Outreach, referendums, returns to campus and conquering division
Armaan Singh Kheppar is a third-year student pursuing a bachelor of social sciences with a major in political science and a minor in history.
Since his first year on campus, Kheppar has been involved in student government. He began his student political career on the Public Administration Committee of the International, Politics, and Policy Studies Student Association (IPPSSA). The following year he was IPPSSA’s vice-president of equity and activism. At the end of his second year, he ran and was elected as advocacy commissioner on the UOSU’s Executive Committee.
In the 2022 UOSU elections, which were held earlier this month, he ran unopposed to be the Union’s next president with 1,489 votes (80.9 per cent) approving his candidacy, and 352 opposing (19.1 per cent). An additional 1,183 voters — 39.1 per cent of the total ballots cast — abstained.
“I felt that I wanted to run for the presidency of the Union because I saw the really good work that the Union can do to help students and to ameliorate our conditions. And I know that there’s so much more work to do,” Kheppar said.
While the participation in this year’s election, both in terms of votes and candidates was higher, the Union is still having issues with student engagement on campus. Kheppar expressed plans to address this issue and make outreach a focus next year.
“I think that there is still a lot of work to do. And I want to make sure that we’re continuing the work of the Communications and Engagement Committee that the Union set up. I also really think that increasing awareness on what the Union is, how it works, and what it can do for students is really big as well,” he said.
The UOSU election did not only consist of campaigns for the different positions but also featured three referendum questions for students. Two of them did not pass. The one that did pass, called for the creation of a new $0.84 fine ancillary fee to fund a virtual health and wellness portal called Compass for U of O students.
“I’m very glad that the Compass referendum, referendum number two, passed. I think it’s really important that students better fund the mental health portal,” Kheppar said.
As for referendum one — which asked students to agree to another ancillary fee of $1.99 per semester to join the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) — Kheppar was not as pleased with the results.
“I am very disappointed that referendum number one on the advocacy levy did not pass. The advocacy levy would have funded our membership to OUSA, which is the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance,” he explained.
“UOSU was a member of OUSA but it was an observer member and not a full member. And this would have dramatically turned up the volume [of] student voices at the U of O,” he said.
“OUSA is one of the leading advocacy groups in the province of Ontario that is able to influence the [provincial] government in order to make changes,” Kheppar said.
“And on referendum number three [on the addition of a legal support services fee], I don’t really have comments,” he said.
It is likely that Kheppar will preside over a complete return to campus in the coming academic year — a unique challenge.
“I also want to encourage the University to have a three-dose mandate rather than just a two-dose mandate,” he said.
When asked about the division that can occur in student government due to its politicization and the impact that current events may have on discourses, such as the pandemic and the ‘Freedom Convoy’, Kheppar emphasized the importance of respecting personal opinions without sacrificing the Union’s fundamental beliefs.
“I encourage respectful and inclusive and just overall non-hostile political debate among our members and the student population in general. But I think there are a few things that the Union should definitely not compromise on,” he said.
“The union is a pro-choice organization. We are an anti-colonial organization which seeks to decolonize our campus, and we are an anti-hate organization. We cannot be silent,” he continued.
“I don’t want people to be upset that their Union is not reflective of their views. But I think at the end of the day, the Union needs to be an organization, which is taking the more righteous path to make sure that students aren’t being discriminated against. And that we’re an inclusive organization that isn’t fostering or protecting any sort of bigoted or hateful lines of thoughts,” Kheppar said.