Profile of UMSU’s 2015 community representative candidates

community representativeWill Landon, Andrew Fenwick, Daniel Tingskou, Alana Robert, and Fariba Shakibani. Mujtaba Abdul Jalil not pictured. Photos by Carolyne Kroeker, Mike Still, and Fariba Shakibani.

The University of Manitoba Students’ Union Council includes five seats reserved for community representatives. They are the Aboriginal students’ representative, international students’ representative, LGBTTQ* representative, students living with disabilities representative, and women’s representative.

In this year’s UMSU General Election a total of eight candidates are running for UMSU’s five community representative positions.

Three candidates are running for students living with disabilities representative. Two candidates are running for women’s representative.

Aboriginal students’ representative, international students’ representative, and LBGTTQ* representative are currently uncontested – each only has one candidate running to fill the position.

The Manitoban put a request out to all eight candidates for profiles as part of the Manitoban’s coverage of the 2015 General Election. Alan Bridgeman, candidate for students living with disabilities representative, and Charles Kimball, candidate for LGBTTQ* representative, did not respond. The six candidates who did respond are profiled below.

Name: Will Landon (Wabshkigaabo or “standing white bear”)
Position: Aboriginal students’ representative
Studies: Second year, political studies

What are some of the challenges facing your constituency?
In the university itself we face the issue of systemic racism. We are held up to the standards of a Eurocentric education paradigm. Indigenous identity and learning are vastly different compared to European thought. We, as indigenous people, engage in a system that still has underlying tones of colonization and does not take into account the social issues we face in reserves, urban, and rural settings. This results in indigenous students being disadvantaged; impeding success and access to resources. There is also a lack of understanding and knowledge on these issues in the general student body, resulting in ignorance and misunderstanding.

If elected, what do you hope to do to address those issues?
I hope to educate non-indigenous people on indigenous issues, and promote positive relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous [people] within the university. Education can come from workshops, speakers, etc. I want to be able to give all students a voice so I can determine which medium would be effective in reaching the most students to enable deep understandings of the issues Aboriginal people face. Being able to promote positive relationships and interactions can also encourage students to learn from one another, promoting campus inclusiveness, pride, and understanding of each other. Cross-cultural understanding is very important to ensuring quality learning and developing healthy relationships. In order to ensure equal opportunity and success, the issues indigenous people face need to reach educators and administration of the university; this can be achieved by ensuring there is proper representation on student councils, the senate, and Aboriginal student liaisons.

What are your own priorities for the student union overall?
I want to bring awareness to aboriginal students as to who the student union is and what we do. Indigenous people have felt very disenfranchised from UMSU. Disenfranchisement has resulted in indigenous students having a lack of interest in campus life. My priority is to ensure that indigenous students feel welcome and are a part of the campus experience. I want students to feel empowered to vote, raise issues, and have confidence that their voices will be heard and respected.

What experience do you have that would make you a good candidate for this position?
I have been raised in Ojibwe culture. I have a deep reverence of our traditional systems as I regularly attend ceremonies; this helps me identify the issues we as indigenous [people] face. My lived experiences and the guidance of my elders is where I base my decisions and opinions. My experience of successfully educating non-indigenous peoples about my culture in a respectful way both in the university and beyond has given me the confidence that my methods and initiatives work. My experience as this year’s UMSU Aboriginal students’ representative has taught me the protocols and workings of UMSU, where my strengths have been, where I need to improve as a leader, and what methods have worked in bringing awareness to UMSU about indigenous student issues.
Miigwech.

Name: Andrew Fenwick
Position: Students living with disabilities representative
Studies: Second year, political studies

What are some of the challenges facing your constituency?
Some of the issues facing my community are stuff like ramp inclines or broken elevators; those are the physical barriers. Physical barriers are the most commonly known. But we also face different barriers such as not being able to access different documents on D2L because the documents aren’t accessible documents or not being able to write notes. These are invisible barriers which are just as important. Another huge barrier is employment for students with disabilities.

If elected, what do you hope to do to address those issues?
If I’m elected I will keep up my great relationship with the director of Physical Plant, Brian Rivers, to tackle physical barriers. So far this year I have co-ordinated with Brian Rivers to fix five elevators, the University College washroom, and two ramps on campus including the Isbister elevator and Fletcher Argue elevator. To tackle something as unseen as invisible barriers I am already working on an accessible documents presentation with Student Accessibility Services that will teach professors about and how to make accessible documents. To tackle something as tricky as jobs I would like to make a list of jobs on campus which specifically points out whether the job is accessible to different students or not. Of course students can go to a job and try it themselves but I think this would take a lot of the leg work out of the job hunt equation. I would also like to advertise different jobs on campus that would apply to all students but would benefit disabled students if those positions were filled such as a note-taker job.

What are your own priorities for the student union overall?
My personal priorities for the student union are to promote a very inclusive campus experience. I am a member of the student group the Big Horns, which is a student group based around that idea of inclusivity, so I am a huge advocate for a very inclusive campus experience. Another issue which is very important to me is inclusive socials hosted by UMSU, because an inclusive learning experience is great, but an inclusive social experience is just as great. This idea is one in which Rocco Scarcella, the president of Beyond Abilities, and I have been discussing for the past few weeks.

