Every election season, the Bull and Bear News team profiles each SSMU Executive candidate using their online platforms, the Candidate debate, and individual interviews with candidates. The Bull and Bear does not make endorsements.
The voting period ends March 18 at 5 PM EST. Vote here: https://ssmu.simplyvoting.com
Bryan Buraga, Candidate for President
Sustainability, Science, and Society student Bryan Buraga is running for SSMU president. If elected, it would be his second term as president of SSMU, after his 2019-2020 presidency. Buraga is running on a platform dedicated to systemic change within SSMU and McGill as a whole, hoping to introduce platforms that will democratise participation in student government.
“I think that as students, a lot of the time we feel very alone even though most of us tend to experience the same issues with the university and within our student unions. I want to restructure so that students are consulted at the base level within their faculty or departmental associations, and that way we can include more student voices and improve student engagement.”
Buraga also wants to decentralise power within SSMU, conferring more of the decision making to student groups. “A lot of the power [at the SSMU] is concentrated at the top, with the board of directors and the executives … issues are exacerbated when you don’t have a good executive or board of directors to be able to manage the affairs of the society…It’s about…dispersing the power in such a way that increases accountability but also dismantles the systems of oppression that are still present at the SSMU.”
Buraga points to his leadership experience and track record within the SSMU as reasons why he should be considered for the position. “I have both an insider and outsider perspective,” he told the Bull and Bear. He explained that last time he was president, he had to abandon some of the projects he had run on in his first term due to the resignation of the SSMU general manager, whose responsibilities he had to take on. After taking a short break from student advocacy to focus on mental health, Buraga is eager to return and push for structural reform within the society.
Julian Guidote, Candidate for President
Julian Guidote is a first year law student running for SSMU president. He previously completed a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science, also at McGill, in 2021. Guidote is running on a platform of raising mental health standards within the SSMU and on campus, providing transcription and translation services for SSMU proceedings, and promoting social integrity within the SSMU. Guidote is a mental health counsellor through Kids Help Phone and is currently SSMU’s mental health advocacy coordinator. “No other candidates now or in the past have the same background in mental health, not just in an advocacy position [for SSMU], but in a professional role as counsellor. I have a unique skillset to listen to others in a professional way.”
Guidote told the Bull and Bear that his first priority, if elected, would be to schedule consultations with all of the key players of the SSMU to create a plan that includes everyone’s ideas. The reason he is running, he stated, is to reintroduce better cooperation within the organisation. “I prioritise people over politics. I do invest myself in understanding where people are coming from and why. You need to build foundations of trust and mutual understanding.”
Although the McGill Tribune chose not to endorse Guidote based on his lack of experience within the SSMU government, he responded by saying that his outsider perspective might be just what the SSMU needs. “One skill that I bring to the table is humility. I know that other people have just as good, if not better, ideas than I do. I’m ready to listen to others. It’s not a problem, in my mind, to not know everything.”
“My end goal,” explained Guidote, “is that SSMU needs to be a place that encourages kindness, [which includes] bolstering the social community both for permanent staff and casual staff (commissioners, etc). A lot of animosity can form if people don’t know each other on a personal level.”
Risann Wright, Candidate for President
Risann Wright is a third-year Honors Political Science student running for SSMU President. Wright has extensive SSMU governance experience, with roles as the Faculty of Arts Senator, Black Affairs Commissioner, and Student Rights researcher, among others. Running on a platform of advocacy, equity and governance, and leadership and support, the key issues Wright hopes to address in office are directly supporting students with their acute needs (in particular regarding health and financial security) and tackling structural issues of misogyny, sexism, and racism within SSMU.
“I’ve always been committed to student advocacy and advancing student interests at university,” Wright tells the Bull and Bear. “I ultimately decided to run because I saw the need.”
One of the concrete plans outlined in her platform is a ‘Pay what you can’ SSMU groceries program to help students facing financial insecurities and hardship. Wright believes that SSMU should be immediately supporting students on issues that directly impact them, and this program is one of her pillar programs aimed at doing so. Another concrete action Wright has proposed is the creation of a SSMU Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) plan and committee. “Those two things [SSMU groceries program and EDI plan] I’m very excited about, and [I] sincerely hope that I’ll get the chance to implement them.”
At the end of the day, Wright wants McGillians to know that she is very earnestly committed to the role and to helping students in every way she can. “Something I really want students to know about me is the type of person I am. I’m very committed and dedicated to whatever I put my mind to, and I would be investing my full attention to serving them in this role. It’s something I approach and take very seriously.”
