A summary of the 2021 SFSS candidate debate

Potential members of the SFSS Executive Committee announce their commitments to students

by Jaymee Salisi, News Writer

On February 11, 2021, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) held a candidate debate for their 2021 Executive Committee elections. The Executive Committee is elected by the student body to represent undergraduate students and advocate on their behalf with SFU administration and governing bodies outside the university. Candidates introduced their platforms and answered questions from other students regarding their potential plans with the SFSS. The Elections Chief did not approve all candidates simultaneously, which may have affected campaigns. The Peak reached out for more information, but did not receive a response.    

 

President

Current Vice President (VP) University Relations, Gabe Liosis, stated that he is running because he believes that “students deserve a Board that embraces student unions and activism.” 

He added that he has “the knowledge and the information necessary” to lead the SFSS under its new governing system. He explained that the position of VP Equity and Sustainability will be introduced in May to the Executive Committee. Additionally, the new structure will have seven people on the committee who will be accountable to the legal Board of Directors.

He aims to bolster the tuition freeze movement by pushing the government to provide more public funding to post-secondary institutions. 

Liosis also stated his commitment to continue pushing for the pass/credit/no credit system for all courses, stop exam proctoring, and aid in the implementation of the Burnaby Mountain Gondola project. 

He explained he would give historically silenced voices, such as Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry, Out on Campus, the Women’s Centre, and First Nations Student Association, guaranteed seats on the decision board. According to Liosis, the university’s relationship with the RCMP can be harmful to students so he plans to find “different forms of community policing that aren’t harmful to BIPOC communities.”

There were no other candidates for this position. 

 

Vice President of Internal & Organizational Development

Previously the VP Finance and Services, Corbett Gildersleve cited his experience in reducing the administrative budget by $400,000 and stated his plans to “modernize the SFSS, develop workshops to train core student union executive positions, and continue to make the SFSS more open and accessible.” He stated his intent to do this by using his involvement in anti-oppressive committees to develop and integrate equity-focused training for the Board.

While Ronit Chawla was absent from the debate, his online platform outlined his involvement in leadership at SFU as VP Finance for the SFU Cricket Club and VP Planning for SFU Fashion Week. He hopes to work towards a tuition cap and work/study program that gives all students a chance to participate. Details were not provided. Students are encouraged to contact Chawla with further questions through the email listed online.

 

Vice President of Finances & Services

Cole Gorst explained that his experience with general accounting for the Newton Canadian Baseball Association would make him qualified for the position. Gorst’s platform states that the SFSS has not financially aided students. He plans to change this by reducing fees using the financial surplus of the SFSS and increasing communication and engagement with the student body.  

On his online platform, Gorst expressed that the SFSS “failed to provide students with the full story and immediately jumped to conclusions without first properly researching the issue,” regarding the December 2020 arrest of the Black alumnus on campus. He stated he would “encourage responsible representation of SFU students through fair, unbiased, and professional communication.”

An anonymous attendee claimed that his platform was reactionary and centred around white supremacy. Gorst responded, “Trust me I’m more diverse than you think.” He welcomed others in the chat to speak more about his plans on social media.

With a background in human resources and bookkeeping, Almas Phangura’s platform stated her commitment to increasing student support and funding for student advocacy activities by creating a three-year financial plan. She also committed to creating an international student fee cap. Details were not provided. Phangura did not attend the debate, but students are encouraged to discuss her plans further through email or social media.

 

Vice President of University and Academic Affairs

Serena Bains was the only candidate for this position. They stated that in the past, they advocated for the needs of marginalized students as a SFU Disability and Neurodiversity Alliance Representative for the SFSS. To move towards making academia accessible for everyone, Bains explained that they have begun creating an accessibility bursary without a GPA requirement for students. 

“As a disabled student, this is an area that’s really important to me, so it’s definitely a priority of mine to try and center disabled students at SFU and to try to ensure that academia is accessible to all.”

 

Vice President of External and Community Affairs

As the current VP Student Relations, Matthew Provost outlined his experience building relationships with the community at large and advocating for change based on their needs. He plans to collaborate on “climate justice initiatives with groups on and off campus.” He also hopes to continue working towards creating equitable and accessible student services by taking into account the “different intersectionalities that students face,” and collaborating with food banks and community groups. 

Karan Sharda currently serves the university as President of the Indian Student Federation, and aims to provide students with financial stability by increasing part-time job opportunities. He looks forward to pushing for a four-year tuition freeze to allow students to plan their expenses ahead of time. No further details were provided. Sharda did not attend the debate but welcomed students to contact him for more information about his plans through the email listed online.

 

Vice President of Equity and Sustainability

The SFSS’s newest role is responsible for ensuring that all directors, staff, and members receive anti-oppressive training, and that those endorsements are reflected throughout all of their activities. VP Equity and Sustainability must also work with and represent marginalized groups in the Society.

Marie Haddad described her experience as a member of the BIPOC Committee of the SFSS as well as her involvement in changing the SFU athletic team name. She stated her commitment to pushing for systemic change by “redressing Black harm” and amplifying the voices of Indigenous students throughout her service. Haddad stated that she would invite marginalized students to administration meetings to provide their input. 

Avneet Kaur aims to work towards changing SFU’s diversity policies during the recruitment processes for senior leaders. She emphasized that her campaign is not built on previous work in equity and sustainability, but rather about coming to students with an open mind to “have continuous dialogues around equity.” 

During the rebuttal period, Kaur explained that she has addressed her privilege and unconscious biases, “I spent a lot of time educating myself because this was not a part of my culture [ . . . ] back in India.” She believes that students need a leader like herself, who is approachable and willing to learn because every community has different experiences. 

 

Vice President of Events and Student Affairs

As the current University of Academic Affairs Member-At-Large, Jess Dela Cruz described her plans to bring activity to the SFSS “through an equitable framework.” She stated that she is committed to providing student groups with the resources needed to foster a safe and inclusive environment. 

Moving forward, Dela Cruz plans to encourage student groups to be inclusive by stating their names, pronouns, and access needs in every meeting, and for clubs to provide trigger warnings before potentially harmful content. If elected, she hopes to hold a student appreciation event to credit students, and reduce barriers, and award bursaries.

Experienced with involvement at  Let’s Talk SFU, Jyotnoor Kanwar aims to work on improving mental health initiatives, bursary programs, and engaging events. She shared her plans to create a group for students to have companionship and support during the pandemic. Kanwar said she is committed to collaborating with other executives to provide financial aid for students through bursary funding. She plans to provide students with opportunities to learn from SFU alumni to improve their skill sets. 

Drawing from volunteer experience such as tutoring children and “helping a research team with data management,” Gerard Corr’s platform stated his aim to make himself accessible to students and improve communication between clubs to foster student engagement. He would do this by getting feedback from club leaders and members. Corr also emphasized his goal of implementing mental-health initiatives. If elected, he plans to distribute a survey to find out what kinds of events students wish to see from the SFSS, and organize accordingly. Corr did not attend the debate due to getting his wisdom teeth removed but students are welcome to contact him if they have any questions.

Pooria Arab was also a candidate for this position, but did not attend the debate or submit a platform.

 

Referendums

Four referendums were announced during the debate: 

  • a housekeeping bylaw to fix typos and clarify processes on the SFSS website
  • re-ordering how bylaws appear in the SFSS bylaw document
  • financial restrictions on administrative wages
  • a policy restriction to prevent future boards from contributing to climate change

Full candidate platforms can be found on the SFSS website, and students can vote from February 16-18 via SFU Mail.