The McGill Tribune

Meet the 2016-2017 SSMU & PGSS executives

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SSMU VP Operations

Sacha Madger

What have you done this summer?

I’ve been working on a few things [….] I was working on this project called a crash pad pilot for frosh. I had about 100 kids sleeping in the [Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)] ballroom instead of going home […and we] kept some kids from driving home drunk […. I’ve been] looking at the Student-Run Cafeteria (SRC) inside and out [with VP Finance Niall Carolan] and we have dissected some of the expenses, the losses, and set up a plan of attack on how to push this forward. [The executives] are going to be a lot more hands-on [with the operation…] literally making it all student run [….] Minicourses is moving smoothly, we’ve had long conversations on how to make [it] more efficient [….] I’m going to be doing a lot more feedback surveys as well, looking at what we can do and what’s been successful in the past.

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

I’ve been looking at a project to get connections with the indigenous community and display indigenous artwork in our building. We have a policy on indigenous solidarity and one way to uphold this is to offer the opportunity for indigenous artists to display their work [….] I’ve reached out to the on-campus community and I’m looking to have indigenous students form a selection community [….] One of [my other] biggest focuses is going to be handling some of the construction issues.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

A building as old as this one often has a lot of surprises […. I’m] certain that there will be building issues in my time in office. [It’s] frustrating because [I] have to drop other projects just to keep the status quo, essentially. [The executive structure] is better than before because we now have someone who can drop everything and respond quickly when we need crisis management.

SSMU VP University Affairs

Erin Sobat

What have you done this summer?

So, obviously a big thing is the McGill Sexual Violence Policy [….The] student-drafted policy was rejected by the administration in April 2016, what happened then was in May the university circulated their own draft and so we spent quite a bit of the summer going back and forth with them on what that draft was, what potential there might be to make changes, and what the community consultation was going to look like [.…] We [also] hired a researcher to develop an unpaid internships policy. Specifically, we have a researcher looking at external regulatory frameworks of McGill in terms of internships that it is promoting and providing [.…But] also some kind of further advocacy within McGill and also at the provincial level for remunerated opportunities, and for better, stronger regulations around unpaid internships and the inequities associated with those.

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

So, there are some things I haven’t had as much of a chance to address over the summer, either intended or just because people haven’t been around — Fall Reading Week, for example. That’s something that we will probably revisit this month because the momentum on that kind of stalled in the late spring, and the summer didn’t seem to be a very good time to revisit it or get in touch with enrolment services. There’s [also] the Library Improvement Fund. So, as always we’re going to be trying to consult students actively on proposal ideas. [The fund is] a lot of money, so it’s really important that student priorities and student initiative ideas be reflected in those allocations. We’ll have a kind of a consultation period probably in October to start developing initiatives and start working with libraries. In terms of student communication, I’m hoping to push a lot of information out, but also bring a lot of information in. And so I’m going to be having some conversations with our senators and also our counsellors on how we can [improve student communication]

What challenges do you foresee this year?

Time and resources. We have very ambitious plans and I’ve seen some good progress on a lot of things […] but we’ve had cuts to our resources, so we’ve had to make cuts to student-staff hours and things like that that are pretty essential [.…] And also, as always with this portfolio, just addressing how slow-moving the university is. I would have liked to have started on the Fall Reading Week advocacy in June […] and [now] it might happen in October.

SSMU President

Ben Ger

What have you done this summer?

[During my campaign] I spoke about [Wellness Recovery Action Programs (WRAP)] spaces in the SSMU building and making sure the clinic had enough space to run WRAP, which are group therapy sessions. We’ve been working with them and [...] hopefully their program will be expanding a little bit because of that [....] When it comes to Mental Health 101 training for faculty and professors, [...] all new faculty will be getting Mental Health 101 training [during incoming faculty orientation] and that’s happened already this year [....] [We’ve been looking] into equitable alternative governance and the different structures that are present at other universities. For SSMU, [we’re looking at how we] can be more equitable and have more voices around the table. [There are] a lot of barriers [when it comes to] council accessibility. The second piece of the research is more specific to McGill [and] how can their Board of Governors be more accessible, take more student input, and be more equitable in makeup.

