close up of social science building
Faculty of social cciences building. Image: Charley Dutil/Fulcrum
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The Fulcrum shines a spotlight on Julia Alvi, Anjana Balachandran, Max Christie, Zineb Jouali and Bryanna Lavictoire

The University of Ottawa Senate has one student representative from each faculty and is responsible for setting educational policies and dealing with academic issues.

The faculty of social science (FSS) has five candidates for one available seat: Julia Alvi, Anjana Balachandran, Max Christie, Zineb Jouali and Bryanna Lavictoire.

For those who wish to get familiar with the candidates, here is the transcript of their interviews with the Fulcrum.

The Fulcrum (F): Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

Julia Alvi (JA): I’m a fourth-year student in conflict studies and human rights with a minor in law, originally from Brampton, Ont. and I’m passionate about student advocacy, especially when it comes to academics.

Anjana Balachandran (AB): I’m a second-year student at the University of Ottawa and I’m studying political science. My passions are in women’s peace and security, youth peace and security, international relations and intelligence, that’s where I really see myself moving towards in the future. I grew up in Ottawa, and am involved in clubs associated with Telfer. 

Max Christie (MC): I’m from Calgary and I am in my first year in political science and communications with French immersion. I’m not your standard student politician; I have social anxiety and being a first-year there are a few unique factors where I was considering not running, but I think those are both factors that give me a unique voice that is worth having on the Senate.

Zineb Jouali (ZJ): I studied French basically my entire life. And so I continued my studies and friends hoping that I can kind of pursue that career in French and in the future. I’m a third-year student, studying psychology in a bachelors program. Some of my goals relate to wanting to help others, and wanting to create an impact in whatever place I can. 

Bryanna Lavictoire (BL): I’m an international studies and modern languages student enrolled in the French immersion section of the program, [which is]  basically a policy-based program with a focus on languages. So I studied English but then I’m continuing my learning in French and Spanish, and I’m my second year.

The Fulcrum: How will you work to make the student situation better during COVID-19

AB: My main points of advocacy as a student Senator would be mental health and wellness support, lowering tuition costs, and advocating for significant increases in financial aid, as well as financial support through scholarships and bursaries. I advocate for flexible and adaptive academic regulation with COVID-19. We’ve seen everything, all the problems that already existed have just been exacerbated, they’ve just been that much more amplified. And students have been put in positions that otherwise we might not have, we definitely did not foresee these conditions. This pandemic has affected mental health and wellness in general, even, not just mental health but physical health and the emotional health of students. Adapting was difficult for all.

MC: COVID-19 has brought unique challenges for students, for a lot of students who are having to work to pay tuition like me, we have to deal with the worst job market in Canadian history. Also with academics, things can be extremely difficult for many students to keep track of things. 

I’m focusing on three major areas. One of those being academics and student rights. My kind of main promise with that is I’ll be pushing for pass [or] fail grading for classes taken during COVID-19. For students that have had, you know, academic troubles or problems with their mental health, stress, allowing pass [or] fail grading allows for students to tailor their academic experiences to fit the unprecedented situation that we are in.

ZJ: We do have to adapt to this new life, especially with our next school year being hybrid. So with that being said, we will be given the option whether or not we want to pursue courses in person or online, but we do need to adapt to both lifestyles. The one thing that no one can really deny is that mental health has been affected a lot by COVID-19. So promoting mental health and wellness, would be one of my first mandates.

BL: That’s literally my focus because I don’t know about you, but I’ve personally had a lot of problems with virtual classes. Students in other countries can’t [adjust] to the schedule or flexibility [of] deadlines because of the time difference or just the overall quality of the education that we’re getting. To be honest, I’m not pleased with what I’m paying for. So I want to be able to obviously do something about that, and students and obviously it’s the highest level of student government that resolves academic issues so I feel that I’d be in a position to do a lot with that.

JA: I know that the pandemic has created major challenges for students. As one of my platform pillars, I’m advocating for increased virtual learning support. For me, that will mean wider access to tailored online mental health resources for students, as well as better support for graduating students who are planning their futures, in the age of zoom, because I know that access to the job market is harder, given COVID-19.

The Fulcrum: What often gets overlooked for your faculty?

MC: First-year [students] or specifically students that aren’t involved in student politics, because with most of these elections a turnout of 15 or 20 per cent is considered positive. I think it falls on all people involved in politics from UOSU, to the Board of Governors, to us in the Senate to reach out to those students that aren’t necessarily as involved or as ingrained into these spheres and push up participation in the future. At the end of the day, by advocating for our rights, it makes it harder, see impossible, for the administration to ignore us, that’s something that we can push for in the future and we can help enact that meaningful change.

ZJ:  The promotion of mental health. Maybe it isn’t overlooked, but it isn’t spoken about enough because of the stigma around it. There are many people who know about mental health, but people who don’t know about it, aren’t given reasons to know about it. We need to create more awareness around it. 

