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Keziah Oduro
Image: Keziah Oduro/Provided

Oduro 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 Keziah Oduro participated in a question and answer with the Fulcrum to discuss her platform. For those who wish to get familiar with Oduro, the following is a transcription of the interview. All answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

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

Keziah Oduro (KO): I am a second-year biomedical science student from Burlington, Ontario, which is about five hours south of Ottawa. When I first came to Ottawa, on my tour of the U of O campus, the carding incident had just happened and it took me aback. I thought, ‘Do I really want to come to this school’” I didn’t really know how I felt about coming to a school where I wouldn’t feel welcomed or accepted. I realized when I got here that things aren’t as bright and sunshine as they make it out to be; we’re in the capital of Canada, but we’re still experiencing racism every single day. As a student who is racialized, a woman, and part of the LGBTQ2+ community, I wanted my voice and people like me to be heard, which I just don’t see happening right now on campus. I don’t see people who are working with the administration and governance towards those goals, so that’s why I put my name forward.

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

KO: [In Burlington], I was involved in many community activities; I was named 2019 Junior Citizen of the Year and I was part of many councils under Members of Parliament. When I moved to Ottawa, I had a little bit of a hard transition due to mental health reasons, but was able to get back into student life; I’m a student ambassador for Student Life Network where I write articles about the student journey, I’m part of the Ottawa Centre Municipal Council, and I’ve done a lot of volunteering on campus such as with the MedX Canada conference.

F: In your own words, how do you view your mandate on the BOG if elected?

KO: A U of O Board of Governors representative works to vote on administrative policies, budget cuts, and budget increases. We work with governance to see where money is being allocated and how students’ influence and money should be used on and off campus.

F: How do you intend to facilitate communication between students, the BOG and the Executive Committee?

KO: Something we hear a lot is ‘What even is the Board of Governors? What do they even do?’ One thing I’ve noticed, and I think the other candidates can agree, is that online campaigning has been so different and made it a little bit harder to connect with people. But, at the same time, it’s the easiest way to get to a lot of people in a short amount of time. I want to keep that going; if I [am] elected as your representative, I want to expand my platform page into your representative’s page and communicate what the day to day, month to month, week to week operations as a BOG representative looks like. For example, explain what motions were or were not passed and let students know that, ‘Hey, this is who you voted for and this is the work that I’m putting into transparency’ right from the beginning.

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

KO: The [President’s Advisory Committee on Anti-Racism and Inclusion] felt very performative. It felt like it was given to students to help them hush for a while, while finding ways to just pretend that there’s no issue. I want students who are doing the work on campus to be uplifted to the forefront of those initiatives, not just in the role of consultants. In the past, we’ve had goals set out and none of them have been passed; no real working plan has been put out on how we’re going to roll these out or what mandatory racial bias training our faculty members will be getting.

One thing in my campaign is having the immediate review of every BOG and Senate member to see if they have undercover biases, because how can you say that you’re for a diverse body of students and then also sit there and unconsciously be perpetuating these racial biases?

The committee is an amazing thing and I believe in the work that they’re doing. I want to see how they are going to be providing for students who are off campus and saying ‘We’re still here for you and making sure that, whatever city you’re in, we’re working to protect you.’

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

KO: A lot of students feel like they can only go to Student Academic Success Service (SASS) when they have some sort of diagnosable mental health problem, so they’re really hesitant and don’t know where to go. I think we should be having a campaign to talk about where you can go if you’re having feelings of loneliness, what your supports are in your faculty, in the university, and in SASS services. We should be saying, ‘As a Black student or as an Asian student or as another racialized student, this is where you can go.’

We should also be creating more community within residences and creating check-ins that are a little bit more personal and one-to-one. As a student who lived off campus in first year, I felt that my community was very tight-knit. We have our Community Advisors (CAs), but at the same time I know that a lot of off-campus residents felt unsafe walking home, and that it affected their mental health. So for them to propose a walking group that leaves campus together, and little things like that on a very one-to-one level, works towards creating those personal relationships.

F: What are your plans for advocating for lowered tuition?

KO: Lower tuition is definitely something that I am all for. I do think that we’re going to get a lot of pushback from the U of O’s governance in that area because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and excuses of the economic downturn would be used. One thing that I will be calling for is transparency about how the money that we’ve been giving to [the university] — our tuition and ancillary fees, all those random little seven dollar fees we see on our statements of account — is being spent and how that money is  reallocated back to  students. There are buildings on campus that are lit 24/7, we have students who are on campus paying $3,000 for a meal plan but getting rotten fruit; I want to know where that money is being redistributed to help students. What bursaries and scholarships are being created, especially for BIPOC students who are much more affected by COVID-19, and our international students who are facing the effects of different time zones?

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

KO: COVID-19 has definitely fractured all of us and, even as a student who was privileged enough to come back to campus, I feel that I’m still missing a huge part of the experience. We got that email that said 30 to 50 per cent of [courses will be in person on] campus. Well, what about the other 50 to 70 per cent of [courses]? [What about the students] who are going to be in other cities all around the world or unable to come back to campus for many reasons? I want to make sure that they’re not left behind and that their academic, social, and career needs and goals are still being met.

We need to build supports within each faculty to keep those students connected. The main thing right now is scholarships and bursaries being rolled out for those students because we have a lot of technological problems that are arising. We hear a lot of students saying, ‘I’m not really loving Zoom, I’m not really [liking] Microsoft Teams,’ so how are we creating and finding different avenues to keep our students connected?

F: If you’re elected, what’s the one thing you would like to be remembered for once you’ve completed your term?

KO: My main focus going in is mental health support. Talking to students, I’ve seen that, they feel they have no support. As soon as students start their undergraduate degree, I want them to have the option to be partnered with a counsellor so that anything that was missed in high school can be addressed now, and they can get support right from the get-go to be successful in their undergraduate studies. Creating a more intersectional approach starts with not only issues inside the classroom, but with what’s going on outside of the classroom. What’s going on at home? How are you getting to school? How is your budget? We pride ourselves on being a community, but we forget that, after we leave campus grounds, we’re more than just students. Some of us are parents, some of us are caretakers.

F: Why should students vote for you?

KO: I came to the university confused, not knowing how to step my foot in anywhere and I felt like I wasn’t really being seen and didn’t know who to approach. I wanted to feel like I had a representative that was approachable who I could go and talk to. I feel like, as a student who isn’t going for a professional resume, I’m just looking to be that voice for students. I feel like I’ve experienced everything that you have; I know our hurts, I know it’s really saddening to hear all the mental health issues and racism, everything that’s happening on campus, and I see you and I hear you. More than that, I’m ready to be here for you and put forth your goals. Let me tell the governance that I’m not here to vote in the interests of the university, I’m here to vote on behalf of students and what they want to be put forward.