What experience do you have that would make you a good candidate for this position?
Some of my experience that would help me in this position includes my work with the Children’s Rehabilitation Foundation, where I was the youth ambassador in 2013, which was a great experience. I got the opportunity to give speeches on behalf of youth with disabilities. I was also the students living with disabilities representative for UMSU and accessibility representative for the Arts Student Body Council in 2014-15 where I got five different elevators, two ramps, and the University College washroom fixed. I also mentioned that I am a very active member of the Big Horns which is a group devoted to inclusivity.

Name: Daniel Tingskou
Position: Students living with disabilities representative
Studies: Fourth year, economics

What are some of the challenges facing your constituency?
The challenges facing my constituency depend upon the condition of the individual student, which ranges from physical disabilities, auditory and visual limitations, to learning impairments or mental health issues. In each of the formerly mentioned scenarios the student would face a different challenge; for example, a student with a physical disability may be unable to takes notes, students who are hearing impaired may find it difficult to partake in class discussion, those suffering from visual impairment must use alternative methods to process any visuals used in lecture, and students with mental health issues could face severe exam anxiety. Socializing with peers, too, is more difficult for some of my constituents (including myself).

If elected, what do you hope to do to address those issues?
A lot of those issues are being addressed by Student Accessibility Services (SAS); however, one of the things I hope to do is help students in the accessibility program better utilize the services provided by SAS via a mentorship program. The purpose of the proposed mentorship program is to match first- or second-year students living with disabilities with another student who has a similar disability but is more accustomed to university life, such as a third- or fourth-year student. The mentor would be able to advise the mentee on how to fluently transition in the university setting, with the help of SAS and the mentor’s personal knowledge. I also want to promote the use of SAS. I do not know for sure but it is fair to suggest that some students are qualified to receive the services provided by SAS but choose not to. Student Accessibility Services is here to help; students should take full advantage of this.
As for the social aspect of being a student, I fear that a portion of my constituency may not feel as if they can comfortably mingle with their peers. I hope to provide more accessible social events that people of all abilities can enjoy.

What are your own priorities for the student union overall?
My priorities are the priorities of all University of Manitoba students, not just those living with disabilities. I want to redirect the attention of UMSU away from large-scale social events and towards more key issues. Not to say UMSU shouldn’t provide and promote school spirit – rather, I feel that too much of their resources are spent doing such. For instance, the university’s introduction of budget cuts, after new facilities have been built, and the industrialization of post-secondary education should be on the agenda of UMSU. It is in the best interest of all students for UMSU to have a strong influence on their academic environment

What experience do you have that would make you a good candidate for this position?
My experience as a volunteer with U of M Student Life and the Academic Learning Centre—where I assisted with Orientation Week and work as a writing tutor—has taught me how diverse our campus really is and the importance of ensuring an inclusive environment. I am also a member of Beyond Abilities, which is a student group that is in place to promote an inclusive and barrier-free setting. Being a part of this student group I have been introduced to the members of [the] community who face a wide array of challenges. Thus, I am a good candidate to represent my constituency because of my experiences dealing with different students and my empathetic personality.

Name: Mujtaba Abdul Jalil
Position: International students’ representative
Studies: Third year, electrical engineering

What are some of the challenges facing your constituency?
I have seen international students encounter many different problems. The biggest challenge international students face is the cultural and social adjustment. The University of Manitoba currently has representation from 104 countries but these statistics are not reflected at any social or cultural event held at our university. Students are provided with a lot of different services at the university but the major population of international students is either unaware or too hesitant to utilize any of these services to their advantage. The international community is not as involved as they can be in UMSU events and I feel improving on these points can build a better community on campus.

If elected, what do you hope to do to address those issues?
The first thing I would like to do is continue the International Students’ Caucus. I feel it is an excellent platform that provides the opportunity to international students to sit together and discuss the challenges on campus. I think it can be used as a focal point to scrutinize and address all the challenges. I would like to work alongside the elected UMSU team to actually improve the attendance of the caucus. I feel that initiatives such as speaker series and mental health and wellness week are great but they do not capture the attention of international students, so again, the caucus can help provide awareness to international students about how such initiatives can be of advantage to them. As a university student we all receive emails regarding workshops and other programs but I feel that international students need some kind of a moderator to work hard to make sure that students understand those workshops are not just to advertise the services on campus but they are there to be used.

What are your own priorities for the student union overall?
I would like to keep a bigger picture in mind about how all the students can benefit from the decisions [being] made and vote for what feels right.

What experience do you have that would make you a good candidate for this position?
I have worked as the vice-president of Pakistani Students’ Association (formerly known as the Pakistan Students’ Council) from 2012 till 2014. I have worked alongside the previous international students’ representative on different forums. I have volunteered with the Muslim Students’ Association in past years, but the most important thing, in my view, is that I am currently employed at the International College of Manitoba, which is a transition program for international students who would like to pursue studies at the University of Manitoba.

