Written by: Srijani Datta, Assistant News Editor
There are over 4,000 graduate students in SFU, who are spread across 38 academic programs in all three SFU campuses. All graduate students are represented by the Graduate Student Society (GSS), which is their student society and government. From November 19 to November 23, the GSS will conduct polling to elect graduate student representatives to fill the GSS Directors positions.
The Peak reached out to the candidates to ask them some questions pertinent to the positions they are running for.
Note: Candidate responses are unedited and do not reflect the perspectives of The Peak.
The elected DER will take on the responsibility of communicating with external parties, such as government representatives and other student societies, on behalf of the society regarding society advocacy initiatives such as the U-Pass.
- Why did you decide to run for DER?
- What are some of the key issues specific to the graduate student population, across the three campuses, that you are looking to address and how will you do so?
Burahan Ceylan (Department of Political Sciences)
- I found the job definition of the position pretty appealing to me.
- I do not have a specific issue to address honestly. What I know very well is that I will do my best to serve in the interests of graduate student population and the SFU as a whole.
Matthew McDonald (Department of Economics)
- I decided to get involved because there is a real need for co-ordinated advocacy and action around affordability, mental health and other related issues, which have reached a crisis point for the student population. Graduate students are acutely impacted by these problems, and I’d like the chance to represent them by running for a position with GSS, an organization that has access to many resources and effective channels to push for change. The Director of External Relations position in particular represents a great opportunity to make alliances with similar-minded student groups across BC. We need to pressure government representatives to assist grad students, a very important part of our future labour force and economy, with policies aimed at housing, childcare, and student grants/aid.
- Students at all three campuses face similar affordability issues. Horror stories about ‘renovictions’, abusive landlords, and a lack of housing obtainable within a graduate student’s budget are heard throughout Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey. Mental health services are insufficient, oversubscribed and difficult to access. Many graduate students are trying to raise young children but find it tough to get an opening at a safe and reliable daycare. Obviously, these problems are massive and systemic, and will take years and much political willpower at all levels of government to resolve. However, creating programs specific to graduate students, like earmarked housing and daycare positions on and off campus as well as added mental health counselors and services, is possible now. If elected, I will be a steadfast advocate for the interests of SFU graduate students during this time of crisis.
Noortje de Weers (Department of Linguistics)
- During one of [the Council] meetings in July, a motion was passed to remove the previous director of external relations from their position, thereby leaving the position unfilled. A second motion had already been drawn up to appoint an interim Director of External Relations (DER) to tie the GSS over until the next elections, but the Executive Committee had not been able to find anybody at such short notice, so there was a blank where a name should’ve been. They admitted that they did not think they could find someone to take the position, but I surprised everyone (including myself) by spontaneously putting myself forward as the interim DER. At the time I was asked why I thought I was a good fit for the position, to which I replied that I did not necessarily have any unique skillset that made me stand out from the rest, but that I figured that somebody helping to take pressure off the other Directors would still be better than nobody. I added that I was a quick study, and that I have no problems addressing difficult problems head-on. I was voted in unanimously.
Since that day in June, I feel like I have fully grown into the role, and that I can at this point confidently say that I now most definitely do have the skillset and know-how to successfully serve as the GSS DER. I have gone from scrambling to catch up to all the information in my portfolios to initiating events such as a Puppy therapy to promote mental health, and setting up a university-wide research participant recruitment system in collaboration with the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. I now know the people within SFU that are relevant for my position, which practically means that I would not need to be transitioned into the role. I am currently no longer the DER, as my position was only for 4 months, so it ended yesterday. I am itching to get back at it though, as I really enjoyed my work as the DER, and I have big plans going forward. I really feel like I am making a difference.
2. The main issues that I will be working on are: mental health, communication, and graduate funding.
– One of the key issues that I was working on together with the Dean of Graduate Studies was to advocate to the SFU to institute formal mental health first aid training to all current and new TAs and MAs, hopefully as early as January 2019. Since we are working with TSSU as well, this training will also probably be extended to sessional instructors as well. This initiative arose from the violent incident that took place on campus on October 3. I would love to see this kind of training instituted for all members of staff and faculty as well, since I strongly believe that a lot of graduate students’ supervisors could benefit from learning how to recognize at an early stage whether their students are overworked, overly stressed, or suffering from mental health issues.
