Q&A with the Students’ Union 2021-22 presidential candidates

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Q: When and why did you decide to run for Students’ Union President?

Pegah Jamalof: So, I guess we can start with back in first year. I got here, I felt involved in the community, but I didn’t know how really to get involved too in-depth. Second year, I joined my sorority, and then I started to make more connections and seeing how the school ran, and then in third year, I decided to run for Board and Senate, I saw how much change that we could do just simply with administration in those areas. When I saw Devyn’s platform and I saw what Devyn was promising or what her goals were, I thought that was really cool, to have that kind of power and jurisdiction, to see that was what students were capable of doing. So, I kind of knew then that that was what I wanted to do. I’ve also been very passionate about mental health advocacy and I think that this is one of the best ways to really get that push to take this role on. And then going back to just like my really formative years, I guess back in high school, in grade 11, I was really inspired by my English teacher. He wasn’t really an English teacher, he was a social studies teacher, and I was pretty lost in what I wanted to do, so he kind of guided me into the roles of policymaking and politics and that’s how I decided to come to Laurier and study politics and now get to where I am.

Joey Small: A lot of it harkens back to an experience I had in second year. Back then I was looking to run for election to the Board of Directors of the Students’ Union, and the university’s Board of Governors, and I’ve not shied away from this, but one of the main reasons I did run was I was really keen to see someone I knew over in Brantford. I’m not gonna unpack that, but suffice it to say, it wasn’t the noblest reason. So that changed a little when I had a sit down chat with Tarique Plummer who was running for re-election for the Board of Directors, he was also looking for folks to vote him in as chair of the board that year, so Tarique … he complimented me on my scarf and that was basically the foundation of our friendship. But he basically explained the ins and outs of Students’ Union, elections, politics of the union and university, the whole shebang and he could see that I really could have been going at the job for a better reason. So, he impressed on me to understand that what I was going for was an important check and balance upon the spearheader, or the spokesperson if you prefer, for the Students’ Union, the president, and that if I was to be elected to this position, by the demands of my peers, then I would be accountable and expected to deliver on those wishes. So that really helped me understand why I should have been running. This answer has been shortened.

Why do you believe that you’re the best candidate for Students’ Union President?

Jamalof: So like I said yesterday, I have a unique opportunity, because I’m on the Senate and the Board of Governors, which in itself is very rare for a student to have both positions, not only that, I’m going to be carrying these positions into the following year. So, that means that not only do I have a good insight on what the Students Union would be doing, if I were elected I also have a good understanding of what the administration wants. So in that, I have the perfect role to really mediate between the two.

Small: It’s very, very difficult to condense my, going on 6 years experience, into a very short answer for you but I would start with my hands-on experience with governance over two years of work with the Board of Governors, my year of involvement with the board of directors, especially my role in chairing the Finance Committee of the board, and stepping in as acting chair during a very, very serious policy crisis for the union – that whole fiasco when Tarique, when he ran for president. So that experience … It did help me establish my confidence in my ability to both set the agenda for any meeting table I’ve been on, and to respect very, very polarized sides of a particular argument. This answer has been shortened.

Q: If you were to be elected as President, how will you advocate for students amid the COVID-19 pandemic and through online learning?

Jamalof: I’ve already began advocating for students with online learning on the Senate. So what a lot of students don’t really know is that the Senate is actually the body in charge, sort of alongside other administrative bodies, for this Respondus Lockdown problem. It’s actually the body of government that incites or creates the credit system that we just got implemented. So I actually did a lot of the work for that and I really petitioned a lot of professors for that alongside my team, and I’m really happy that we had that chance. So, I do know how to advocate for students in that sense academically. Furthermore, mental health and sustainability goals are all things that I’ve been able to contact different areas of the school with. Also, even regardless of COVID-19, one of my biggest points was that I want to have communication streamlined as to what resources are available, and that’s all online, right? So using systems such as BetterHelp, which is a completely online resource, was something that I was considering even prior to COVID. So I don’t think that, though COVID is a huge aspect of our lives, I don’t think it will hinder my ability to advocate for the students.

Small: Negotiating policy through COVID is a major challenge that the organization has faced, and I’ve expressed some of my concern for the direction that President Kelly and her team started out with last year and I understand that they did adopt a very serious crisis, and naturally, some degree of that … was unparalleled. But, knowing that I’ve inherited a precedent that she has set, I aim to develop upon the positive change she developed so far, in setting the groundwork for a great new website to recapture what worked about the Perch, in particular, to help clubs and associations across the both campuses, that are really struggling and are bound to third party social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram, to market themselves. I want to alleviate that struggling and help them find a one-stop shop to market all their information to students. That one-stop shop … will be the key to effective communication with students and administrators during my upcoming tenure. On top of that, it was mentioned yesterday, at Open Forum I should say, my reverence to Tarique Plummer’s communication policy. I mentioned restoring the monthly updates that Tarique used to use, and it speaks largely to count on actionable items rather than buzzwords. Clear communication, open collaboration are great ideas … but they’re strategic rather than operational. And so I’m all about tangible action. This answer has been shortened. 

