By: Gabrielle McLaren, Features Editor
Name: Samer Rihani
Department Affiliation: Health Sciences (Populative and quantitative stream; fourth year)
Hometown: Surrey, B.C.
Hobbies: Self-described social butterfly. His brother is currently trying to teach him about Fortnite.
Fun Fact: Samer can cross one eye and flip his tongue.
“Have you ever tried to eat a clock? As it turns out, it’s quite time-consuming.”
That’s what came out of Samer Rihani’s mouth when I asked him for his favourite joke, although he did have to think long and hard to pick his absolute favourite.
“[My clock joke] never gets a laugh, it never does anything, but it shows people I have really low standards for jokes,” Rihani explains. And there’s plenty more where that came from. Seriously: he has a note on his phone full of dad jokes. Apparently, he’s that guy in the SFSS’ office.
This is Rihani’s first year on the SFSS’ board of directors. In his first year at SFU, Rihani ran for the SFU senate. He admits to having had no idea what he was doing, and was only known at the time as “first-year senate guy,” and was “decimated to a pulp” (his words, not mine).
“But I put myself out there,” Rihani says. “And I realised how fun it is to get to know people.”
“I [didn’t] want to graduate from school and just have academic knowledge,” Rihani explains. “I wanted to know that when you go into the real world this is what you expect.”
He ran for senate and lost again in second year, but had a much stronger campaign and presence. After getting the feel for what political participation on campus was like and getting involved in clubs, Rihani turned his attention elsewhere: the SFSS.
“I’d always had issues with the SFSS,” Rihani admits. He’d complain about the SFSS and get teased about joining them. And eventually, by his third year, he told himself: “Why don’t I go in and fix it? Why don’t I go and act on the things I complain about?”
Since the September 24 impeachment of Jas Randhawa, Samer Rihani is the acting president of the SFSS (according to SFSS by-law 4). But Rihani had originally been elected as the vice-president of student services.
One of the things that attracted him most to that position was that “student services” encompassed the health and dental plan for students. For someone who aspires to dentistry, this chance to work with insurance providers and healthcare professionals and consultants was alluring.
“Before [I worked at the] SFSS I worked at Starbucks . . . I’d never had a chance to really see what it was like to be the lowest on the totem pole . . . I wanted that exposure to really challenge myself.”
Just last summer, the health and dental plan for students has changed. Rihani is proud to tell me that the SFSS has saved students over $300,000, but it’s no secret that things have in many other ways been turbulent for the SFSS, to say the least. Still, Rihani says he has reason to believe that there are good things on the horizon. He’s looking forwards to “a great team dynamic.”
“We have a team now of people who have stuck it through the worst,” Rihani says. “We pushed through the hardest month of, arguably, our lives and came out of it. People stuck together, we’ve had challenges, and excruciating meetings, and all-nighters . . . but now we know that the people who are around are the people who want change to happen.”
According to Rihani, restabilizing the board is an integral part of the SFSS’ journey onwards. But after the AGM, the board is conscious that they’ve got hundreds of extra pairs of eyes on them. The SFSS’ to-do list, outlined by Rihani, includes getting in touch with the groups who spoke up at the AGM, and strengthening communication within the SFSS, as well as with its clubs, and student unions, and Council. The issue of the Student Union Building looms on the horizon as well.
“The name of the SFSS is mainly known for all the drama,” Rihani admits, well aware of the image the society has amongst students. He even has a favourite impeachment meme from the SFU Dank Memes Gang (which was fresh off the meme press, the morning of our interview).
“It’s so weird to see so much engagement from the student body, by just random people commenting the letter ‘f’ over and over and over again,” Rihani said. And while Rihani is a big believer in showing a sense of humour, these exemplify how “people have no idea what to expect from us now.”
“I like the light-hearted nature,” Rihani said. “Of course, when it comes down to student dollars you have to take it really seriously. But if you don’t know how to have some fun and take care of yourself and of the people around you, you get nothing done.”
Rekindling the SFSS’ relationship to the student body will be no easy feat, but Rihani has a slew of ideas: tabling, handing out food to people, asking people about their day, going to student union meetings, attending club events, mass candy distribution, coffee with board members and students . . . “We need our name to be known on campus.”
Rihani also thinks that students want to see transparency from the SFSS, especially those who are heavily involved in campus life. Rihani admits that the SFSS can do better in makings its committee and board meetings accessible and public to SFU students. He hopes that social media will be able to fill that role.
“For me, my big initiative will be telling people what’s going on,” Rihani says.
Still, it’s a challenge that Rihani trusts his fellow board members to embark on. He remains optimistic, citing the creativity of the memes and of the name submissions for the SUB as positive signs that the student body is engaged. While Rihani didn’t leak any hot details regarding name selections, he did share that “Subby McSubFace” came up as a suggestion “too many times.” He concedes that “maybe this is what the people want,” but his personal favourite? “The Highland SUB.”
“I showed my Mom that one,” he says. “Whoever did it: kudos.”
And what will Rihani’s role be in this reconstruction process?
According to the SFSS’ by-laws, the duties of the SFSS’ presidency now falls on him. However, Rihani makes it very clear to me that the board is going to try something new and separate the president’s role amongst the VPs.
“There are a lot of people on that board who are more qualified in a lot of things than I am, and I want to take full advantage of that.” Rihani says.
According to Rihani, his new responsibilities will be redistributed to the most appropriate and qualified board member. He hopes that this will also help to build a sense of trust, communication, and camaraderie within the board as well. The board has already discussed this at length since the AGM, and students can expect a more concrete statement in the future.
For Rihani, being on the board was a humbling experience. “I’ve had a lot of chances to learn about myself and what I’m comfortable with and how to do things…” To students who may also be interested in running for a position on Board next May or who are new to SFU, Rihani recommends talking to Board members to find out more about the SFSS and opportunities on campus.
“Our office, right there, the door is open,” Rihani said. He acknowledges that in the past, the SFSS could be difficult to reach. But he’s hoping to change that, and make things easier. For Rihani, his unconventional presidency will be focused on getting back in synch with the student body.