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Saada Hussen is a first-year medical student at the U of O. Photo: Saada Hussen/Provided

Hussen aims to build on first term in which she pushed the BOG to improve mental health services and was named to the President’s advisory committee for an anti-racist and inclusive campus

This interview is part of our series of articles profiling the candidates for the University of Ottawa’s board of governors undergraduate student representative seat in the upcoming election that will be held from June 2-4. The University will email a ballot to students who are eligible to vote in the election and will announce the results on June 5. All eight candidates were asked the same set of questions for consistency. Answers have been edited for length and clarity. These questions were answered via Facebook.

The Fulcrum: Can you give me in a couple of sentences a short description of yourself?

Saada Hussen: I’m a first-year medical student in the francophone stream. I was born in Toronto, but I grew up and did all my schooling in Ottawa. I enjoy volunteering and I am passionate about global health and the determinants of health in marginalized populations. I am also very interested in research. This summer, I will begin a research project focusing on the maternal health of women in Sub-Saharan Africa at Montfort Hospital.

The Fulcrum:  Why are you running for a seat on the BOG?

SH: I am running to be re-elected to the board primarily due to the various projects I am currently working on. I believe that I have established a promising network and understanding of my current position that allows me to effectively advocate for the best interest of all students. I am goal driven, seeking effective and tangible solutions to problems.

I believe the most promising next step in improving student life at the U of O is collaborations with student representatives outside of our campus. We have issues specific to the University of Ottawa. We also have shortcomings and areas needing improvement that are not specific to us but span much broader to other universities in Ontario and even on a larger scale, Canada. Partnerships and collaborations on a provincial or even federal level have the potential to provide innovative solutions within our institution.

The Fulcrum: What previous experience do you think will help you in this role?

SH: I have held this position for two years and have gathered invaluable experience on the U of O’s governance structure and the most effective ways to instill change in regards to various matters. To summarize, my main accomplishments on the BOG thus far have been:

●  Mental health: Secured an increase in funding and currently working on modifying the limit in visits students have with counsellors.

●  Equity, Diversity, Inclusion: I am currently a member of the President’s advisory committee for an anti-racist and discrimination free campus. I am hoping to encourage reform in the handling and approach of these matters

●  Collaborations: I have worked closely with student representatives across campus and that has facilitated many things such as the referendum allowing us to choose the most appropriate student union. I am hoping to further collaborations with students across the province and nation.

My lived experience as a visible minority allows me to strongly advocate for a change in campus culture. It is a reality that our university experience differs greatly from non-marginalized communities and I have made it a priority to make those facts known within the BOG.

The Fulcrum: In your own words, what is the role of the student rep on the BOG?

SH: As a board member, you represent the U of O and make decisions that favour it as an institution. In essence, you have a fiduciary duty to the U of O and therefore must navigate BOG duties such as budget matters, policies, and appointment of admin staff with that in mind.

On a student representative level, we lobby for student needs and provide insight from a student’s perspective on various important matters such as mental health, an equitable campus culture, and enhancements in student satisfaction. 

I also take a proactive approach in matters, I constantly reach out to the administration in matters directly affecting our student body. I have a record of many achievements I have helped improve mental health services as well as in matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion. I seek to further advance student interests during my second term.

The Fulcrum: Can you talk about your plans to make campus a better place?

My platform revolves around accessibility and advocacy. 

I would like to make all the services and options open to students known and well marketed in order to enhance the accessibility of these services. 

Secondly, a systemic scan of what we have available is an integral part of my platform and I hope to identify current gaps. Following the identification of areas of improvement, I hope to advocate for specific enhancements. Thus far, this framework has proven to be quite promising in terms of mental health services (as outlined in subsequent questions) as well as supporting campus clubs.

Specific plans I have to make the campus a better place are:

●  Ensure that employees of the university (professors, administration, support staff, service providers, student staff, etc.) are reflective of the student body

●  Remove or modify the maximum number of visits students are allowed with counsellors.

●  Partnerships with student representatives across the nation in order to tackle larger issues at a federal or provincial level

The Fulcrum: Can you talk about what you’ll do to address the U of O’s mental health crisis on the BOG?

SH: Thus far, I have successfully secured an increase in funds for mental health services and was able to nearly double the staff available for the general student body.

My two current main focuses are to firstly, remove the cap on visits students have with counsellors and secondly, provide specialized counselling. I found that the services lack a personalized approach, especially for our marginalized students.

The renegotiation of our student health insurance is also a priority which will be accomplished through collaboration with UOSU.

Lastly, lobbying for further financial increases is also a matter I hope to constantly address.

The Fulcrum: Will you advocate for lowering tuition fees?

SH: Yes I will advocate for lowering tuition fees.

In my first meeting on the Board, I brought forth an emergency motion for a tuition decrease or freeze. Though it was not incorporated into the budget, this has still remained a priority of mine throughout my mandate. In fact, as of recently, I have been collaborating with the student union as well as various student representatives across campus in order to find solutions for the financial strain students are currently experiencing.

A letter was presented to the BOG which called for financial relief for students. This was discussed at length and funding options are being visited. As of now, a promising emergency fund has been set in place and many students have benefited from it.

Lastly, I just want to make mention of the CESB program put in place by the federal government which all students should be applying to if they meet the eligibility requirements. I have recently released a letter to the Canadian minister of finance, addressing the gap in funding for international students and those in remote and marginalized communities.

The Fulcrum: Will you push for more accountability and the public release of the report on the Wiliston Mason carding incident?

As an individual who immediately took action following the incident that occurred last year in June, I would not hesitate to put pressure on the U of O to follow through an additional investigation and publicize the report.

I believe transparency is one of the first steps towards reconciliation and requires a certain pressure to be achieved. As a member of the President’s advisory committee for an anti-racist and inclusive campus, this is something I would advocate for at length as has been done in the past meetings regarding the carding incident last summer. 

It is important to note that these issues are much deeper and stem from policies that perpetuate these actions. I have experienced first hand the detrimental effect this can have on one’s university experience and well-being.

I hope to work further on removing the factors leading to institutionalized racism and creating an environment that promotes equity, diversity, and inclusion. As a member of the board and the advisory committee on anti-racism, I am best positioned to address this issue on campus.

The Fulcrum: Why should students vote for you?

SH: Students should vote for me due to my learned experience in my current position. I can fully attest to the fact that the adjustment period is not an easy one and it personally took me many months to learn how to effectively navigate the role and call for action. With the tools, resources, and networks I have established in the last two years I hope to build further on in terms of improving student satisfaction by implementing a feedback system in collaboration with the student union. With this in mind, I hope to respond to the constantly evolving and growing needs of our student body. I want my work on the BOG to answer those needs.

My intentions on the Board of Governors are to continue prioritizing the well-being of students by making myself available to students at all times.

For questions, concerns, or comments you can reach me on Facebook (Saada Hussen) or through email at shuss059@uottawa.ca.