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Image: Hannan Mohamud/Provided
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Mohamud talks about her vision for the Board of Governors

The University of Ottawa and the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) are currently holding elections for the Board of Governors. This article will shed light on the candidates participating in the race.

The BOG is responsible for the university’s overall management and governance; it is in charge of finances, policies, and procedures. Two undergraduate students sit on the BOG, they are elected to two-year terms.

In June 2020, Saada Hussen was elected to her second term on the BOG where she will serve till 2022. The current BOG election will determine who joins her on the board; the elected candidate will serve until 2023. 

The University of Ottawa’s Hannan Mohamud participated in a question and answer with the Fulcrum to discuss her platform. For those who wish to get familiar with Mohamud, the following is a transcription of the interview. All answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

The Fulcrum (F): Who is Hannan Mohamud and why are you running for the BOG?

Hannan Mohamud (HM): For me, student politics has never been something that I would see myself going into. I just like volunteering. I like doing the background work. I was a campaign manager for numerous positions in Alberta. 

I went to the University of Alberta. Prior to this, I did a dual major in sociology and psychology. And so I was always just like, in the background. But I think since I started going to the University of Ottawa, I saw a lot of community engagement, but I noticed there was a lack of positions that were more serious. So when I saw this big position, I did not want to run, I think it was like until the last second that I submitted my nomination form because I really wanted to believe that the six per cent turnout from last year was a fluke. I [thought]  maybe something was wrong, but I was speaking to a few of the students that have been around for a while, and they’re like, ‘No, student governance, it’s kind of hard to get more students involved.’ And I think it could just be the climate of how we’re moving as a society right now that more students want to be paying attention to who’s making decisions, who’s at the table.

F: Can you talk about previous involvement in student government or any other relevant experiences that you think will help you in this role? 

HM: So I think that anyone who is going to be challenging an institution, especially at a critical time right now, needs to be someone who hasn’t been ingrained in that institution. So we need fresh ideas and a fresh mindset that’s separate from what the majority is always checking towards, if that makes sense. For me, my advocacy has always been centered around community. How do you get the community involved whether it be in politics, whether it be in addressing issues, whether it be in even just mobilization? And so a lot of my campaign is just centered around we deserve better because if it weren’t for the students the U of O wouldn’t exist. 

Students, we’re not asking for a lot. We just want to be treated with dignity and respect. This isn’t just, you know, equity in classrooms and educational learning environments. Like there was a pandemic, that stipends opportunities, you know, even right now I’m having problems with the Wi-Fi, why isn’t there a U of O [program or service] that I could apply for that could help me with my Wi-Fi and figuring that out. I’m a law student paying all this money and I don’t have any types of supports when it comes to Wi-Fi, right, so I think when it comes to that we deserve better. 

I want students to know that it’s not a lot to ask for accessible mental health support, it’s not a lot to ask for [an institution] that support us, it’s not a lot to ask for a charter, that’s something that I’m going to be advocating for. Trying to put in motion for a student rights charter [is] similar to what other schools have, like McGill University and the University of Alberta. The reason for that is because I saw the great work that Jamie [Ghossein] was doing, in regards to just trying to get a reporting system for sexual assault, or sexual harassment. And I thought ‘Where are these other things that students are trying to push for? That should just be common sense for the institution to say, we’re going to give these supports?’ And so I think I come with a background of just trying to get students to mobilize, which is heavily missing in student governance, hence why I’ve been doing a lot of that for a lot of people because they didn’t, I guess, see the need of trying to reach out to various student groups. So I definitely will be doing a lot of Instagram lives, I’m really excited about that with various student groups, to just highlight the work that they’ve been doing on campus prior to me even coming because as a first-year I am reaping from those benefits. 

F: How do you plan on working to improve mental health and wellness on campus?

HM: Even before I got here, I think there were great students such as Jamie [Ghossein] and Saada [Hussen], and their predecessors before that [who] were talking about mental health,put motions forward and did that work within the system to get the university to pay attention. I want to credit that work, but at the same time, I see that it’s not going anywhere. 

Take COVID-19, we don’t know what’s going to happen to us and students in the coming years. And so I think I want to heighten the seriousness. And the only way I can do that is by personally being accountable. Accountability is a weird thing, a lot of people think it’s just like pointing and saying, ‘Hey, I need you to do this.’ Whereas for me, I’m going to be actually getting all of these mental health departments, all of the student mental health groups, and trying to make a separate action committee, whether it be within the Board’s mandate, or just the students coming together and saying, ‘We have an actual problem here, how are we going to fast track to 12 Recommendations?’ because I think this is something that is bigger than the board. It’s not something that all board members can come to a consensus about and it’s usually like that when it comes to student issues. 