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

My office has been working on an executive shadowing program [called A Day in the Life]. In October, we will [offer students the chance to] spend a day or half a day with a [SSMU] executive. We want people to have more understanding of what we do here and to [allow] people who might want to run for a position to see what it’s actually like. We will be expanding to the administration as well so hopefully this month the Principal and some other people from the Board [of Governors of McGill (BoG)] will come in to shadow me for a day to help build understanding between [us and] the administration [....] Some members of the administration have asked why we don’t take a full course-load as students, there is clearly a very big misunderstanding of just how much work there is and the extent to which [our jobs] are like real jobs, not just a student position. I’ve been working with members of the BoG to build up use of the BoG as an advocacy piece. Typically the BoG has been a pretty big barrier when it comes to presidential advocacy because of how small the student perspective is there.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

I see that there is strain on my office because when things affect the president’s portfolio it’s not just me–it’s the whole team. We’re short of resources here. So, when we still want to run our projects, at or past capacity, we’re going to reach those areas where there are [more resources] required than are available. However, for now I’m feeling good and excited!

SSMU VP Student Life

Elaine Patterson

What have you done this summer?

Lots Activities Night-focused things [....] and lots of getting used to what this portfolio is going to entail for me [....] It’s been a lot of liaising with the other executives [....] over the summer while we’re adjusting to the new structure all together.

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

[The] Peer Support Centre is one of my favourite things to talk about because it’s getting a new space in our building [....] on the fourth floor, where most of our services are now located [....It’s] going to be starting their first year as a SSMU service.

We’ve decided to have Mental Health Awareness Week in the Winter semester, and [we will] hopefully to get our mental health committees—the outreach committee and the advocacy committee—solidified [....] by early October [....] One reason we decided to have Mental Health Awareness Week in the winter is so that we can really [utilize] student help from the mental health committees in planning that event. Another thing that I’ve been working with [SSMU President Ben Ger] and the mental health commissioners on, since the mental health commissioners fall under my portfolio, is implementing Mental Health 101 training for all incoming faculty and staff.

[We’ve been] figuring out how to keep moving forward with family care initiatives. We are planning [with the Social Equity and Diversity Education office (SEDE)] [....] to implement Study Saturdays or Sundays, [which is] a [....] weekend daycare for [student-parents] while [they] are studying.

I’ve also been working on club workshops, like the equitable and sustainable event planning training, and making [....] club events more inclusive of everybody.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

[None] that I see right now [....but] with the construction happening, we’re in for a tough year because people don’t necessarily know how to get to SSMU, or don’t feel like walking through all this construction to get to our building. [VP Operations Sacha Madger] has a plan for that.

SSMU VP External

David Aird

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

There are four major parts of the portfolio [...] External Affairs, which involves interacting with basically anybody outside McGill. This is mostly limited to Quebec student federations, like the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), where I still sit as an observer at meetings. Then, there is Political Affairs, which includes supporting the three political campaigns on campus that we are mandated to support — Divest McGill, Demilitarize McGill, and McGill Against Austerity — and also includes mobilization aid for students with independent campaigns [...]. Then, there is Community Affairs, where we’ve been working on the Community Action and Relations Endeavour (CARE) agreement, signed by the last VP External [Emily Boytinck], the Milton-Parc Citizens Committee Vice-President Hélène Brisson, and the Dean of Students [Andre Costopoulos]. It’s an agreement that highlights our relationship with the Milton-Parc community, [...] a relationship that is unique in all of Canada in that we’re very close to the Milton-Parc community and we have to maintain very close ties. [...] Finally, there is Francophone Affairs which I will be combining with Community Affairs into one committee headed by the Community Affairs Coordinator and Community Engagement Commissioner.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

In the past, it has been difficult to find a common voice when pronouncing ourselves on political issues. We have a very diverse student body, many of whom are from other parts of the world. We should have a common voice — a voice that represents all. [When approaching divisive political issues], the main objective should be to do so responsibly. If people want to come forth with a motion, it’s not anyone’s place to tone police or to tell them what to say [...] but we will collaborate as much as possible. We’re working on helping students to draft motions outside GA [...] which is inaccessible to many students. That way we can put forward something that has been collaborated on by multiple parties, instead of coming into the [General Assembly (GA)] with irreconcilable differences.

SSMU VP Internal

Daniel Lawrie

What have you done this summer?

The internal portfolio took a much smaller role in Frosh this year, which was great. We were able to focus solely on community relations and the administrative aspects of Frosh [...] I met with the police, [Milton-Parc Citizens Committee Vice-President] Hélène Brisson [and] did all the community relations stuff. Recently, under my portfolio is First-Year Council (FYC) [....] I’m completely restructuring it and combining aspects of the First-Year Undergraduate Network and the FYC together into one thing.

Another thing I did over the summer was Grad Frosh [....] The event went super smoothly; I had some pretty good feedback, which is great.

