The union’s current student life commissioner is looking to become the UOSU’s first president
This interview is part of our series of articles profiling the presidential candidates in the upcoming general elections for the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) that will be held from March 25-27. Both candidates were asked the same set of questions for consistency. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
The Fulcrum: Tell us a bit about yourself, including your year and program at the U of O.
Jason Seguya: My name is Jason Seguya. I’m currently in my third year in the bachelor of science in mathematics program, and the current student life commissioner of the UOSU. A fun fact about myself is last year, using a Snapchat filter, I went viral on Twitter, and since then my head has not gotten smaller.
The Fulcrum: What previous experience makes you well-suited to be the UOSU’s first president?
JS: I have been interested in politics for a long time, starting off in high school when I became the first Black student council vice-president and president of my student council. After that, I continued work in student advocacy with the minister’s student advisory council on the school board, where along with that group and many other cohorts, we advocated for financial literacy in classes, as well as representation for a diverse community.
Coming into the U of O, I spent my first year as the first-year representative on the Telfer Student Council, so that gave me a bit of experience with event coordinating, specifically with 101 Week. Followed by that, I acted as promotions officer and later on, a representative in the referendum for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. That was a really important role because in order to be a representative you really have to learn every aspect of the organization, mainly its services and businesses, so not only through promotion but also through looking at each of their logistics and have a strong understanding of how the services are supposed to run, what are they supposed to offer.
After that referendum, I ran for the position of student life commissioner of the UOSU, where I really worked toward the building of the UOSU as a whole. So I remember starting off the mandate in the small Déjà Vu room, and in that space with limited staff, I worked toward creating our first 101 Week. It ended up being a really big success, with a lot of lessons learned and things to apply. Outside of that, as student life commissioner, I organized other major events such as the pre-Panda Game party which I’m hoping to do again next year with our incoming student life commissioner, the Black History Month gala, and more. Notably, one of the largest accomplishments — although the circumstances of how it arrived are grim — is the work that myself and a coalition of students put in regarding anti-Black racism on campus, the carding situation that had happened, as well as advocating for changes of policy among the U of O staff and more.
The Fulcrum: Why are you running to be president?
JS: This year was a year of lessons, absolutely. There were a lot of things that we did in order to get the organization to start up that need to be refined. For myself within my own mandate, it includes the 101 Week code as well as the clubs code, two policies that need to be revamped to reflect the realities of the UOSU.
Other than that, even when it came to our budgeting, we created our budget off of an idea of how the student union would run, but not a full understanding of it. So essentially I wanted to continue the work that we did this year in rebuilding the space, but with a lot more experience and understanding.
Outside of that, the major reasons why I ran for the position of president was actually the reason behind (creating the role), and that’s to be a support to each of our commissioners. Over the course of this year, each of us as commissioners have experienced very difficult and jam-packed mandates, and it felt like we were always playing catch up. I could see a noticeable decline not only in my own mental health but also in the mental health of my colleagues as well, so I wanted to be there with that experience from this year, as well as watching each and every person’s mandate, to be there to support each and every one of the other commissioners, so they’re able to fully do what they committed to do without the cost of themselves.
The Fulcrum: The president position is new this year for the UOSU. In your eyes, what do you see the union’s president doing, and why is it an important position to have?
JS: This year we’re using a weak president model rather than a strong one, so the role of president doesn’t necessarily mean the boss, it’s one that’s there for support.
For most of my campaign, the first pillar is the support of the commissioners, so that’s working in support of the student life commissioner to ensure that that person has guidance as well as support when it comes to planning 101 Week as well as other events.
With our equity commissioner — so this year once again like last year we are starting off without this position being filled. So if elected president, I would like to work toward choosing the next equity commissioner and working with them within the organization and more. When it comes to the student services commissioner, that’s a new position that I’m also advocating for. So with that specific position, the idea was to concentrate all of our resources under one mandate, that way we could really focus the attention on making sure our services are fully supported.
