Meet the candidates running ‘For the Students’ in the 2021-22 RSU elections

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By Charlize Alcaraz, Alexandra Holyk and Heidi Lee

Campaigning for the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) elections began on Monday and runs until Friday, with voting opening tomorrow and running until the end of the week as well.

According to the slates’ websites, there are approximately 43 candidates participating in the elections, including 10 students running for executive positions and 33 students running as faculty and student representatives on the Board of Directors (BoD). There are two main slates—or groups of candidates with a common platform—running in this year’s elections: “For the Students” and “Adapt.”

The Eyeopener spoke with candidates from For the Students who are running for executive positions to learn more about their campaigns, as well as their plans should they be elected. 

Platform: For the Students

According to the For the Students’ presidential candidate, David Jardine, the slate’s platform comes down to two specific points: fixing all of the union’s issues that have led to distrust within the student membership and advocating for students within the university. 

“We’re really just fighting for any sort of issue that students are facing on campus because that’s what the students’ union should be doing for students,” Jardine said.

Jardine also said the team picked the slate name “partially for marketing purposes,” but also because they are looking to break down all of the services provided by the RSU to determine whether or not they work for the students.

The slate’s campaign platform lists several key themes which include fighting to improve students’ education; supporting the RSU’s Equity Service Centres; helping students save money and making scholarships easily available; and increased transparency and accountability between the union and its membership.

The document also includes several demographic-specific campaign points, with the slate looking to work specifically with international students, student athletes, student staff and Indigenous students. 

The team also hopes to update many of the RSU’s policies since they are “outdated and full of loopholes, [and] the executive and board are really able to get away with whatever they want,” the document reads.

Jardine mentioned that “For the Students” aims to turn the RSU’s reputation into something positive, rather than having it be known for its historic scandals

“We are going to make the RSU a students’ union that students can actually be proud of,” they said. 

President: David Jardine

Jardine is a third-year professional communication student, however, they’ve been at Ryerson for around six years, having previously studied computer science. 

If elected as president of the RSU, Jardine said they will focus on supporting their team and their initiatives. 

“I’ve got tons of pages of professional development ideas for how to support the team, plans to make board meetings way easier [to understand] for even directors,” they said. “The main focus for me is going to be…providing the team with everything they need to be able to do their jobs.”

Jardine also mentioned that they plan on implementing projects of their own and ensuring transparency between the union and its membership by holding monthly town hall meetings, posting weekly Q&As on social media and live streaming BoD meetings.

“At the end of the day, [students] are electing five of us to a full-time salary job, so students deserve to know what we’re doing and deserve and should have the ability to give us feedback, and change what we’re doing if they don’t like what we’re doing,” they said.

According to Jardine, the role of the RSU president is to run the organization. Therefore, they said an ideal presidential candidate should know how to do just that. During their time at Ryerson, Jardine ran various organizations, serving as the president of the Ryerson Science Society, the vice-president, services of the Ontario Science Students’ Association and as a residence assistant. 

In these roles, Jardine said they gained a lot of experience in leadership and policy-making. They also mentioned that although they’ve made mistakes, they were able to learn from them and thus feel confident in their qualifications for president.

“I think that it’s important to have failed because if you’ve never failed…you don’t have [experience] handling failure and you don’t have [experience] handling criticism,” Jardine said, adding that they believe the president of the RSU should have a thick skin and be able to handle criticism that isn’t always constructive.

This year, they held the position as one of three student representatives on Ryerson’s Board of Governors (BoG) and sat on the RSU BoD as the BoG representative. They were, however, impeached in December 2020 on the basis that they “acted in a manner that it is not in the best interests of the RSU and contrary to [their] duty of loyalty to the RSU,” according to the motion to impeach Jardine.

The motion further stated that Jardine violated section 8.13 of the RSU bylaws, which requires directors’ confidentiality on matters discussed in-camera during RSU BoD meetings. This means they cannot communicate the information discussed during those periods to any third-party organizations without the consent of the board. 

In this case, the motion claimed Jardine was “rendering advice, assistance and confidential information” to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1281 and that “some of the information shared with CUPE by David Jardine was only provided to David Jardine during in-camera sessions of the board.”

“What makes me the best candidate for the position is I’ve spent six years developing my leadership skills,” said Jardine. “I’ve learned how to manage a team and…I have way too much experience writing and editing policy and that’s going to be a big part of the role.” 

VP Operations: Jenna Jiang

Jiang is a fourth-year fashion student and said she looks forward to the initiatives she has planned if elected as vice-president, operations. 

“[Vice-president], operations basically runs the behind the scenes,” Jiang said. “Even though students don’t really see a lot of their work, a lot of stuff wouldn’t actually be running without [that] role.”

She said the position’s responsibilities include budgeting and figuring out where to allocate students’ money.

Jiang attributes her nine years of experience in customer service to her capacity for “working well with students.” She got into a management role at a young age and developed crucial skills such as time management, patience and communication, she said.

“What I really loved was working with people and I loved coaching, training [and] working with feedback,” she said. “No matter what company I worked with, I always wanted to make things better and reach our targets.”