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

Besides the FYC structure update, just some more general communications initiatives. [On Sept. 6] we had a meeting with the Dean of Libraries [Colleen Cook] to talk about some new initiatives. All those library [TV] screens would be a really useful medium for us to present some information, such as ways to get involved on campus [....] Something that we were thinking of doing [on the screens] was SSMU facts [...] as a way to disseminate super useful information to students.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

The challenge that I foresee for this coming year is definitely going to be, as I said before, getting everyone on the same page that SSMU is there for them. So hopefully by all the initiatives that we have coming into this year, people will be able to see SSMU in a better light, I feel like that’s going to be a challenge: Changing the general opinion of SSMU. [...] I feel like if you are able to get everyone on the same page [...] that will really help us be successful in our events.

SSMU VP Finance

Niall Carolan

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

Firstly, implementation of a socially responsible investment fund, in which I have been working closely with Desautels [Faculty of Management] members to implement a fund that has a much stronger emphasis on the social impact of where our money is going. [...] Secondly, balancing the operating budget. Myself, the VP internal [Daniel Lawrie], and VP operations [Sacha Madger] have been working on relationships with clubs and faculty associations in order to increase their presence in the SSMU building and generate revenue that way [...]. Thirdly, providing simple and accessible financial information on all of our departments and accounts through charts and infographics that present the information in a way that is more relatable to students [...]. Finally, streamlining the funding application process for student groups through the creation of a standardized excel template [...].

[SSMU VP External David Aird] and I have been planning specific budgets for campaigns. [SSMU VP Student Life Elaine Patterson], and I have been coordinating sponsorship for events like Activities Night. [SSMU President Ben Ger] and I share human resources responsibilities [...]. This is a new addition to the VP Finance portfolio, as a lot of human resources issues are due directly to budget cuts. [SSMU VP Internal Daniel Lawrie] and I have been budgeting events like Grad Frosh and B-week at Gert’s. Basically, any event that an executive throws I’ll be involved with one way or another.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

We are faced with restricted resources and so have had to do cuts across most departments. It’s a human issue and someone’s livelihood, which I don’t take lightly.


PGSS Secretary General

Victor Frankel

What have you done this summer?

A lot of my activities this summer have been catching up on institutional memory. There is a lot of turnover in student government. I’ve had to catch up on both the [Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS)] side and the business side, as the [Secretary-General] is responsible both for Society activities as well as for the [Thomson House] business side. I’ve also been doing a lot of orientation activities to make PGSS as accessible for students as possible and [to] get members more involved. Orientation Week is very important because many graduate students get very involved in their research so engagement in the society often takes a back seat. The quicker we can engage them the more involved they’ll be.

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

I’ve been working on sexual violence/assault policy and consent campaigns. That is definitely one of my priorities as Sec-Gen. It’s been two years of the working group drafting a policy for McGill so I think it’s time for an ambitious policy to be put forward [....] I’ve also been working with environment officers on putting together a proposal for how McGill can go carbon neutral. As a society we need to move towards goals of carbon neutrality, including carbon offsets. We want to move from a vision for sustainability to something much more concrete and defined.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

I would have to say [not enough] time. A major challenge both for student societies and the administration is how to make decisions that affect a giant organization like McGill. There are so many angles we need to consider when making any decisions and one of the biggest challenges for me is making sure that our decisions serve the best interests of the university and students.

PGSS Internal Affairs Officer

Mina Anadolu

What have you done this summer?

Three words. Orientation. Orientation. Orientation [....] Sahil Kumar, the previous Internal Affairs Officer, basically organized the first postgraduate orientation last year that is in the same format that is right now. It’s similar to undergraduate orientation where we had social activities for a week, or even more than a week, planned for orientation.

This year we [blew up] orientation and [made] it bigger, better, more inclusive, more options for students to choose from because, in comparison to undergraduate Froshes, our students don’t want a package deal, they want to be able to pick and choose the events they like. We are also focusing more on accessibility, more events that are free events that everybody can participate in.

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

I’m focusing on a number of things this year that are very important for me. One of them is diversifying the events portfolio and making it more inclusive [....] Aside from the fun events, I am, also with my committee members, politicizing [the] Internal Affairs Committee this year. We are focusing on issues that matter to our members [....]

Another new initiative this year [are] the Empowerment Panels [....] I want to create a platform for discussion so we can share our ideas and maybe move towards a better community or society in general. One of these empowerment panels is about feminism in the 21st century, and racialized sexism.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

Communicating with our members is always a challenge because our graduate students are very, very busy [....] We are currently trying to reform our e-newsletter [....] At the same time, we have to change our campaign strategy for our elections and referendums because turnout [...has] always been an issue.

PGSS Academic Affairs Officer

Nicholas Dunn

What have you done this summer?

