By: Luke Faulks, Staff Writer
The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) elections are here once again. Led by SFU students, the SFSS works to represent and advocate for fellow students. Some of the ways they do this are by managing student spaces, the extended health and dental plan, the U-Pass program, the university’s free legal clinic, and an emergency food bank certificate program. There are seven positions available on the SFSS Executive Committee that any SFU undergrad can run for. We reached out to some current members of the SFSS to give us the rundown on what each position entails.
This year saw the resignation of SFSS president Gabe Liosis and the temporary appointment of vice-president internal and organizational development Corbett Gildersleve in his place. Gildersleve’s term will end on May 1, when the next elected president commences their term.
The president chairs various meetings and is required to ensure all SFSS members’ compliance with organization policies, including “collective agreements, employment contracts, and staff relations policies.” As the SFSS’ highest-ranking member, the president is expected to represent the organization in communications with the general public, SFU students, and at formal events.
If necessary, the president will also communicate with legal counsel.
- Vice-president internal and organizational development
Candidates with a zest for policy may enjoy this role. In an interview with The Peak, Gildersleve said what excites him about his role are “policy updates and policy reviews to make sure our rules are working and doing the job.” When it comes to any event, he said “you have to think about the SFSS system, what does that look like, what are the logistics needed to get that going?”
Gilversleve highlighted the VP’s role in developing a training system for the executive development of councillors. It’s a practice that had been worked on for several years, culminating in a fully-formed program this year.
This past year, the Governance Committee (focused on SFSS constitutions, bylaws, and Board policies), under the VP’s guidance, made recommendations for the establishment of a Black, Indigenous, and people of colour committee, changes to the SFSS privacy policies, changes to the SFSS elections and referenda policies, and more. The committee also performed several reviews of the SFSS’ structure aimed at informing those recommendations.
- Vice-president finance and services
The crux of this role is to oversee the finances and commercial endeavours of the SFSS. Current VP Almas Phangura said a regular day can involve meeting with the “bank, investors, and financial coordinators,” and communicating with student services “like TransLink and StudentCare.”
This last term saw an effort to make the SFSS’ finances more transparent for students. That work is reflected in the 2021 annual report for the Annual General Meeting (AGM). The report offers a snapshot into some elements of this VP’s portfolio. Some highlights from Phangura’s term included:
- WUSC x SFSS Scholarship;
- Afghan Scholars Funding Disbursement;
- Financial Report and Presentation at the AGM;
- SUB Soft Opening Consultation Group, and;
- A Financial Audit.
- Vice-president university and academic affairs
This role is intended to lobby the university on undergraduate students’ behaviour. This lobbying can take many forms, from communicating between the Board and the university, to organizing students’ involvement and collective action. They’re also asked to recommend policies related to university-undergraduate relations.
This year, the VP’s university and academic affairs committee undertook several projects, including:
- COVID-19 Town Hall for students;
- P/F grading scheme in recognition of the rigours of the pandemic on students;
- Support for the Burnaby Mountain gondola project;
- Advocating an end to invigilation and proctoring software for online exams;
- Researching reforms to end “sick notes” as a barrier to student success, and;
- Creation of the Student Wellness Working Group aimed at bolstering students’ mental health.
- Vice-president external and community affairs
The VP external and community affairs is responsible for communicating and coordinating with “external groups, community organizations,” and lobbying the government on behalf of undergraduates. According to current VP Matt Provost, this outreach can also take the form of “digital campaigns” to raise awareness, which have been a highlight of his time on the executive committee.
One of the best parts for Provost is the position’s ability to help groups in need. He cited the group’s response to last year’s disastrous flooding in BC, which saw $10,000 raised to support the affected areas. In this situation, the VP organizes partners to support and contribute to the project.
The outreach to external organizations, including the government, doesn’t just consist of lobbying. The role demands “listening to [the community] and then communicating back to Council.” This includes collaborating with groups in need of assistance, or institutions that “have a direct or indirect impact on the society and its members.”
Provost also said research is a key component of the role, such as researching ways to “build community relations” and support students.
- Vice-president equity and sustainability
In the newest role on the SFSS Executive Council, this VP is responsible for communicating with groups “representing marginalized communities on behalf of the society.” On the flip side, the VP also partners with SFU offices to work on raising awareness and eliminating discrimination. Like the VP external and community affairs, this role revolves around outreach, with a more pronounced social justice lean. The VP is expected to represent the SFSS on issues of anti-discrimination and climate justice, as well as lobby public and private institutions on students’ behavior.
The 2020–21 SFSS Annual Report flags several advocacy projects undertaken by this group’s first VP, Marie Haddad. This includes support for student movements like the changing of the SFU Athletics “Clan” name, the Let Us Speak campaign, and the #StudentsDeserveSpace campaign. Issues like community safety and Trans-Mountain expansion hazards are also in the VP’s portfolio.
Internally, the VP is responsible for holding “anti-oppression training within the first semester of the elected term” for SFSS directors and staff, and is asked to make policy relating to “equity, anti-oppression, disability justice, anti-racism, sustainability, and climate justice.”
- Vice-president events and student affairs
As the executive group’s primary events organizer, COVID-19 has significantly changed the job. The remote nature of this position isn’t the challenge, but rather the speed at which COVID-19 changes. Being online, then sporadically in person, leads to plenty of rapid shifts in planning. This past term, current VP events and student affairs Jess Dela Cruz, said a significant departure from years past has been never having to manage a building during an event, due to the preponderance of events being held online.
That’s not to say the role hasn’t been busy. The VP’s portfolio includes management of student affairs, which has been the focus of the last year, like giving out free things to students and “donation drives for the flood.” The role also includes overseeing student unions and constituency groups’ participation with the SFSS.
In 2021, the Events Committee, overseen by the VP, organized many events, including:
- Black History Month;
- Anti-Racism Workshop;
- SFSS Trivia Nights;
- Pet Yoga with SFU Recreation;
- Tidy Tuesdays;
- Social Media Giveaways.
Each current member interviewed said meetings and emails are a big part of every day. Communication skills between fellow executive members, Board members, other student groups, and SFSS staff are essential to keeping an organization moving forward. While staff members’ jobs follow regular hours, executives’ roles can take them into late or early meetings. Those interactions with staff and fellow members, said Dela Cruz, are a highlight of an executive’s job.
Another aspect of SFSS executive life raised by each interviewee was the challenge of relearning their positions as student life oscillates between in-person and online learning. Hoping for the pandemic to ease off, SFSS executives are hopeful the next set of executive committee members will enjoy greater consistency in their positions.
With respect to salary, every executive and non-executive councillors receive a flat stipend. According to Gildersleve, executives are currently paid $1,050 twice a month, and non-executives are paid $175 over the same period. In May, those stipends are set to increase to $1,170 and $195.
In this election, each of the above positions has posted a vacancy. For students looking to make a difference on campus, have an impact on external communities, lobby the government for change, or help trim organizational bureaucracy, it may be worth throwing your hat into the ring. To enter, students must fill out a nomination package and email it to email@example.com by no later than January 31.