Jiang wants to push for more advertisement for RSU services such as the tax clinic and health and dental plan so they can reach students that need them. The Eyeopener previously reported that some students don’t know much about the plan or the health and dental care services it covers. 

“It’d be so great if all students knew they could get their taxes done for free or they can go to [a] lawyer for free legal advice,” said Jiang. 

Transparency is one of the pillars of Jiang’s platform. She said she wants to keep her doors open for students to voice their concerns and ideas about the RSU’s budget.

“I will make sure that students can actually give feedback, they can see all of the audited statements, they can see where everything’s at financially,” she said. 

“We want to be held accountable, we want students to feel like they have a voice.”

VP Equity: Zanele Chisholm

In her third year of studying English at Ryerson, Chisholm is running for vice-president equity to “restructure the relationship” between the vice-president equity and the equity centres. If elected, she said she wants to be an “ally rather than their boss.”

She added that she’s prioritizing the best options for running the equity centres by consulting with the full-time staff and volunteers that work there to understand how to best utilize their services. 

If elected, Chisholm said that she wants to run “healing circles” as a space for students to talk about their experiences with grief and a specific circle for sexual violence survivors. 

“Those will be student run spaces, but we’ll have a guidance counsellor or a professional…to make sure that everything is OK,” she said. “I know the waitlists for therapy and group therapy are really long, and I thought that would be a great resource to have.”

Chisholm also said that they would establish a scholarship program that advocates for more accessibility and “doesn’t require students to throw all their trauma on the [scholarship] application just to be validated.”

“We want to really focus on marginalized students—BIPOC students, disabled students and queer students,” she said. “But the scholarship and workshop programs will be accessible for everybody.”

Chisholm has worked for Ryerson’s Housing and Residence Life at the front desk where she said she received a lot of equity training. She also said that her passion in equity issues is what makes her a great candidate for vice-president equity.

“You get a lot of first hand experience…talking to people and understanding the diverse experiences that students have,” she said. 

“Working in those situations has made me…more sensitive to [them] and wanting to make sure that we’re having resources and support that actually fits what people need, and different people’s needs.”

VP Education: Alexandra Nash

Nash, a fourth-year psychology student, said she wants to take the role of the RSU’s vice-president education “from something in the background to something that…actually works for students.”

Nash is currently the Faculty of Arts director on the RSU’s 2020-21 BoD.

Nash mentioned her experience a grassroots organizer, having worked on several grassroots campaigns and even running her own campaign in the 2019 federal election. With this in mind, as vice-president education of the RSU, she said she hopes to focus the union’s attention on its collective bargaining power with the university in advocating for students’ rights and needs.

“RSU as a students’ union fundamentally represents students as a collective bargaining unit, and [it must make] sure that that collective power is being used to get students the most they can possibly get out of their time at Ryerson,” said Nash. 

If elected, Nash said she hopes to push for lower tuition for students and work with the university to set high standards for online learning. This means ensuring lectures are recorded and subtitles are included, as well as making online learning accessible for students. Once students return to campus, Nash said she will work to ensure the accessibility and benefits of online learning carry over to in-person classes.

Nash said she also plans to work with the vice-president operations to improve the structure of grants as well as increase the transparency of the grant process so students are aware of when they’ll be able to receive funding.

Further, Nash said she will work with the vice-president equity to integrate different cultures and traditions into the curriculum, going beyond the “constricted European traditions of knowledge that [students] have,” to ensure that students are receiving the best education possible at Ryerson. 

VP Student Life and Events: Ashan Mahendran

Mahendran is a third-year graphic communications management student at Ryerson. If elected, he said he will focus on creating a student discount program, holding online and in-person events for students, and collaborating with student groups to hold these events. 

One of Mahendran’s campaign points is to have online and in-person events for both students living on campus and commuter students, once students are allowed to be back on campus. 

He said that since it is still unclear what next year will look like, students would have the option to attend in-person events like frosh or week of welcome depending on provincial safety guidelines in fall 2021.

“For winter 2022, I think we’ll hopefully be back on campus if the vaccine rollout goes well because everyone will be glad the pandemic will end,” said Mahendran. “Whether we’re still in a pandemic or not, we must follow safety standards, and of course we will still wear a mask.” 

As for the student discount program, Mahendran said it would be a centralized hub on the RSU website, where students would be able to have access to all discounts and deals, adding that the page will be constantly updated. 

Not only would he push to work with restaurants for student discounts, he said he would also collect information through blogs and discount sites. 

He mentioned as the moderator for Ryerson Free Food Locator, he wants to give students the “best deal possible,” and a student discount program could help students who are struggling financially and those facing food insecurity. 

“A lot of students at Ryerson are commuters like me and we’re tired of spending a lot of money on [transit],” he said. “Downtown [food] is also expensive.”

“We cannot wait to get elected for next year to serve [students] better,” said Mahendran.

Jardine and Chisholm have contributed to The Eye‘s news, communities, fun and satire, features and arts and culture sections in the past. 

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