As the 2020 Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) election period approaches, the AUS convened a forum on February 13 to allow candidates to share their platforms and elaborate on their goals for the 2020-2021 year.
Presidential Candidate Stands Alone
This cycle there is only one candidate standing for President of the AUS: current AUS VP Academic, U3 Arts student Ananya Nair. Nair emphasized her experience as VP Academic, as well as her Floor Fellow experience. She highlighted the reduction in student study spaces with the closure of Schulich library and the upcoming Fiat Lux project in Redpath, “[students] need more study spaces period,” she said. Nair also advocated for increased resources for students engaged in job searching, such as the creation of an AUS bursary to replace the Enriched Educational Opportunities Bursary (which is slated to expire 2021). “[It is] high time that we have a career center that caters to Arts students,” she said.
Candidates for VP Academic Differ on Reform Priorities
U2 Arts student Cathernia Musa and U1 Arts student Rachel Lawal discussed their priorities and campaign promises with the small audience. Musa focused on improving marketable skills for Arts students, stressing that “usual homework, midterms, and finals are not representative of skills needed in the real world.” Having served as President for the McGill African Student Society, Musa elaborated that she has experience overcoming McGill administrative barriers to curriculum change by working directly with professors and the administration.
Lawal stressed increasing accessibility and student awareness of AUS resources. “Not only are there a variety of resources, they are being underused,” she said. Furthermore, Lawal advocated to reform the current course evaluation system. “I think AUS has not followed through with Mercury…students don’t see any personal gain from it… [and] students [should be able to] see course reviews from their peers,” she asserted.
The third candidate running, Avni Aghi, did not attend the debate.
VP Services Candidate Stresses Accountability and Engagement
The sole candidate for VP Services, U3 Arts student Samad Fagbohun, also pushed for improvements and increased student awareness of AUS services. Fagbohun proposed hiring more photographers and allowing arts students to use the AUS media team. Furthermore, Fagbohun said that he would look at “collating all the services the AUS provides…give a list of different services…what they do, what they have to offer, and what students can gain from these services.”
VP Social Candidates Focus on Bar des Arts, Frosh
U3 Arts student CJ Pospisil and U3 Arts student Belanna Gans focused their time on reforming Bar des Arts (BDA) and Arts Frosh. Pospisil, who emphasized his prior experience with BDA and Arts Frosh, advocated for greater enforcement of the Interfaculty Involvement Restriction Policy (IRP), making the policy retroactive and more survivor-centric. The IRP is designed to prioritize safety and violence reduction at faculty-run events by restricting individuals who have threatened others. Popsil also pledged to help create an “Arts identity,” and end BDA’s closure or at least get a solid timeline from the McGill admin on construction in the Arts Lounge. He remarked, “not only is BDA everyone’s favorite bar…it’s the backbone of the McGill community.”
Belanna Gans ran on her experience in the Science Faculty, and focused on promoting safety and inclusivity in Arts. Gans advocated for changing the structure of training for Arts Frosh and making it more focused on consent as well as more accessible to students who do not drink. While Gans acknowledged she did not have experience with Arts events, she argued that her experience running Science events would more than qualify her.
Gans criticized some of the language used by her opponent, and his focus on Bar des Arts due to concerns over inclusivity of the bar for non-drinking students and other groups. “If BDA doesn’t come back we can figure something else out,” she said. She closed by emphasizing her experience and stressing that, “We are at the forefront of McGill social culture…[with] my personal experience having been granted title of best leader of Science Frosh 2018…I would like to make sure that [Frosh leaders] are held to the highest standard.”
Aspiring Arts Senators Seek Student Wellness and Accessibility
U3 Arts student Mary Lynne Loftus and U2 Arts student Darshan Daryanani laid out their platforms for Arts Senator. Loftus, VP External for the Art History and Communications Studies Student Society, emphasized accessibility and improving the Wellness Hub. She outlined proposals for a Google form to ask Arts Senators questions, and to hold office hours once a month. Loftus also stated how she wanted to ensure that Arts students were informed about their academic rights, and said that she wanted to consult directly with students to improve the Wellness Hub. “I think mental health is one of the biggest concerns on campus,” she said.
Daryanani, current AUS VP External, ran on a platform of mandating that professors record lectures, advocating for sustainable divestment at McGill, and establishing a Wellness Center booking system.
Elaborating on requiring professors to record lectures, Daryanani said, “While there is pressure coming from teachers unions, [McGill] needs to be more accessible…[I will] at least try and work with OSD to [address] the lack of resources; it’s difficult to go to an 830 when there’s snow on the ground.”
Art Representative Candidates tackle BDS, OSD
Early on, the Arts Representative candidates attempted to distinguish themselves and their platforms. Paige Collins (U1, Arts) focused on advocacy and accountability, and that she wanted to return paid note-taking to the OSD. “Communications from SSMU to [club] executives [are] not super transparent…[these] relationships are paternalistic in nature, we can improve this by creating a committee,” she said.
U3 Arts student Chip Smith who served on the AUS Legislative Council, ran on closing the growing gap between the student body and government. U0 Arts student Jonah Fried advocated making SSMU more transparent to students.“SSMU shouldn’t be as incomprehensible as some of my anthropology readings,” he quipped.
U3 Arts student Alex Karasick , a student journalist at the McGill Daily, ran on creating a mandatory waitlist for Arts classes, keeping the number of Arts reps to SSMU at four, and reducing toxicity within SSMU. “I’ve been in the room at SSMU and AUS at very contentious issues, I want to [solve these] in a way that is not toxic.”
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement came up early after an observer asked the candidates a question on whether they would support SSMU taking a stand on the the movement. Collins said that she would like to run a student discussion and bring in academics who work on related fields, while Smith was reluctant to speak on the issue, saying, “I’m not in a place to talk about [BDS] because it’s a very nuanced issue, I am not going to let my biases get the better of me…all students deserve the same right to an education.”
Fried also spoke about BDS, stating that he “[would] represent a variety of students, I cannot favor one group or another [and] approve resolutions to endorse or formally condemn BDS.”
Karasick once more emphasized his commitment to reducing toxicity in student government. He pointed out that many debates surrounding BDS have become harmful, explaining, “We need to listen to constituents…I want to listen to everyone’s opinion, at the end of the day… I’m not elected for my opinions, I’m elected to represent Arts students.”
Voting begins on Monday, February 17 and ends Wednesday, February 19 at 5pm. Results will be announced at 5:30pm. Arts students will be emailed instructions on where and how to vote online.
Correction: A previous version of this article claimed that Nathan Mendel was running for the position of Arts Senator and did not attend the debate. Mendel is a candidate in the AUS elections.