BL: I feel that general concerns about students get overlooked because we complain and a lot of people just brush that off as us constantly complaining and not doing what we can with what we have. But I just feel that there’s always more we could do in working towards the common goal of having the best possible institution for students to be a part of.

JA: There is an opportunity to give FSS students better transparency and involvement in the academic decision-making process, and I want to prioritize student consultation to make it happen. The most important thing to me when it comes to the Senate, and the biggest thing that I’ve learned, is that consultation and transparency are key. When I first decided to campaign, most of my peers asked me, ‘What’s the U of O Senate?’. My goal is to make sure that students feel that their voices are being heard and amplified at the Senate level. And this will mean taking initiatives like collaborating with Recognized Student Governments (RSGs), especially vice president academic student reps, to share updates on academic progress to improve our coordination and to make sure … all of our best practices are being shared.

AB: The importance of transparency gets overlooked oftentimes for students. I would want to fight for more transparency and fight against violations, potential violations of privacy, and making sure that that never happens. I can go and seek these resources. I think transparency is a huge thing that gets overlooked for university students in general.

The Fulcrum: Can you explain in your words what is the mandate for the role you are attempting to be elected to?

ZJ: I’m elected to listen to students’ voices and act upon the things that they want to see change in their student experience as a whole. I will use my personal experience and my leadership skills to speak on behalf of what I want to do. 

BL: Student senate basically is you picking one person to represent your faculty, and then being the voice and the representative of all you guys. And I think what’s really important to note at the level of the student Senate, is that we’re doing what’s best for the university. So, all of our policies that we change. all of the things that we vote on and all of the concerns brought to light, we address them, find a solution, and figure out how that will impact the school. Obviously, we’re always trying our best to make sure that that’s in a positive way, that will help us in the future.

JA: The U of O Senate is responsible for everything academic-related on campus. My role as the FSS senator, in my view, is to ensure that I am aware of the most important issues, academically, for our FSS students. Making sure that I am amplifying their voices, remaining open-minded to the opportunities that they see academically on campus. My role on the Senate is to bring forth and communicate all of those very important issues, whether it’s during full senate discussions during Senate committee meetings within the FSS Faculty Council … or more specific adjustments to FSS programs. 

AB: The Senate is responsible for managing academic issues on campus, and empowering students, with educational policies, and recognizing the responsibilities of the university.

MC: Students elected to the Senate, help with the governance of things like academic regulations. That includes things like setting academics with courses. So, for example, if we wanted to pass an optional anti-racism course that would be done through the Senate. And we also have a big role on things like oversight as well, an example of that being the selection of certain staff members.

The Fulcrum: What is an area that you think the body you are running for can improve and how do you plan on helping to improve it? 

BL: I would say communication of information because not going to lie before this, I didn’t even know what the Senate did because I couldn’t find the information on it. When I still go to look online to find previous meeting minutes, and what they have done, the meeting minutes are vague and if you’re not familiar with reading stuff like agendas you probably won’t understand or get the gist of it. So I would say we need to be communicating to students what we’re doing. Because without that, then you elected someone to be working on your behalf but you don’t even know what they’re doing. So you’re obviously going to want to have a better clue what the person you voted for is working towards.

JA: The biggest area for improvement that I see is coordination. I’m committed to staying connected with students to gauge their perspectives on everything academic-related. This will involve collaborating with other Senate members to create a student caucus web page to help students easily reach their senators. I’ll also advocate for the public release of student representatives annual progress reports. Since the UOSU and Senate relationship remains undefined, I’m committed to continuing discussions with the UOSU advocacy commissioner, so that there is better collaboration and improved student awareness on everything that’s happening in the Senate, and all the academic decisions that are being made, not only at the Senate level but all across campus. I’m going to prioritize better collaboration with RSGs, including them at roundtable discussions to connect with them on the academic issues so that I can raise these directly at Senate discussions. 

AB: I think the Senate in the past has done a decent job, a good job, I would say, but something I would want to improve in the coming years is the level of access a student in a faculty has to their specific senator. I think that direct contact, and that availability, have not been there.

MC: I think the university as a whole has had, to put it mildly, a rough time dealing with issues of racism and discrimination. They’ve been ‘paying lip service’ to anti-racism causes, they’ve been doing half measures, but they haven’t enacted a meaningful change that is critical to ensuring that we have an equitable community. I think that student advocates have already been the big pushing factor towards that and I think having allies in the Senate will be useful going forward.

ZJ: To improve course expectations, schedules and stuff like that. If you’re a student, that means you have a schedule, and then you have to do courses and you have to deal with professors as well. Something I wanted to do that follows the mandate, is an extension for reviews on professors where students can have a voice and talk about their experiences with teachers. They can talk about the grading system that a professor might use, or the style of teaching.