– In response to students’ reactions to the recent incidents that took place on campus, I want to work with SFU to improve and optimize communication with students regarding serious or troubling incidents on campus.
– in my role as the DER, I gave a speech to the provincial government during their 2019 budget consultation. I advocated for the newly instituted BC provincial graduate student scholarship to become permanent (it’s now only for 2 years), and to include international students as well, as it’s currently only available to domestic students. I intent to continue advocating for this, and to work with SFU to collect data on how this scholarship can help both domestic and international grad students.
Vivek Anand (Beedie School of Business)
- The responsibility for external advocacy campaigns that target all levels of the government to improve the lives of graduate students was the primary motivation to apply for this position. Negotiating for the U-Pass will be the first step towards improving their lives by cutting costs. SFU has 3 campuses across the 3 zones of Vancouver and the U-Pass covers those zones. Students in the respective campuses remain in those zones for most of their time during the year. A reduction in the price of the pass will ensure a fair deal. Besides a price reduction, I want to collaborate with SFU and TransLink to arrange for compass cards for students on orientation day in the respective campuses.
The motivation to improve the lives of people comes from some personal experiences. We can all be at our best when we know there’s someone to pull us up when we fall. In graduate school, we need support during our ups and downs so that we can focus on what we’re all here for. Being on the edge is not only harmful to one’s well being it also drifts one’s focus away from academics and extracurricular activities.
2. Off-campus housing: Approx. 70% of students at SFU come from outside of British Columbia. It is natural for them to be overwhelmed by a new place and SFU Residence cannot accommodate each and every student. There are people out in the city who openly take advantage of those students. Some of them try to scam them while others try to exploit them. This affects their personal well being, their academic performance and, their overall graduate school journey. From a very recent personal experience, I know how serious the issue can be. As the director of external relations, I aim to address this issue with SFU Residence and a Government agent or a Politician. The SFU housing website gives access to landlords in the Vancouver area to post ads so that students can contact them. I strongly believe, the following regulations need to be implemented on landlords approaching SFU for students: (a) a rental price ceiling (b) mandatory inclusion of all utilities in rental fees (c) Active involvement of SFU Residence to address any conflicts. (d) Mandatory credit/background check of landlords
Moreover, an assurance from SFU and/or SFU Residence on the credibility of landlords will to students will go a long way in helping students secure accommodation before reaching Vancouver.
Coping with Stress through fostering a community spirit: The root cause of most of our problems as graduate students is stress. SFU consists of 3 campuses that hardly interact with each other. We are all aware of the challenges we face as SFU students. We face stress which roots from uncertainties, deadlines and post-graduation career opportunities. The best solution to deal with the stress is to foster a community spirit among all SFU students. Many students here are away from their homes and end up facing their stress in isolation as they feel reaching out to even fellow classmates is burdening them with their worries. The 3 campuses are under the same university but seem to function as independent entities. True strength lies in interdependence and we can all be successful by complementing each other’s weaknesses by each other’s strengths. Academics at SFU is very challenging and supporting each other will ensure that none of us fall out.
I aim to collaborate with student organizations and SFU Health and Counseling to host an event each month at a fixed location in the Vancouver area that is convenient for students across all campuses to commute to. The goal of the events will be to foster a community spirit among all graduate students and indulge in activities that the SFU Health and Counseling recommends as methods to make people happier and relaxed. From experience, I can confirm that a fresh mind can do wonders while a saturated mind can cause confusions.
The elected DF will take on the responsibility of managing society finances and data. The DF will also be involved in initiatives to raise revenues.
- Why did you decide to run for DF?
- How can you ensure the society’s finances are accessible and transparent? Any key investment or budgetary plan you plan to put in effect if elected?
Dapinder Singh (Faculty of Education)
- This position is a great opportunity for me to engage with as my past experiences would help me a lot. Moreover finance is the lifeline of every organization and everyone has to pay out of his/her hard earned money. This is not enough to track the inflow or outflow of the funds but it is the judicious use of funds that matters. So that all of us as students do not find any issues related to finances such as unwanted hike in fees, scholarships availability, housing or other issues which may hinder growth of students. My work is transparent involving one and all as I believe in- Be the change that you want to see in the world.