With our advocacy commissioner as well, mainly I will be sharing my own context that I have with other similar student unions. Working with our operations commissioner to develop a budget in terms of the reality of our previous mandates as well as their services but also working toward revamping internal policies, creating HR policies, ensuring that we have onboarding and offboarding support.
With the francophone affairs commissioner, I really want to work with them with the campaign strategies to ensure the voices of francophone students are represented. Outside of support for other commissioners, one of the major roles of this position is giving advocacy in university affairs, so with that in mind, I wanted to continue the work against racism on campus, namely with the committee with the university president. Working on anti-oppression training not only within our staff, but also at the level of our directors, more work toward mental health services, so working for diversity, advocating for the U of O to include more diverse staff, working with our own services to make sure that everyone has SafeTalk training, working with our health providers such as Empower Me and Student Care. Another important thing is businesses. I wanted to work toward reopening businesses, creating a strong positive working environment, revamping our practices, supporting our recognized student government, as well as really improving communication.
The Fulcrum: What projects or goals do you hope to accomplish if elected to be the UOSU’s first president?
JS: In terms of the actual operations of the UOSU, we absolutely need to have onboarding and offboarding training for our staff, because the fact of the matter is currently staff will be hired for positions without being given full support or introduction to the UOSU, and as a result, we’re losing that sense of community among our staff. So working toward that would be really really good.
I want to coordinate regular labour management meetings to ensure that we do have a full understanding of the needs and wants of our staff. One of the bigger projects that I wanted to continue was our work toward reopening our businesses. When I entered this specific mandate as student life commissioner, I saw and cried along with the staff of the Agora bookstore when they found out they were going to close. This year, we saw a lot of pressure to take away the space for the 1848 bar, and as a result, I’m not sure what the realities of that will be in the future. But I do want to advocate for the reopening of that space because I also think of the staff working in that space as well as the fun I had in that space. It would be nice to have it back. There’s also pressure being placed on reopening Pivik as well as Cafe Alt, so already I’ve been working on business plans and working with other entrepreneurs to see if we can revamp those spaces.
The Fulcrum: What areas of weakness do you see in the UOSU and the campus as a whole that you would like to improve on next year?
JS: One of the major areas that UOSU specifically faces as a weakness is that aspect of communication. The fact of the matter is that we’re a really new organization and as a result, not a lot of people know how to reach us. This is something I noticed when I was tabling for an event outside of the University Centre. People were learning for the first time that their student union still existed, so that’s something we absolutely need to work on. From different promotion strategies to revamping our social media, ensuring that there are spaces where people can ask questions about the UOSU, as well as regular updates on our mandates.
The Fulcrum: The mental health crisis on campus has emerged as a major issue for many U of O students. As president. How do you plan on responding to these concerns and acting on them?
JS: There are a few ways of approaching it that I wanted to take. First and foremost, recognizing the campaign that we did for anti-Black racism. There’s a lot of tricks that we’d use to really pressure the U of O to listen to our specific demands. Once we apply those same specific methods with the hardworking students who are working on the mental health campaign as is, then recognizing that from my own experience as students, when it comes to pressuring the U of O, oftentimes we’re not being taken seriously. That’s why, despite a lot of outcry, it took multiple student losses to even see a change in the emails that they would send us when a student would lose their life as a result of the mental health crisis.
Outside of that, I also want to continue the work of advocating for more diverse mental health services within the U of O, that way our whole diverse community can feel supported and feel like they can have someone to speak with when it comes to their mental health services. Within the UOSU, there are many different ways that we can support mental health. First and foremost by making sure that our staff are SafeTalk trained.
Outside of that, I wanted to work with our health plan provider, StudentCare, to really revamp the program that we brought to campus, EmpowerMe, which is a 24-hour hotline, but also revamp it to address concerns that have come up with that program. On top of that, working with our advocacy commissioner is going to be a great help on this project, and it’s going to involve lobbying various governments to ensure that at the level of our government, there is support for mental health and a commitment to adding more psychiatrists.