The Fulcrum: Can you talk about previous involvements in student life on campus or relevant experiences that would help you in this role? 

JA: In the past four years, I’ve had the chance to promote students’ academic and mental well-being, in many ways on campus. I served as director of bilingualism for my student association for two consecutive years advocating in both official languages for students’ rights. I also served as a writing advisor with the academic writing help center. So I understand how important academic resources are on campus, whether that is in person, or virtual. I’ve also been a part of the Women’s Resource Center, as an action team member, where I supported initiatives to promote better diversity and inclusion on our university campus, which is a major goal for me to build on if elected.

AB:  I have done a lot of work for different projects, [non-governmental organizations][and] I work for Senator Marilou McPhedran’s office as a youth advisor. I’m a founder and steering committee member of the Canadian Coalition for Youth Business Security, co-founder of the Nepean Constituency Council [and] raised over $45,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society. On campus, I am on Sprout, a Telfer club and social enterprise for food security in the Ottawa region. I’m also director of sponsorship for Casco, which raises money for CHEO, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

MC: I was the founder of my high school student council which did a big push for students’ rights in my high school. For relevant university experience, I have been involved in a few extracurriculars. I am involved heavily with the debate society here, and I am helping the Executive push for greater funding from the university because with COVID-19 we have had a few problems. When classes go back to in-person it’s going to be a problem for the society, so I’ve been working on a committee with several executives, navigating the bureaucracy of the school to help secure greater funding.

BL: I’m studying political science, so that helps a lot and I’ve done a whole bunch of things including the Youth Ambassadors program, where I was essentially a representative of Canada in the U.S. and studied politics, and participated in community involvement, and then came back home to start a community service project. I also run a business where I braid hair for women and men of color, and I use that platform to educate people on social justice issues like cultural appropriation, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement going on and just kind of addressing issues that are really prominent in society today. For example, I use my platform to talk about transphobia, Islamophobia and work towards educating people, because I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t go out of their way to learn about it and they just stay ignorant and I’m trying to fight that. I was also the president of my high school student council and I’ve done cadets for years so I’ve always been in a sort of leadership role throughout my life, and I hope to continue that as a student senator.

ZJ: I’ve never been a part of an organization or a club or something like that but I’ve always been around it, if that makes sense. As an example let’s say the University of Ottawa Moroccan Students Association. As a Moroccan myself, I’ve always been involved with them, I have always helped whenever they had big events. I’m always around campus. I’ve always been aware of what’s happening, even though I haven’t had a direct position in those places. 

The Fulcrum: Why should students vote for you? 

JA: I’m committed to raising FSS students experience and respectfully expressing students’ concerns during all Senate conversations. I will recognize and set aside my own discomfort to engage in important and sometimes difficult discussions to have the most positive possible impact on students’ academic journeys. Most importantly, I’m here to listen to students’ needs as their perspectives will be the ones shaping my role on the Senate. I will engage with marginalized voices first to listen, then to amplify and will remain open-minded and open-hearted to criticism and opportunities to grow as a student senator. Students should vote for me if they’re ready to feel more engaged in Senate decisions and have their perspectives amplified directly at the university level.

AB: I think my platform, and my points of advocacy, are really important for students today. On top of all the important issues I bring to the table, I have also proven through my experiences and through my past track record that I can and I will deliver. I will prioritize, mental health, well-being of my peers, while again addressing both academic and non-academic matters on campus, and for my faculty. I think that’s why students should vote for me. I’m very approachable, friendly, and always ready to take on new challenges. I think these qualities translate well for leadership positions, like the U of O Senate, and I’m really excited to see where this opportunity and journey takes me.

MC: I can be an advocate for all students because, as we’ve seen several times, first year [students] can often be left out of student politics and governance decisions in general just because in first year, most students aren’t as involved because oftentimes, the kind of status quo people aren’t really reaching out to us. Being able to bring that new perspective and specifically, if I get elected, on talking with first-year [students] next year will allow a broader range of students to be represented. I have experience in academic situations of getting things done and I built a track record as being a bit of a bridge builder.

ZJ: I want students to understand that I’m never going to come on a platform and say ‘Hey, vote for me.’ I’m not going to give you fluff or anything extra or superficial. If you see potential in my campaign and you’re comfortable in me representing you, I’m glad to take over that position and represent you. I just want to be able to earn your trust and have you be comfortable with me. 

BL: I want students to do what they think is best for the school, because I was looking at elections last year. Less than 10 per cent of the students at the university actually voted. So I just want people to vote. I’m just trying to spread the word and try to get involved. We can’t be those kids that say we want to change but don’t actually do it, because voting is where that starts. So I’m literally just trying to go everywhere I can to spread the message to get the voting numbers up. Pick the candidate that you obviously think represents what you care about the most. And if that’s not me, that’s okay there’s always someone that will be that person that you’re looking for.