Name: Alana Robert
Position: Women’s representative
Studies: Third year, political studies and economics

What are some of the challenges facing your constituency?
Rape culture, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and violence against women are all issues affecting students every day. The majority of female students in particular have experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence throughout their lifetime, many of them on campus or from fellow students. Although the majority of these incidents do not get reported, this does not mean that they are not happening. Further, some poster advertisements have not promoted the integrity of women, and these are issues that I want to address. This is why I am committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for all at the U of M.

If elected, what do you hope to do to address those issues?
My four goals as women’s rep are to:
1. Implement the United Nations [Women’s] Safe Cities initiative, which strives to make public spaces safer through preventing sexual assault, sexual harassment, and violence against women.
2. Include No Means No workshops as part of Student Orientation. I believe that student responsibility extends beyond academic integrity. Including No Means No workshops allows students to be reminded of what constitutes consent, as well as resources available to them (such as the Sexual Harassment Resource page, Safewalk, Peers, etc).
3. I want to ensure the integrity and respect for women is promoted by all in our community, demanding higher standards for poster advertisements, as well as ensure a clause in the U of M’s Code of Conduct specifies the standards of integrity and respect that all representatives and organizations are to adhere to.
4. Make this a university that you can be proud of! I want to lead more advocacy campaigns on issues pertaining to women’s rights, and listen to your stories, so that I can effectively implement our visions of what would help make the U of M a campus that you are excited to belong to!

What are your own priorities for the student union overall?
I will vote for what I believe to be in the best interests of students, based on what has been expressed to me, and what I have observed. I hope that my voice on council would contribute to achieving events, opportunities, and initiatives that the U of M student population can be proud of, and be excited to be a part of! My priority at council is to advocate for students’ priorities.

What experience do you have that would make you a good candidate for this position?
I founded and am currently president of the Justice For Women Student Group, which fundraises and advocates for human rights issues specifically affecting women, as well as provides a voice on behalf of women on campus to ensure the integrity and respect for women is promoted by all in the U of M community. We have partnered with university administration to create a Sexual Harassment Resource page to make information more accessible as well as encourage reporting, and advocate for all issues from violence against women prevention to missing and murdered indigenous women awareness. I am also president of the World Vision Student Group and am a youth ambassador for the organization.

Name: Fariba Shakibani
Position: Women’s representative
Studies: Third year, human nutritional sciences

What are some of the challenges facing your constituency?
As a woman and a third-year student on this campus, I have firsthand experience with issues I have faced on campus. Resources available to me and other women aren’t properly advertised and unless sought after, are hard to find. Services like those offered by the Womyn’s Centre, Safewalk, Peers, Bison Run etc. are ones that if known, will help create a more safe campus.
I have also noticed that there isn’t a strong platform to discuss the unique issues of women of colour, Aboriginal women, international women, non-traditionally aged women, women with disabilities, and women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, all of which are essential to ensuring an inclusive campus.

If elected, what do you hope to do to address those issues?
If elected, to further the collective voices of women on campus, I have a five-pronged approach. Firstly, I want to act as a liaison and work closely with UMSU to improve campus-wide advocacy efforts with regards to sexual health, mental health and safety for women on campus. Secondly, I hope to begin a speaker series of influential women to empower and engage students on campus. Thirdly, I would like the Womyn’s Centre to be more open and inclusive to all women on campus. Promoting the services provided through social media, UMSU newsletters, and the campus newspaper are some ways I hope to accomplish this. Fourthly, as a believer that constant exchange of ideas creates the best program, I want to create bi-weekly group discussions where people are given the platform to share ideas and initiatives they would like to see. Fifthly, I want to work endlessly on promoting and rediscovering the true meaning of feminism.
I want to substantially increase the voice of women on campus. By collectively encouraging women from every socioeconomic, political, and cultural background, we can create a campus that is inclusive and welcoming to all. Furthermore, I want to foster discussion and debate on campus and empower women to lobby for their rights on a campus level and a community level. I understand that there is a diverse community of women and dialogue is the best way to ensure that each one’s interest is met irrespective.

What are your own priorities for the student union overall?
My priorities lie within creating a welcoming, safe, and inclusive campus. Be it music festivals or revamping the UMSU website, I want to make sure that women are included in all aspects. Music festivals need to have safe spaces and on revamping the UMSU website, the Womyn’s Centre and other services need to be properly advertised. Following talk about budget cuts at the university level and UMSU cutting programs, I want to make sure that services that help women on campus are not cut.

What experience do you have that would make you a good candidate for this position?
I have worked endlessly to create my experience on and off campus something memorable and meaningful. Having volunteered with UMSU, student associations, and the U1 Student Council, I believe that I have the skills and determination to make this campus a truly welcoming and safe environment. Being the women’s representative would allow me to work towards that. The women on campus deserve a representative who truly believes that we can make our campus one of the best in terms of advocacy, safety, hospitality, and overall awareness. The councils and student groups that I have been a part of have allowed me to grow as a person and to grow as a student. I hope to give the same for the women at the university.