One of the main things is filling the committees; we have committees within PGSS, we also have university committees, whether it’s Senate committees or the Council for Graduate Postdoctoral Studies [....Over the] past few weeks I have been doing a lot of orientation events [.... I’m] trying to put everything in place so that basically starting now things for the year will be all in place.

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

Supervision is always going to be a focus for academic affairs. In addition to that, some of the working groups [I participate in] are advising some policies at McGill [....] Between now and Dec. there is a sexual violence policy as well, which our equity commission, myself, [and] the Vice-President University Affairs [of] SSMU are planning to focus on in the next few weeks [....] We are working with people at SSMU to organize some focus groups to get student feedback for that.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

One thing I’ll continue to advocate for is funding for graduate students. One issue [...] is you have Quebec residents, out of province, and international fees, they are all different. You might think that there are funding packages for grad students that take that into account, I just learned there is one program at least that does that, but not all of them do [....] I know that [this is something that] Josephine [Nalbantoglu], the Dean of Graduate Students, cares about, too. So I hope with her and the Council on [Graduate] Studies to at least continue pushing towards a more equitable funding packages.

PGSS External Affairs Officer

Jacob Lavigne

What have you done this summer?

[As] for the federations, there’s the Quebec Student Union (QSU) and Association pour la Voix Étudiante au Québec (AVEQ) that we have to affiliate to in the next year so I’ve been observing those, and it’s been a great opportunity to have our voices heard at two tables […. My other focus] is equity campaigns that I want to bring [here] that have been successful at other universities. One of the campaigns I want to work with is Sans Oui, C’est Non [… and] another is remuneration for students for unpaid internships.

[I’ve been working on] developing professional development opportunities. There’s a number of opportunities that McGill has been working on, including the Quartier D’Innovation. I’ll be working to promote that community and increase their resources [….] I’m getting in touch with the Ministère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux (MSSS) and Régie de L'assurance Maladie du Québec (RAMQ) to make them aware of some issues students are having with access to data. This is something that really hits home; I’ve been waiting for my data for two years for my research project, some have been waiting five years.

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

The light rail project is a project to install a train that goes across the city to places [that are] currently not accessible by metro or bus. I submitted multiple feedback letters, I went to speak to different [representatives], so now they’re going to [be] opening up another consultation session and accepting [personal testimonies] so I’ve opened up a subcommittee working with Mac campus students [….] I’m working with the inter-union council [and] I’ve sat on a number of committees.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

Time. It’s our biggest weakness. Knowledge [is another] matter, it’s a difficult job and there’s a lot to learn [….] I’ve been in student politics for many years [but] government lobbying and representation is a new game. Traveling is, too—again, it goes back to time—because these federations have meetings across Canada.

PGSS Member Services Officer

Jenny Ann Pura

What have you done this summer?

[I have] worked with the Family Coordinator to present new students [with] the different services available to student parents [....] A [student Parent Orientation and Academic Expectations] presentation on Sept. 20th has been created in collaboration with the Family Coordinator for Discover McGill. If you are a student parent and would like to share your experiences with other student parents, please contact me [....]

Leisure Courses, with the Financial Affairs Officer, Administrative Coordinator, and Student Affairs Coordinator, have been reviewed. I’m currently in the process of confirming a contract with a Zumba instructor for Fall 2016 [....]

Meditation Hour at Thomson House—there were no funds set aside for this program. [I] worked with Financial Affairs Officer and PGSS to find funds to ensure that this continues. I’m in the process of creating a financially sustainable program for the year by attaining a sponsorship.

What upcoming projects have you been working on?

[The] creation of a budget line of the Continuum funds, to guarantee that there is a financial cushion under the purview. This allows for certain services to continue, [such] as Meditation Hour.

[Encouraging the] promotion of First People’s House events, [increasing] PGSS members’ knowledge of events, and [increasing] indigenous graduate students’ participation [....]

Legal aid collaboration—dependency laws, services for individuals and families, [and] an evening information session with [the Legal Information Clinic at McGill (LICM)] collaboration [...] offered once in the fall and once in the winter.

[A] Motion for the creation of a Member Services Committee (MSO) [....] to aid in the population of committees where it is essential for the MSO to have a representative [....]

I would like to see an increase in collaborations between PGSS and the rest of McGill. [I have] plans to work with the Academic Affairs Officer to populate various committees related to services.

What challenges do you foresee this year?

Anything regarding finances and space. These [....] so far have been an issue and I believe [they] will continue to be. In addition to that, I could see some difficulty arise during the process reviewing the fees graduate students are paying.

PGSS Financial Affairs Officer

Mina Moradi

Financial Affairs Officer Mina Moradi was unavailable for comment