 Q: What is one goal you wish to achieve as Students’ Union President?

Jamalof: So yet again, anything I can do for this student body regarding mental health and sustainability, that would be great. But one thing that I’ve also come to realize, having talked Kanwar, to Devyn, to SU, Phil, who’s the one of the full time staff, is that a lot of the stuff that the President does, it’s only 365 days, right? So it’s really building stuff for whoever would come into the position after me but also building on whatever Devyn or prior to her had started formulating. So, it’s legacy building, but it’s not just me getting one thing done and completely like, ‘that’s it,’ but also setting up people, my predecessors, for success. Obviously, having mental health resources be marketed as well as possible is probably one of the biggest goals and having sustainability, sustainable goals also implemented, is another big goal of mine. But you know, I could keep going as to how many goals I have.

Small: One of the biggest flagship ideas that I’ve actually not spoken to, alongside The Perch restoration, the monthly checklist renovation, restoring clear communication, is a restoration, or revival I might say, of Tarique Plummer’s unrealized … ‘Integrity Initiative.’ It’s been a bit of a difficult policy for me to navigate. As I’ve fleshed it out … on my platform, it involves a lot of different people … dealing with students across both campuses, former VP student affairs David McMurray, student equity for the Waterloo campus, all of those different groups. But based on their input … I’ve come to understand why Tarique felt the need to implement a dedicated initiative to promote diversity and equity within the community. And part of that concern, if I might delve a into it little deeper, is that .. students, particularly from marginalized communities, students of color, particularly international students, as well as students from the MSA, the Muslim Students Association … often felt alienated by a culture that’s perpetuated by volunteers. And whether intentional or unintentional, it’s disappointing to see that certain students felt like they just, while they weren’t explicitly told they couldn’t be a part of certain meetings and parties as it were, between the volunteers, they knew that there was a lot going on that they just weren’t being invited to. That they would have loved to have checked out, but were just kept away from, behind closed doors. This disappointed me for a number of reasons, and it’s a part of a larger culture that needs to be challenged. This answer has been shortened. 

Platform specific questions for candidates:

Q: One of your first platform points is that you want to incentivize STI testing. So, how might you go about doing this and what went into your decision to make it one of your platform points?

Jamalof: So I guess, I heard about this at Western I think back in my first or second year. They did incentivized testing, you know, what they did was they gave out a cookie if you went to get tested, and they did that in the big student areas. Obviously, I’m not really suggesting that, but what I am suggesting is to have students, maybe like a gift card or a raffle if they go to get tested, to have it more marketed would be great. I know that the ‘YourStudentsUnion’ does so many different types of raffles and stuff like that, it wouldn’t be completely unavailable or something that’s like, too radical. Also talking to Wellness, we spoke with Wellness obviously, before we put this on the platform, to see how plausible it was. They said that it was definitely plausible and that we would definitely have to find a way to do it, but it was something that I really thought would be a great idea. I had this idea because Western had done it. But also, speaking with a lot of different doctors on campus and Wellness, STI’s are very common among our age group, and they affect a lot of students, so taking away the stigma of getting tested would be a huge benefit to our community.

Q: The only platform that you have available for students to read is the one that’s on the Students’ Union website. So, how do you plan to campaign and get students to vote for you with such a limited campaign going?

Small: I want to clear something up. I might actually do that with a bit of a question. I wonder, do you play poker much? … At the poker table, you’ve been dealt your hand and you can see you’ve got four aces, ready to go, on the first hand. For the record, that’s a very, very good hand. Now given the position, and knowing that other players around you might have a good hand of their own, but knowing that your hand was particularly good, would you immediately lay your cards right out on the table, or wait for the wagers to go around … and then when interest had peaked, start to share your cards? .. The question is more rhetorical but it speaks more to the confidence I have for the four platform steps. What I’ve done, I think, through both the platform summary, my conversations at Open Forum and Instagram Live, is start by inspecting the table. Taking some time to see what the other players are up to, make sure I understand what’s at stake, before I’d like to lay down my cards. I’ve witnessed the comings and goings of elections … all the way back in 2016, and over five years of two week campaigns I’ve noticed an alarming trend in that there’s a whole lot of interest right when every candidate rushes right off the gate to put their information on the line. Information streams through, they promote themselves in two weeks but toward the end of the campaign, student interest tends to peter out. This answer has been shortened. 

Certain portions have had to be omitted due to poor audio quality or inaudibility.

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