The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executive team is made up of seven enrolled students who oversee aspects of student life on campus. Each executive has been elected by the student body to manage a specific portfolio; positions include Vice-President (VP) Operations, VP University Affairs, VP Student Life, VP External Affairs, VP Internal Affairs, VP Finance, and President.
Beginning on Jan. 24, SSMU launched an Executive Shadowing Program that allows students to sign up to shadow a SSMU executive by filling out a short online form. The application puts students in contact with a SSMU executive through email and, once connected, the student and the executive schedule a time to meet.
An objective of the Shadowing Program is to demonstrate the responsibilities of the executives, thus preparing potential future candidates. VP Student Life Elaine Patterson said that understanding SSMU executive positions can be difficult without first-hand experience.
“A year ago, I had never really done student staff work personally,” Patterson said. “So, I understand that it could be very intimidating to run for a position. I think the shadowing program will show interested students that this is really a welcoming environment. You can read all on paper about what the position is like, but until you actually sit behind this table, you cannot really understand what the job really entails.”
Before the restructuring of positions at the end of last school year, executives regularly worked over 100 hours. Ger and VP Internal Daniel Lawrie both stated that, despite the long hours and stress, being a part of the SSMU executive is a valuable experience.
“Honestly, it is in a sense an internship to life, getting a sense of how to work a job, and having a team around you to get the job done,” Lawrie said.
SSMU elections have historically had low voter turnout, with only 17.5 per cent of the undergraduate student body participating in the most recent election. The Executive Shadowing Program was developed in Summer 2016 to increase the transparency of SSMU governance and promote engagement with the campus community. It is expected to extend to SSMU councillors and upper administrative members of McGill staff in the future.
Planned to start early this week, the program will have no end date. The length and the content of the shadowing will be left to the discretion of the student and his or her assigned executive. With the candidates for the previous SSMU election consisting mainly of Caucasian males and the recent SSMU-sponsored report on equitable governance, President Ben Ger hopes that the program will play a role in further reform.
“In the past year, we have really been focusing on providing equal access to governance for all identities on campus,” Ger said. “Elections definitely favour a specific population and I believe the makeup of our executives team could definitely be better. The shadowing program will make elections more accessible to everyone.”
The SSMU election nomination period for next year’s executives will begin Jan. 30 and end Feb. 10, with voting from March 13 to 16. After the election results are announced on March 16, the incoming executives will go through a month-long transition period in May and start their official term on June 1.
“When you step into a position like this, you are stepping in to become the heads of a multimillion-dollar company that is only here to help,” Ger said. “It is not here for profit. It is here to specifically make people happier. It is so hard yet so overwhelmingly rewarding. The people who I went into this with has become the family I’m going to be walking out with.”