By: Liam Scott, Emma Childs
Students will be heading to the ballot boxes next week to elect their representatives for the 2014-15 academic year. The upcoming Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) elections take place on Feb. 3, 4 and 5. Ryerson’s website says that the RSU’s mandate is to lobby on behalf of students, save money for its members through “cost saving services,” and create a strong student community through groups and events. The RSU is a member of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), an organization that advocates for issues it believes are in the interest of all its members nationwide. Some of the CFS campaigns have been adopted by the RSU, like the “Bottled Water Free” initiative and the “Drop Fees” movement.
The topmost positions on the RSU make up the executive team: President, vice-president of equity, vice-president of student life, vice-president of education and vice-president of operations.
In the past few years, all of these positions have been filled by candidates running on the same slate, a group called Students United. This group has seen some success in the form of closing Gould St. and introducing water fountains with “refill stations” for water bottles, but there has been little change during the 2013-14 academic year. This campaign, their name has changed to Unite Ryerson, and once again they have a student running for each of the five executive positions.
In the upcoming election, each of the VP candidates are running uncontested. This means that students will vote either “yes” or “no” to the single nominee. If the “no” votes outweigh the “yes,” there will be a byelection to determine a suitable opponent. If there is still no second candidate, the position will fall automatically to the original candidate. Unless a majority of students oppose the movement, the position is essentially handed to the student in the running.
There are three candidates in the running for president: Rajean Hoilett, member of Unite Ryerson and current of equity, Roble Mohamed, runner-up in the 2013-14 presidential elections, and newcomer John Scott. The Ryersonian has interviewed the candidates and compiled their platforms for you to make an educated vote.
Rajean Hoilett, running under the Unite Ryerson banner, is a third-year social work student. He has been a part of RyePRIDE, RyeACCESS, and the Racialized Students’ Collective since joining the RSU as VP of equity in 2013.
“It’s been an amazing experience so far, being able to get involved in a bigger capacity in the work that goes on here at Ryerson,” he says.
Unite Ryerson, which won last year’s election as Students United, is mostly concerned with maintaining and improving current initiatives like the Canadian Federation of Students’ Drop Fees campaign. However Hoilett wants to open up opportunities for students to take part in RSU initiatives.
“We want to build a volunteer portal so that students can really take the lead on the work that gets done in the students union,” he says. “We want to build upon the programs we offer and the way that we engage students.”
Hoilett envisions an online system through which students can sign up to volunteer for events. He plans to use this volunteer labour to organize a free lunch program on campus, “no questions asked,” to ease financial stress on students. He also plans to launch RyAds, a Ryerson-specific database of online classified ads for student housing and used textbooks.
“I think we need to continue to find new ways to bring students into the campaign to fight for more affordable and more accessible education,” he says. “The only way to do that is to get out and vote and ensure that your students’ union is doing the work that you want them to do.”
Second-year engineering student Roble Mohamed is running independently for the second consecutive year. Last election, he was the only candidate to oppose Students United’s Melissa Palermo for president. “There’s one major group that keeps on winning,” he says. “And they have the same people running each year.”
Mohamed says he has faith in the role of student government, but doesn’t feel the RSU’s mandate is being properly utilized. He says the lack of transparency hinders student involvement, and as president he would hold weekly or bi-weekly press conferences to update the Ryerson community on the allocation of their funds.
“A lot of the tuition is mandatory fees toward services,” he says. “I think students should have a choice to decide what they want to pay towards.”
Mohamed also says the student body should re-evaluate their affiliation with the Canadian Federation of Students. “I wouldn’t support our student union answering the calls of another organization,” he says. “We have to be our own thing.”
While vague, Mohamed’s platform revolves around a simple principle: “give more power to the students.”
“I do think there needs to be change,” he says, “but there needs to be a strong candidate too.”
Taking a moment to reflect, he adds, “I plan to be that candidate.”
John Scott doesn’t care too much about the RSU. But that isn’t going to stop him from running.
“I personally believe that student government doesn’t have the power to create an affordable education for anybody,” says the second-year journalism student, whose involvement with campus groups is limited to a stint as fun editor at the student-run newspaper, The Eyeopener.
Scott is running to subvert the school’s election process. “I would like to represent the apathetic student voter,” he explains when asked about his platform.
Scott says he thinks that initiatives like the CFS’s Drop Fees Campaign are a waste of RSU resources, and suggests redirecting the funds to other projects. Among his proposals are a year-round Ryerson “puppy clinic” with an option for cat lovers, and a renewed focus on the school’s robotics program to “(find) good ways to build robotic arms and legs.”
Scott says that he couldn’t care less about winning the seat. “It’s only important to vote if you want to voice your opinion,” he says. “So basically, if you don’t care about voting, or you want to throw away your vote, just vote for me.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on January 29, 2014.