Advocacy outshines policy at all candidates forum

Diminishing segregation, promoting inclusion, denouncing rape culture – all brought forward by TRUSU candidates

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

Candidates pushed social and advocacy platform points rather than policy at this year's all candidates forum. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

Candidates pushed social and advocacy platform points rather than policy at this year’s all candidates forum. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

TRUSU election candidates took questions from the student body and the electoral committee during their last chance to campaign before polls opened. Seventeen of the 18 students running were present at the all candidates forum on March 27.

Diversity and inclusion turned out to be points of interest for all candidates, including addressing steadily increasing international student concerns. Policy seemed to fall by the wayside as candidates promoted many advocacy platform points.

VP internal candidate Pooyan Sijani said being able to communicate with different ethnic groups will take the work of a team, not just one person. He said there is a lot of separation between international and domestic students and he’d like to promote integration in all areas the student union reaches.

“We need to get more engagement between domestics and internationals and also Aboriginals and internationals. We need to have a body of the university to achieve that all together, not separate,” he said.

VP internal candidate Melissa Gordon agreed that segregation on campus is harmful to the campus community and she would promote events that will unite the student body as a whole, starting with a joint orientation.

“Having that acceptance and allowance for everybody to be involved is key,” she said.

After a student union leader at the University of Ottawa was the subject of an explicit online chat that went public, women’s rep candidate Paige Bernard said the women’s collective will work to combat rape culture and help make TRU as a safe environment for all students.

“It really hit our union hard. We had worked with her before, or other people on the floor had worked with her before, and we don’t really want that to be present at TRU,” she said.

Running for re-election as president, Dylan Robinson said, as spokesperson for the union, it’s important to be able to put aside personal objectives and speak on behalf of the student body as a whole. Robinson said he wants to see the scope and depth of the student caucus grow.

Robinson’s only opponent, Abdullah Abalkhail, said TRUSU needs to take a bigger role in educating the students about the opportunities they have to play a role in the larger university governance system so they can take advantage of them.

Abalkhail and Robinson both spoke in support of extending health and dental coverage to international students. Robinson said it would also benefit domestic students because the price of coverage will go down if more students are signed on.

With a municipal election coming up, VP external candidate Leif Douglass said the fall will be an important time to lobby the municipal government to improve the bus schedule.

“We can really push candidates to make transit a priority,” he said.

Another VP external candidate, Blessing Chiduuro, said the student union will have to take on an investigative role in order to find out what students really want from their municipal government and not just assume.

Trad Bahabri is running unopposed for re-election of VP finance and wants to work on getting a new discount program running, forging community partnerships to get students discounts at businesses throughout Kamloops.

“I want to help you guys save money,” Bahabri said.

Since directors-at-large sit on multiple student union committees, many didn’t have a particular area of focus but expressed a desire to learn about the union through their position.

However, Lahana Ghosh said she wants to get involved with the policy and services committees. Since TRUSU was able to help her deal with a housing issue, she wants to do the same for other students who might not realize the services that are available to them.

Kaitlin Clement said, after being involved in the sweatshop free campus campaign this year, she’d like to work on improving transit schedules.

Meanwhile, candidates for advocacy positions were all asked what the biggest issue facing their collective and constituency group was.

For Aboriginal students rep Liz Whiting, she said it’s raising awareness about the lack of post-secondary student support program funding Aboriginal students get and how it’s affecting their education opportunities.

For grad students Sabina Donnelly, she said her major concern is the lack of services and infrastructure for graduate students that stems from TRU’s grad programs being a cost-recovery plan.

International student rep. candidate Meshari Alanazi said flat rate tuition costs continue to be the number one concern from international students while the other concern is getting international students health and dental coverage.

For LGBTQ students, Nic Zdunich said the collective needs to continue to work on promoting inclusivity on campus, give the LGBTQ community more of a voice and combat homophobia with education.

Learn more about this year’s candidates: http://truomega.ca/2014/03/24/a-rundown-of-the-2014-trusu-general-election-candidates/