Six months in: RSU president Vanessa Henry looks back

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By Heidi Lee

It has been six months since the Refresh team was elected to become the executive members of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) for the 2019-20 academic year.

As the fall semester comes to an end, The Eyeopener sat down to speak to RSU president Vanessa Henry to hear what the team has achieved so far and what they have in store for the upcoming semester. 

What are some things you achieved so far since you have been in office?

I am very happy that I founded the SHIFT Centre, a new revitalization of the wellness centre. And every week we have activities going [on], currently, we are actually planning for revision of exam kits so we are giving out clear muji bags and they have pencils in it so students can bring it to classrooms. We are planning to have a Diversity Gala. All those activities are under my portfolio. As well as monthly member meetings. 

For me, [I hold] myself accountable to what I ran on and I did complete all my platform points. It feels good because I can focus on events and initiatives that I personally want to plan.

Why do you choose to focus on wellness?

One of the things I realized and why I actually decided to become president is I realized when I was a student there were a lot of programs and initiatives that I didn’t know about. And when I [had] mental health issues, it was really hard for me to find [resources]. I felt the lack of awareness on what is offered to students and how to access it wasn’t really marketed properly.

For me being [the president] and having the power and privilege, why would I not create centres for students to actually come into and access these resources? It is like a no-brainer for me just like creating a space for students and actually having wellness events that can relate to all students and [at the same time] breaks down to specifics.

With more wellness events available, what changes do you plan to see overtime?

I think more people [want] to talk about accessing resources. I don’t think a lot of people [want] to open up about their personal experiences. We do things like Paint Night and we are even having a Yoga Night. There are different ways you can express wellness and mental health without actually exposing your problems to people. I think as a student we want to be in the same space with people without exposing our trauma. So I will say that is a change that I am seeing. A lot of people [actually want] to do more wellness activities without being re-triggered.

What are the RSU’s plan for the winter semester?

The RSU [will focus] on the UR Worth It campaign. So [we] will be highlighting the events and initiatives and the reasons why students should opt-in because of all the programming that [we] would have for next semester. The campaign will shine [a light] on what services are already at the RSU. And what [programs] we offer to students for free. But also shedding a light because now there is an opt-in and opt-out.

I am shedding a light on what is non-essential and what your money goes towards if you opt-in to the RSU. We are at a time where the RSU doesn’t have [as] much money as it used to in previous years. So it is important that students are aware of the resources that we offered and the programs going on so that they are able to attend. It is just about marketing because if we don’t promote it to students they are not able to [make decisions]. 

What does it mean for you to have a racialized executive team?

Showing students that you can actually hold powerful positions [as] a person of colour. I don’t think being racialized has anything to do with your performance and your ability to do good work. But I do think seeing someone who looks like you actually encourages a lot of others to want to fill in those positions. I will say having an all racialized [executive] team is on the right start [of] letting racialized students know that they should be in student leadership. 

What inspired you to become a student leader?

I feel like I have always been a leader. I have always made a change in a way which I am navigating whether it is small scale or large scale. The opportunity presented itself [to me]. If I could make a difference and use my experience to help [others] navigating university a little easier why wouldn’t I want to do that? Not only because I want it to be experiential learning for my individual growth [but also] using my growth to impact the lives of students in a good way. I think that was really beautiful and motivating. That’s why I decided to run [for president] and continue to do the work that I want to do. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We also created a podcast called “Verified.” And that centred around diversity and inclusion, holding conversations around mental health, what it means to be diverse in different ways on campuses as well. We bring in celebrities, professionals and even students to our podcast.  I really want to encourage students to tune in to that as well. [The podcast will] be released Jan. 31 so keep an eye out for that.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

A previous version of this story stated that the RSU is working on a campaign called You are Worthy. The campaign is actually called UR Worth it. The Eyeopener regrets this error.

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