Candidate in focus: Zeru Asress, vice-president external

VP external candidate Zeru Asress talks engagement, Canadian Federation of Students and more

The Omega asked this year’s candidates in contested positions to respond to a variety of questions concerning issues on campus. VP external candidates were asked about how to increase engagement between the students’ union and its membership, how to retain students at TRU as well as their support for leaving the CFS.

Zeru Asress, Progressive Advocacy slate. (Juan Cabrejo/The Omega)

Student engagement

Asress said that when it comes to fostering engagement between the students’ union and its members, TRUSU isn’t doing what it should be.

“I’m in a few clubs, and I’ve seen that from working with TRUSU, it isn’t the most transparent relationship. I feel like that turns a lot of people away from the union,” he said.

Engagement between the union and their membership should start at the beginning of a student’s university life, believes Asress.

“One thing I have noticed, is that on Orientation Day we hear a lot about other clubs, but as far as the union goes, it is very neglected during orientation,” he said. “Orientation should be everyone’s introduction to everything at the university.”

Keeping students at TRU

When it comes to better retention at TRU, Asress said that the university needs to work on its recognition. Specifically, he thinks that diversity is the key to success.

“We are really good at scoping out international students in a lot of ways. I think it is something we can still work on,” he said.

Speaking about issues with program choices, Asress believes that some programs need to be reworked to be more compatible with student needs.

“I know a lot of people who were looking to do a political science major, but they are not too fond of economics, but right now they can only do them together,” Asress said. “So they opt to do a different major, with a minor in poli sci. So as far as programs go, we need to grow in the aspect for sure.”

On leaving the Canadian Federation of Students

Asress admitted that while he doesn’t know much about the CFS and BCFS split, he is aware that there are issues with the CFS that need to be addressed.

As far as services offered by the CFS, Asress said he doesn’t feel TRU students are getting their money’s worth.

“I feel these services are not well used. I feel that with the international student cards, I have been looking to get one for a long time, I feel like the union doesn’t push students to get those,” Asress said. “I want students to go to the union and know what they are going there for and understand their purpose.”

If there is an appetite at TRU to leave the CFS, Asress said that he will work with students’ best interests in mind.

“I think it is important to look at what other schools have done, what has worked and what hurdles they have overcome,” he said. “But also look at the hurdles we have to overcome, and I think that will all have to come together for us to make a formal decision.”

On the focus of a students’ union

On whether TRUSU should focus on providing its membership with services or invest more in campaigns, Asress said the union needs to strike a balance.

“I feel like you can’t just focus on one specific side,” Asress said. “You can’t just focus on individuality, we aren’t all snowflakes, obviously, right?”

Despite this, Asress realizes that many students have issues with finances and that TRUSU should be addressing these issues first.

“I hear a lot of people complaining about transit and parking too. The way that they are going about these things, with pushing people to use transit by having expensive parking. That doesn’t really make sense to me, instead of trying to raise the bar they are trying to lower it,” Asress said. “I think just as far as that goes, we need to address both individual needs as well as the overall need together.”

If elected, Asress wants to work more closely with TRU’s many clubs, including the TRU chapter of World University Service Canada (WUSC). This fall, Asress is hoping to have TRUSU hold a referendum to see if students will support a new $2/semester levy to make WUSC’s Student Refugee program more sustainable.

On divestment from fossil fuels

The divestment campaign is something Asress believes TRUSU isn’t taking seriously enough and only further alienating them from their membership.

“Divestment is one of the main concerns and focuses,” Asress said. “A year ago, I remember SAC saying they would put pressure on the school to divest from fossil fuels and then a year later I haven’t really seen anything on divestment since then.”

To Asress, divestment isn’t about money, noting that it’s not necessarily a big part of TRU’s investment portfolio. Instead, he said divestment is about the environmental ethics and the overall integrity of the university.

While Asress noted that TRU is underfunded and the university must do whatever it can to obtain money, he says TRU’s lack of funding can be attributed to issues within the BC provincial government.