The Fulcrum: Racism and discrimination are also two issues that have come to the forefront for many students over the past year. As president, how do you plan on responding to these concerns and acting on them?
JS: At the level of the U of O student committee, there are multiple different arguments. One major thing that we saw this year was that we’d be including anti-oppression training for each and every U of O staff in the near future. We also advocated to ensure that this training would take place on a regular basis and in person, that way if you’re a U of O staff, you at least have the background of anti-oppression where you know how to deal with diverse communities.
Within the UOSU I also wanted to implement a similar practice by ensuring that our staff undergo regular anti-oppression training. Our leadership, including executives, the directors, undergo anti-oppression training and more as well. This is something that’s really really close to me because I’ve seen the effects of racial discrimination on my specific community on various grounds, whether it’s student leaders within the UOSU who have felt that they struggled to have their voices heard, or simply members of our community who do not feel safe. In fact, the last town hall where the president referred to the incident that happened on June 12 as a “good crisis” — that’s something that makes me sick to my stomach. The thought of sacrificing a member of our community is something that can benefit the U of O. The reality is, for racialized students — specifically Black students, and Black people when it comes to our specific movement — it’s always at the cost of physical harm to us in order to be heard and I think that’s not OK. So continuing that campaign with different approaches, continuing the work that we’ve been doing in that committee, and more, we will surely see improvements, not only with policies but also practices at the U of O and the UOSU.
The Fulcrum: How will you work with the administration to address these issues?
JS: This year, I got myself — as well as a few other students from organized student government and various other organizations — onto the committee that addresses racism with the president. In that space, we’ve had regular meetings where we address different aspects from diversity to training and more, and that’s going to be one of the major channels that we use when it comes to working with the administration.
However, one thing to note with the administration is there’s still a lot of learning to do when it comes to dealing with diverse students. The idea of constantly educating is something that’s exhausting work that I and so many other students are willing to take on. So with that in mind, we’re going to be using different campaign strategies to make sure that the voice of students, as well as representatives of our communities, are absolutely heard. But the major channel is going to be through that specific committee.
The Fulcrum: While the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) has been struck down by the Divisional Court of Ontario, the province is in the process of overturning the decision. How will you approach budgeting and planning for the year ahead with this in mind?
JS: We’re going to use a similar approach as we’ve been using for this year, which is recognizing the SCI. However, recognizing it with a 100 per cent opt-in rate. So with that in mind, we’d be budgeting specific funds — whether that’s student life fees, which is a non-essential fee with things that fall under that specific category, whereas other items that fall under essential fees were to be budgeted differently, meaning that we wouldn’t be spending money from essential funds. The main reason we wanted to go with that approach is in the event that the SCI is overturned, we as a student union could land into some pretty hot water if we are caught crossing funds from different budgets. The major thing, though, is that we can at least work from the understanding that we’re going to have a 100 per cent opt-in rate for all of our services and all of our initiatives and budget as a result.
The Fulcrum: Why should students vote for you?
JS: I come in with a lot of experience, both good and bad, when it comes to the students’ union. The fact of the matter is this: this year was a year of learning when it comes to rebuilding the students’ union, and with that in mind I want to apply the specific questions that we learned from this year to next year, not only with the level of executives but with the organization as a whole so we don’t repeat the same mistakes that we made this year and can continue to build it. With that, I’m someone who is not really shy at all when it comes to speaking out on specific issues and topics, and I want to be there to continue to advocate for and on our campus. I’m someone who will come in with full passion, someone who will work 100-hour weeks back to back, falling asleep on my desk to get a project done, and someone who’s truly committed to this movement on our campus.
Read our interview with Babacar Faye, who is also running to be UOSU’s president, here.