Cat Williams, Candidate for VP Internal
Cat Williams is a U3 Psychology student running for VP Internal. Williams has experience in corporate communications and organising and leading student experiences like Frosh. One of her goals is to make herself as accessible as possible and to foster an inclusive environment where all students feel safe.
In her opening statement in the Candidates debate, Williams told the audience: “My campaign in a nutshell is that I’ve had a passion for ensuring that people have the best possible time they can during these rare four years of university. [It’s important to be] engaging in communication with the student body and opening up all those corridors to the hundreds of opportunities that SSMU has to offer.”
Jaz Kaur, Candidate for VP Internal
Jasleen Kaur is a third-year Sociology and Psychology student running for VP Internal. This position involves coordinating relations and enabling communication between SSMU and the student body and faculty. The position has a focus on the integral pillars of Communication, Events, and Sustainability.
Kaur is running on a platform of transparency, accessibility, and accountability. Her role as Parliamentarian for the SSMU and chair of the nominating committee has allowed her to gain extensive experience in student governance. Kaur has also participated in various student groups, serving as vice president of Operations for the McGill Dharma Society and vice president of events for the Multi-Ethnic Student Alliance.
As VP Internal, Kaur aims to make student government more accountable to students, allowing McGill’s student population to have a greater influence on their government. She plans to do this through increased communication with public and monthly check-ins in place of the typical quarterly ones. Additionally, Kaur aims to ensure the SSMU represents the student body and acts with all students’ needs in mind; she is passionate about representation for gender and racial minorities in the McGill community.
In order to accomplish her goals as VP Internal, Kaur will work to make students more aware of their rights within the school environment. She is passionate, for instance, about bilingual advocacy and as VP Internal plans to ensure students are aware of their right to complete assignments in both French and English. As well, she hopes to partner with existing student groups to plan events for minorities on campus in an effort to increase belonging within the McGill student body. Kaur says she will know she has succeeded as Vice President of Internal Affairs next year if legislation has been passed increasing transparency and accountability of the SSMU.
Ananya Seth, Candidate for VP Internal
Ananya Seth is a U1 Psychology student who is running for VP Internal. She is currently the Co-President of the Indian Students’ Association (ISA) at McGill, Events Director at McGill Women in Leadership and an International Student Buddy. Her platform is focused on transparency and communication between SSMU and the students of McGill, and doing this through increased social media presence.
Additionally, Seth wants to increase opportunities for students to interact informally with executives and make herself more approachable in order to bridge the existing gap between them. She believes that working as a team player and in cooperation with the rest of the SSMU is also critical to success in the role.
Students’ mental health is another one of Seth’s priorities. She wants to introduce same-day, single-session counselling and mandatory mental health first aid training sessions to equip McGill students to be effective supports to their peers. Seth also wants to make First Years and International Students a key priority of hers. She wants to understand their needs and experiences to better support them. She will do this through First Year sessions on things like how to get involved at McGill, banking, and apartment hunting, and through an access and inclusion peer program, which connects First Years and upper year mentors.
Marco Pizarro, Candidate for VP Finance, Uncontested
Marco Pizarro is a second-year Economics and Political Science student. Pizarro is running an uncontested campaign for VP Finance, on a platform dedicated to streamlining the funding process. Additionally, Pizzaro wants to increase democracy and transparency within SSMU, and he hopes to continue the shift towards decentralising SSMU. He told the Bull and Bear that he plans to implement these goals by endorsing any changes other members of the executive committee make and by supporting the McGill Student Union Democratisation Initiative Policy. This would be his first position in SSMU; however, he has experience working as treasurer for summer camps.
In the position next year, he wishes to streamline the current financial process and help improve funding for clubs, events, and guests. Additionally, Pizzaro believes that the current structure of the finance department in SSMU is not transparent enough, so in as much as the position allows, he plans to disclose their finances to the McGill community. He explained to the Bull and Bear that streamlining the funding process and in2creasing transparency would encourage more students to get involved with SSMU, hopefully furthering the decentralisation and democratisation process.