A lot of students were on the [President’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health and Wellness] and they were saying that they were not even directly included in these meetings, the current BOG representatives are saying that they’re left out of meetings. And so that’s not even an accessible way to hold these people accountable. And by these people, I mean, the university and other non-student BOG representatives. So I think the best way to do that is really trying to launch our own campaigns to launch our own ways of getting more awareness. A good example is what happened with uRacism within this year. I don’t thinkthe issue of anti-Black racism would have come to the forefront if it did not take students literally sleeping for 50 plus hours in a public space during a pandemic. Like, what more can you have done as students to give up your bodies? And I don’t want that to ever happen.

Again, I want there to be tangible ways for students to mobilize, whether it be like a mass email campaign, whether it be to email the president of the university or the other BOG representatives consistently with student mobilization.

The Okanagan Charter is a great way to start. I think other universities, the way that they were able to get them to implement it quickly, was not just showing the need, but doing a campaign surrounding that topic. But again, I do want to start out with going to students that are actually doing this work. So mental health groups across campuses, grassroot ones, sometimes they’re not even recognized as clubs as well, it’s just a few students that are just talking about mental health. So that’s a good way to start. 

F: How do you plan to advocate for a safe return to campus for students?

HM: I’m in Alberta right now and I’m pissed at the prospect that a student will have to just drop everything, specifically, our international students to come down to a city or province that they’ve never been in their whole life. And then they will find out last minute that either their classes aren’t in person and are online, or even worse, that there are no COVID-19 protections, that yes, there are in-person classes, but like, we don’t have any COVID protections. We haven’t even talked about vaccines yet … So, for me, it’s the carelessness at the level of the Ontario government, which the university sees and thinks that Iit’s okay because the government is behaving in such a negligent way to move in this type of manner. And that clearly is trying to play on the consciousness of students as a whole, as if we’re so dumb that we will not call these things out.

I think that the U of O is severely underestimating us right now. And so, as a student, I’m already trying to figure out like, how the hell are we going to not only uplift ourselves and go to this place in the city and figure this out like that? But also, I think this is the part that always gets me. Why is it that we have to wait on institutions to release a plan and then critique them on that platform? Why can’t we already come up with our own proposed solution? We want the return [to be done] safely, this is non-negotiable, before they even come out with their plan. That way, when they do come up with their’s, and we say, ‘What is this nonsense’ as students, ‘We came up with this whole plan that you could have used and yet you still use something that’s worse for a pandemic.’ And I think that speaks [to] their credibility and their integrity. And that’s something that I think the university needs to get behind a lot more. I think more students need to play on that notion that you can embarrass the institution, you can make them look bad. And the only way you can do that is by taking effort …It’s based on integrity, it’s based on how far a student wants to go to hold an institution accountable. And when you lose your passion for this type of thing. It’s gone.

And especially right now, it’s a pandemic, if kids are going to be coming back in September, whether or not they know it, they’re going to pay full price to see a professor or get COVID-19 for free. And that’s not something we should be playing games with. So yeah, I hope to be able to work with that if I am elected.

F: How do you plan on actively fighting racism on campus and keeping your fellow governors to account?

HM: Yeah, so just like to set the precedent, I guess, and be fully transparent. I am helping with the anti-racism committee. Like, I’m helping professor Boulou Ebanda de B’béri’s office with policy. So I’m already working there. But before that, I think it’s really important to mention that this stuff should not be placed on the shoulders of a Black professor. This should never have been forced on him. This should have been the provost and the President’s duties. 

The BOG should have already been talking about these things, rather than, you know, his office and a first-year law student addressing these things. And the reason why I say these things is because there’s a lot of backlash towards that office — and I mean rightfully so, students were put on a panel, and then their rights were taken away, like, that’s very serious. And the burden and the anger is now placed on a Black professor and a female Black law student, like that’s not fair for anyone — no one should have to take that burden. That should go to the institution.

And so I think I want to be able to reframe the conversation around no, you students were right — so you have every right to be angry, but that rage should be redirected towards how we get action done. I think a great way that we do that, is by mobilizing, what uRacism did. I think no other, and correct me if I’m wrong, no other student group has been able to mobilize at such a massive capacity and get so much media attention and get so much, I guess, awareness on a single topic at the university, since a tuition strike that happened. So imagine that, but consistently over a semester, and it doesn’t require actual bodies being used. I think we’re moving towards a digital age where people are using social media more. And you have like great student movements across the country in Canada that we can build off of as well. Like, I’m doing great work with Windsor [University], and Carleton [University], and with Quebec universities as well, that are also trying to figure out how to get their BOG representatives to start talking about these things.

