Campaign centres around free tuition, outlets, study spaces

“I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!” Those were among the final words of Oprah Winfrey’s impassioned speech at this year’s Golden Globes, held on Sunday, Jan. 7. Many who watched her believed this to be her unofficial bid for president of the United States, seeing her as the ultimate match for the incumbent Donald Trump. Yet the talk show host and philanthropist has stayed silent on the matter until this past week, when she announced that she does have her sights set on a presidency after all.

In in an exclusive interview with the Tomato on Jan. 17, Oprah told arts & culture editor Pepper Pepper of her plans to run for president of the the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO).

“I’ve never really thought about getting involved with politics, but I believe that small, local efforts can indeed make real change, and the SFUO seems to be the best place to do that.”

As part of her campaign, Oprah has promised to lobby the university for a three-year plan for reduced tuition, with the ultimate goal of free tuition for all students by 2021.

“It’s the best way to tackle the yearly hikes,” Oprah explained. “Free tuition right off the bat isn’t logical and won’t sustain the university, which relies on students’ money to fund its ongoing construction and God knows what else.”

Oprah also shared her plans to increase funding for clubs, and work with the university administration to increase study spaces across campus.

“I think it’s a refreshing shake-up in the candidature,” said Lara Ahmed, a third-year political science student at the U of O. “We always have the same group of people shifting between positions and staying on for years. It’s like they never leave! Having someone completely new, like Oprah, will bring about the change that we need in our student federation. Plus, it’s Oprah!”

Oprah’s announcement has also raised a social media frenzy, with students across the U of O campus tweeting their excitement with the hashtag #OprahSFUO2018.

However, others at the university have voiced concerns about the star’s qualifications and experience, specifically current vice-president finance Richie Lachic, who is also vying for the position of president.

“What makes her fit to run this federation? Has she ever worked on a campaign? Been involved with a club? Does she know anything at all about the university or the SFUO?” said Lachic. “I’m hesitant to have someone who knows virtually nothing about student politics leading our students. They want someone who represents them, who knows them and their needs, and Oprah isn’t that.”  

Constitutionally, candidates in SFUO elections must be registered as a student at the time of the election. Oprah has consequently registered in three classes, gaining her special student status.

“She’s a fantastic student,” said biomedical engineering professor Eliza Song. “One of the brightest in the class by far. I’m surprised she’s running for the student federation; frankly, I think she could do better with her time.”

It all came down to the candidate debates which took place on Friday, Jan. 19. Following the standard questions by moderators from the Tomato and la Carotte, which were pre-screened by the elections office, a member of the audience raised their hand.

“What are you going to do about the fact that there’s virtually nowhere to charge my laptop on this campus, especially in the older buildings?”

Oprah smiled before raising her microphone and standing up. “Look under your seats, people! You get an outlet, you get an outlet! Outlets for everyone!”

Voting for the SFUO election takes place Feb. 7-9 at polling stations across campus.