Val Mansy, Candidate for VP External, Uncontested
Val Mansy is a psychology major, with a minor in gender, sexuality, and feminist studies running uncontested for VP External. Mansy currently works as coordinator in SSMU’s External Affairs office and as an educator for people with accessibility needs. As VP External, Mansy would prioritise forming strong relationships with multiple levels of government, student unions, and various communities. Engagement, accessibility, and accountability are priorities for Mansy, which they will ensure by performing consultations with numerous student groups and enabling access to SSMU resources.
Hassanatou Koulibaly, Candidate for VP Student Life
Hassanatou Koulibaly is a third-year Cognitive Science student who has been a club executive, with a variety of positions and responsibilities, since she started at McGill. As president of the McGill African Students Society (MASS), Koulibaly explains how she has developed skills like delegating, speaking up and time management, which will help her fulfil her role as VP Student Life. She has also been involved with Frosh, which she found “very beneficial in terms of interacting with other students,” acting as a mentor and making them feel welcomed into the McGill community.
As a result of her role as president of MASS, she’s been working with McGill administration to oversee certain aspects of the Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism, including creating the soon-to-be-finished Black Student Space, putting out information about available scholarships for Black students and aiding in aspects of Black History Month. Koulibaly hopes to continue this work as VP Student Life, particularly with Black History Month, noting that “not a lot of attention has been devoted to it.”
Two more important aspects of Koulibaly’s plan focus on mental health and support for student caregivers. With regard to the former, she plans to model a new policy after Western University’s self-reported absences (SRE) policy, which provides accommodations that “account for the fluctuating impact of mental health.” She explains how this policy, which wouldn’t require a diagnosis or interaction with a medical professional, would provide support for a variety of extenuating circumstances while respecting students’ privacy. She also plans to centralise all the mental health resources that exist at McGill.
Finally, when asked about what the future in-person semester will look like for student life, Koulibaly told the Bull and Bear that it’s important to “leverage those resources that we have acquired over the past two years,” including using online resources to reach people who would not normally be available. She also plans to address the lack of spaces to hold events, encourage increased communication amongst club executives to facilitate events, and have more transparency in terms of the booking process of campus spaces.
Olivia Bornyi, Candidate for VP Student Life
Olivia Boryni, U1 Political Science and International Development student, is running for VP Student Life. In three words, she describes her platform as proactive, caring, and empowering. Bornyi is hoping to help bridge the divide between executives, the SSMU bureaucracy, and students to ensure a happy, healthy, and vibrant campus life.
Bornyi is passionate about creating a welcoming and inspiring environment for students. Through her involvement as SSMU Mental Health Outreach Coordinator, Communications for Residence Council and NDP McGill, Bornyi has seen that “students are unhappy and that there is room to improve in giving them the opportunities they need.”
A priority in Bornyi’s platform is mental health provision and accessibility, and her main goal is to have each student on campus feel safe, cared for, and accepted on campus. Bornyi tells the Bull and Bear “this is [accomplished] through the student life pillars and will be achieved through my platform. I’ll focus on providing support for student mental health, rebuilding trust in SSMU between the executives and students, giving them opportunities, and ensuring a daycare where student caregivers feel comfortable and happy leaving their loved ones.”
This is important to Bornyi because on a large campus like McGill, it can be difficult to find a support network. If elected, she will ensure no students fall through the cracks and that they are on a healthy campus where they feel cared about.
Kerry Yang, Candidate for VP University Affairs, Uncontested
Kerry Yang, fourth year Neuroscience student is running uncontested for VP University Affairs. Currently serving as the Faculty of Science senator, Yang is running on a platform of improving communication, academic wellness, and accessibility. If elected, he hopes to reshape how mental health and academic success is viewed by students and administration, establishing a framework that addresses success in the classroom, rather than through retroactive measures.
Yang wants to lobby for a change in the structure of S/U courses, so students who do well in S/U courses can have their grade count towards their GPA. “S/U courses exist so students can take classes not in their field of expertise. Students shouldn’t be punished if they do well in a course they have passed-failed,” Yang tells the Bull and Bear. Additionally, he hopes to expand the autonomy of Black, Indigenous and Francophone advocacy groups. He believes current McGill policies are performative, and will push for policies that empower marginalised groups to create change. As VP University Affairs, Yang promises to take on more administrative work, so marginalised groups can focus on inciting change within the McGill community.
Yang is looking to improve communication between students, faculty, and departmental associations. “We shouldn’t be wasting our time and resources doing repetitive work. If elected, I want to instil active communication channels within the McGill community. I want to take a more grassroots approach to knowledge transfer, to increase knowledge of student rights among our students.”