- I think as per your question society’s funds are properly accessible & transparent only when there is an excellent management of financial resources and proper availability of information of the same.
For any key investment, first I will have to have complete knowledge of operations such as society’s Income, expenses, assets, liabilities and cash flows etc. so that a successful budgetary plan can be put into effect.
Md Ashraful Alam (Beedie School of Business)
- I have to say that I am really passionate about finance. That attracted me the most to apply for this specific post. I believe that my experience coupled with my academic learning and motivation, I can serve SFU and the GSS to my fullest extent. I think that I can learn a lot by becoming the Director of Finance which will enable me to work with the GSS with its different agendas as well as work with external stakeholders. Finally, this opportunity will enable me to interact with all the graduate students and I will have a great graduate experience.
- I can attest that if there is one thing that I am always thriving for, that is transparency. That is one of the core values that I deem to be important for any professional and it is also mentioned in my campaign material. Now, for being transparent, I will always be accessible to the graduate students, whenever the need arises. For different financial agendas, I will directly work with GSS and other parties to make the financial information accessible to all the graduate students whenever possible (except if there is any confidentiality, which is for the sake of SFU). Furthermore, I will always be available for any concerns from the graduate students and try to be at their disposal.
Finally, I am going to devise a financial budget after I get elected where I will definitely ensure optimal capital allocation to maximize the utility of our resources. Currently, I can’t outright make any comment without looking at the current capital structure, sources of financing and uses of the financing and capital budgeting. Therefore, I can at least ensure one thing, my wholehearted endeavor will be to execute every financial decision in a way so that it will be optimal for SFU.
The elected DGS oversees all services provided by the GSS to its membership, with the main two areas of focus being the Benefits Plan and the U-Pass. The DGS is also involved with financial aid provided to graduate students.
- Why did you decide to run for DGS?
- What are some of the key graduate services that you are looking forward to improving or adding? Which is the most used graduate service at the moment and why?
Nicholas Page (School for International Studies)
- Having completed my B.A. in International Studies and Criminology here at SFU, I am well acquainted with the uniqueness of our institution, student bodies, and the politics between the two.
- It is my goal to provide you with the most helpful and efficient programs possible, whilst setting us up for future financial success. These include: improving accessibility to existing mental wellness programs; Enhancing our current UPASS benefits; Creation of a discount food & grocery program and Renewing the Holiday Hamper Program with support from Private Donors & the Private Sector.
The elected DUR takes on the responsibility of liaising between the GSS and other SFU organizations, such as university administration and the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS). The DUR advocates for the society with these groups.
- Why did you decide to run for DUR?
- What are some of the issues, specific to the graduate student population, that you are looking to address and how do you plan to work with grad students from across the three SFU campuses on those issues?
Thomas Budd (Faculty of Environment, Graduate student in the School of Resource and Environmental Management)
- I believe the Director of University Relations is a position where I could bring positive change for grad students. Since the position was created at the GSS, I believe progress has been made, for both grad students and the University as a whole, due to the advocacy conducted by those who occupied this role over the past years. I feel my background and experience at SFU will complement the responsibilities and requirements of the position in a way that would continue the excellent work of the previous directors.
- There are three issues that I look forward to making a priority during my tenure as Director of University Relations:
- Affordable housing for graduate students: Graduate student housing is not scheduled to expand until 2028. I will work with the administration in finding a balanced approach that will advance the date when new housing units become available to graduate students.
- Supervision for the 21st century: I will work with SFU as part of their student experience initiative to improve the supervisory experience for graduate students.
- Standardization of student representation at SFU: I will advocate for a uniform approach to student engagement across faculties and departments that supports meaningful student consultation practices.
To truly succeed in my role, I feel that I would need to remain connected to grad students and understand their diverse perspectives. With the valuable assistance of the GSS staff, I would put in place a personal communication strategy whereby I may reach out to students of all three campuses throughout my term. My goal is to continuously seek the advice of students and ensure that their message is heard by SFU’s highest executives. True advocacy requires the support of everyone. Together we can continue to build an SFU that reflects our values and remain responsive to our needs as students.
More information regarding all of the candidates and their profiles can be found on the GSS Elections website.