I think the best way to really start doing it is literally calling out the institution. I think that’s when my Twitter profile started hitting its peak. I was literally tagging the university, tagging Jill Scott and saying, like, ‘No, uRacism, isn’t few students that are bad, no, these are students that paid money, are disappointed with the service you’re giving them. Their rights are being violated.’ When I say rights, I’m not using that word very loosely, like the Ontario Human Rights Code literally says, if you’re accessing a service, you should not be receiving a slur. We pay for the institution, that’s a service. It’s really like the minute details of it. And I know academic freedom is something that will always be beautifully brought up. But I do have to say to people that question that, you know, you’re fighting for academic freedom, I’m just fighting to learn. This is not the same issue, this is really not the same issue. So I think we need a big read that can convey these terms. So simply and clearly. And whether it be as a Black woman or any of the other representatives that can do this work. I fully applaud anyone that can tell the president, Jill Scott and the other BOG members and not waiver on that is key. And I definitely have to applaud that.

I also want to point out Jamie [Ghossein and Saada Hussen] for putting out that letter in the Fulcrum as soon as it happened, because that is not something that is contestable, this was wrong. And so after we get over that, I think that’s when we can start proposing motions. Motions that actually required them to vote and publish those votes. So saying like these many people did not vote these many people choose to abstain. I know that you can’t record these meetings, and can’t type them out and have to wait for minutes. But I think the current BOG members especially can do better on this by not waiting for the Fulcrum to say that, ‘Hey, YouTube videos weren’t posted from a whole month ago.’ I think that should be on the big red flag to say, ‘Hey, what the hell?’ And like, go on Instagram, tell students through an Instagram Live that this nonsense happened today … it’s university politics. And so you cannot be sleeping on something like that.

F: International student fees are at an all-time high, how do you plan on advocating for them?

HM: Let me just be very clear on that, no student should be having to pay ridiculous amounts of money just to feed the pockets of an institution that lost money because of a pandemic — that is a hell no from me. 

But before I even [go] there, international student tuition has always been that nice gap for the universities to play games with. I can speak on Alberta politics, right now, they are going to a severe deficit at the University of Alberta and they chose to put that burden on who? International students. So now they’re paying ten times what I paid as a domestic student. So that’s my biggest fear right now seeing how the government of Ontario will play games with institutions. And then they put that burden on university students. 

The international Francophone students [exemption] and what they’re going through, that is something I didn’t even know about until I was speaking to some Francophone clubs. They brought that up to me, they were like, ‘Hey, you’re running?’ Did you hear about this?; But I was like, ‘What? How am I hearing about this from the students that are suffering from it, and not hearing about it from BOG reps or not hearing about it through, you know, a social media post somewhere out there?’ I mean, I don’t see everything. I like to think that I’m on social media checked into what I need to be checked into. But I think that lack of awareness for someone like me, says a lot. So whether it be again through a campaign, whether it be through regular updates we need to talk about it. I don’t think once you tackle an issue or talk about an issue that you then leave it alone, I think there needs to be constant updates. I think there needs to be constant renewals and talking about where you are, whether it be a simple diagram, say[ing] you know, ‘We talked to the institution this day, we voted on this motion, here’s how I voted and why’ — we need updates. As simple as that … I don’t think it’s that hard. 

I really think it just takes initiative on students’ parts, to get that awareness out there. And if you’re not trying to [communicate] what the issues are, how the hell am I supposed to worry that you’re trying to advocate for international student [tuition[ decreases in a boardroom full of people that are lawyers and the university president? That doesn’t make sense to me, it doesn’t add up. And so I think, yeah, for international student tuition that’s one thing that I would never compromise on. 

F: Why should students vote for you?

HM: I want to preface it by saying [to] everyone the fact that we’re running during a pandemic, like, shout out these are unpaid positions. This whole thing is so hard, especially during the finals, hats off to everyone. 

With that said, students should vote for me because regardless of experience I am compassionate about student equity and with COVID-19 we need a clear plan that will not limit access to education for our students. I also think my passion for organizing is clear from my track record, right out of the gate since coming to the U of O, I have been able to organize with various student groups that have been influential in this election. I think student organizing needs to work with student governance and that can only happen with transparency.