne Parent, Ramneet Bhullar, and Reeve Henderson are campaigning with for Director-at-Large positions.
Many students will recognize Lee, who was Director of Student Affairs on the 2018–2019 UVSS board. Though each candidate has issues close to their heart, the Inspire cooperative unites around the desire to improve student access to mental health supports.
What are the three most important aspects of your campaign?
Franco-Monroy: Transparency, building community, and hosting more large events for students would top my list. I don’t want students to be surprised when they find out the UVSS exists for their benefit — they should constantly be reminded that we exist because they come to our events.
Berglund: Compassion, community, and consent. Students need greater access to, and promotion of, mental health resources. We need a stronger community through easily understood and transparent information, specifically course union and club outreach. And I want to create and implement a consent and accountability framework for clubs and course unions to be able to use and enact unilaterally.
Lee: A Green New Deal for Students. Divestment is so important, but in this climate crisis, we need to go even further. Students need to stand together to call for full divestment, carbon-negative institutions, and more climate research. In addition to that, we need to get UVic to stand up and help students facing mental health problems. Finally, the UVSS needs to expand its decolonization efforts.
What did last year’s board do well and what did they do poorly?
Berglund: I would like to give my biggest thanks to the current board for promoting divestment. However, I would like to have seen more promotion of mental health resources and consent campaigns, as these are things that always have and will continue to affect students.
Lee: After seeing this board walk back promises and lose focus on students, I knew if I wanted change I had to step up. I was really excited to see so many students stand up for Divest, but I would have liked to see more of a push for consent culture and open-resource textbooks.
Zhang: I think the current board has done well on the divestment campaign. They’ve really dedicated themselves to this cause. On the other side of that, I think they have perhaps focused a bit too much on this one campaign and have all but forgotten about student services and other forms of advocacy. I was also pretty disappointed with how Campus Kick-Off turned out and with the drastic reduction in the number of events hosted this year.
How do you plan to improve upon, or do differently, what you feel the previous board has done poorly?
Katz: We desperately need to revitalize the “Let’s Get Consensual,” ReThink Mental Health, and #TextbookBroke campaigns, while lobbying for affordable housing policies in the Greater Victoria area and on the provincial and federal levels. Students face so many costs that can’t be addressed as individuals.
What compelled you to run in this election?
Katz: Course unions and clubs are a great way to build community on campus, and I’ve been active in both since I first came to UVic, but I feel like there is not enough support when these communities we’ve built for ourselves have internal troubles. Everyone deserves to feel safe and heard on campus, and I want to be there for those who need help. Clubs and course unions struggle when it comes to dealing with harassment internally, and we need a guideline to help those bodies become more consent-aware and have a solid framework to aid when problems arise.
Zhang: I think I can do better for students in managing their fees and spending towards services and events they care about. Everyone needs to know with absolute certainty that their money is being allocated in a way that directly benefits them.
What is the biggest issue facing students on campus, and how would you address it if elected?
Katz: Apathy. Maybe it’s because I’m in engineering, but I think everyone is so busy with work that they don’t realize they’re too deep before they’re drowning. So many students come into engineering with the goal of getting their degree as fast as possible, and they burn out and learn how few support structures UVic offers.
Zhang: Distress, loneliness, and anxiety. I’ve been at UVic a while, some would say a little too long, but I know most of the struggles that every student has likely experienced.
Typically, only about 15 per cent of the student population vote in UVSS elections. How do you intend to “inspire” participation in student politics, or in events you would run on campus if elected?
Franco-Monroy: Hosting more frequent events is a big one for me. A lot of large UVSS events have been cancelled this past year, and I think that’s had a huge impact on the student community. It’s tough to make friends if there’s nowhere to meet them.
Katz: We need UVic to be a campus where it’s a lot easier for students to have fun. Making sure that people have a space where they can be themselves will lead to the campus being more connected. Social movements can’t manifest if everyone feels isolated all the time.
What do you think is important for students to know about your campaign and the upcoming elections?
Zhang: That they pay millions each year to the UVSS and they ought to say something along with that money, too.
Katz: I believe everyone running in this election is here to make the school a better place, but in different ways. [Students’] role in all of this is to decide on their priorities and go out to vote. My campaign is directed at the daily issues facing students as I see them.
Do you think it’s the UVSS’s responsibility to focus on issues outside of just the University of Victoria campus? If not, why? If so, what issues?
Franco-Monroy: Absolutely. The Society represents the interests of students, and their interests aren’t geographically bound. I plan to spend a lot of my time on the board advocating for renters’ rights.
Lee: It’s a balancing act. The UVSS runs off student money, so our primary focus is students. However, students don’t live in a void, and the UVSS should recognize when issues affect students, and when to speak up.
Zhang: Any issue that students face is something we need to address. Our job is determining where our focus is most needed and where our impact will be greatest.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Voting for the UVSS elections will take place from March 4 to 6. The Martlet and CFUV are co-hosting two election events, the All Candidates and Referenda Forum on March 2 and the Lead Directors Debate on March 3, both at 2:30 in the Vertigo lounge.