The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has been plagued in recent years by low voter turnout, executive resignations, and a lack of candidates willing to do the job. The Fall 2017 semester saw two Vice-Presidents resign, a motion of non-confidence in the President presented at Legislative Council, a controversial and divisive General Assembly, and general disagreement among the Executive committee. Student disillusionment and lack of engagement with SSMU is apparent in this election’s ballot, as five of the six positions are uncontested. Regardless of the lack of competition, running uncontested does not guarantee a candidate the position; it is thus essential that these candidates propose concrete solutions to further their portfolios and increase student engagement. At the same time, students must evaluate candidates on their independent merits, rather than against the lack of present alternatives.
The Society exists to serve student interests and The McGill Tribune works to hold SSMU representatives accountable. We interviewed each candidate, asking them questions regarding their experience, portfolio, and goals for next year. Our coverage is a guide; ultimately, students must take responsibility in electing their leaders for next year, as change is only possible through engagement.
Tre Mansdoerfer, U2 Engineering, has served as Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) senator, EUS representative to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), president of McConnell Hall Council, and member of the Students’ Society Planning Network (SSPN). He has also been a coordinator for E-Week and has held leadership positions at both Model United Nations conferences hosted by McGill.
Mansdoerfer’s platform focuses on improving SSMU’s accountability and advocacy. It prioritizes three key pledges: Fostering relationships with and between faculty associations, restoring trust in SSMU, and implementing student surveys and ad-hoc task forces to improve advocacy initiatives. Specifically, he plans to improve mental health services and lobby for a Fall reading week.
He also hopes to make General Assemblies (GA) more accessible and accurate by hosting them online and using clickers to count votes. With regard to clubs and services, Mansdoerfer plans to solicit space from faculty associations to temporarily house these groups during the University Centre’s closure.
Finally, Mansdoerfer emphasizes the importance of SSMU maintaining strong ties with the McGill administration. He intends to work closely with McGill’s incoming Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning, and leverage his relationships with current administrators to advocate for students. He hopes to introduce more student Senators to represent schools and faculties that currently lack Senate positions. In addition, Mansdoerfer will host regular meetings, roundtable discussions, and monthly meetings between SSMU executives and faculty executives to share knowledge and collaborate on solutions to governance issues.
Corinne Bulger, U2 Arts, is the Arts representative to SSMU for the 2017-18 school year. Representing the Faculty of Arts at both the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) and SSMU legislative councils, Bulger was additionally a member of the SSMU Services Committee, the Ad-Hoc Committee for Provincial Representation, and a member of the Daycare Board of Directors. Within AUS, she sat on the Faculty of Arts committee and the Academic Affairs committee.
In addition to her experience in student government, Corinne has been a prominent member of the residence community throughout her three years at McGill. After serving as Vice President (VP) Communications for New Residence Hall in her first year, she coordinated RezWarz in 2016-17, and is currently a floor fellow at New Residence Hall.
Bulger’s platform emphasizes community, project progression, and governance reform. She sees cultivating community spaces—both in the physical and emotional sense—as essential during the 2018-19 school year, particularly in light of the SSMU building closure. Bulger stressed her plans to oversee past projects, including the Our Turn Sexual Violence Policy, ensuring that menstrual hygiene products are available in McGill buildings, and maintaining Milton-Parc relations.
In terms of governance reform, and across all three of her platform’s central tenets, Bulger underscores close collaboration with the student body as the foundation of a successful presidential term. She also plans to prioritize cultivating team spirit among the executive committee and across SSMU communities.
Of the two exceedingly qualified candidates running, Mansdoerfer has slightly more institutional knowledge and experience with SSMU. His platform has more focus on prominent student concerns, including relocations during the University Centre’s closure, the transparency of the SSMU Board of Directors, and making GAs more democratic. From his service as both a senator and councillor at SSMU, Mansdoerfer has invaluable connections with councillors, executives, faculty associations, and administrators. Given the public fracturing of the 2017-2018 Executive Committee, Mansdoerfer’s approach to restoring trust in SSMU seems particularly suitable for the upcoming year.
Bulger’s platform proposes a number of compelling ideas, including increasing shared spaces and multimedia at SSMU. However, it falls short of adequately addressing students’ waning trust in SSMU’s ability to effectively advocate for students and their activities. And while Bulger aptly recognizes the importance of building a cohesive executive team, she has less directly and openly addressed the political divisiveness that has troubled recent executive committees and councils, and only has vague plans to prevent similar issues from recurring in the future.
Mansdoerfer possesses the skills, experiences, and relevant platform to lead SSMU. It is crucial that the incoming executives reaffirm SSMU’s role as a provider of essential services and an inclusive and effective channel for student advocacy, and Mansdoerfer is the better candidate to lead a team to achieve that.
Jacob Shapiro, U3 Arts, is the only candidate running for the position of Vice-President (VP) University Affairs (UA). His platform is based on three core values: Continuity, creativity, and community.
Recognizing that high turnover rates in student governance are a barrier to continued productivity year after year, Shapiro hopes to carry on the projects of former VP UAs while setting the stage for future ones to do the same. Beyond funneling resources into existing programs, Shapiro plans to establish mechanisms for knowledge-sharing between past and present SSMU VP UAs and faculty VP Academics. He plans to work closely with faculty VP Academics by holding monthly one-on-one meetings, creating a forum to share knowledge and resources on equity, and distributing minutes from all of his meetings with university administrators.
Shapiro also hopes to prioritize the research aspect of the UA portfolio, carrying on with existing research projects—such as Open Educational Resources (OERs)—and empowering students to work on new, innovative ideas. Shapiro intends to research implementing cooperative living and intergenerational community spaces at McGill, but beyond this, wants to remain open to project ideas from students. He plans to hold a student research competition as one way of accomplishing this.
Shapiro emphasized creating a strong sense of community among the student body as essential to advocating for students at the administrative level. If elected, he will work to develop positions for first-year students on Senate. He hopes to make engaging with student governance easier for students by reducing the use of acronyms in policies and meetings, holding a TED-style advocacy conference open to students, and bringing his executive office hours into other student spaces. He also aims to work with the university on revising the Pass/Fail policy to allow students to uncover passing grades later in the semester.
Although Shapiro has no direct SSMU experience, he exhibits a desire to empower students as VP UA, and has concrete ideas for knowledge-sharing and community-building mechanisms to do so. He understands that advocating for the campus community requires a student-centric approach and hopes to expand opportunities for hearing students’ interests and needs.
Shapiro’s desire to prioritize research and his open-minded approach to doing so is admirable. Research opportunities may give students who lack a passion for politics and activism—and thus historically have remained uninvolved with SSMU—a chance to contribute to the Society. Also, having a breadth of strong research findings can be used to back up his advocacy efforts as UA.
Shapiro plans to improve institutional memory and continuity year-to-year, which is also noteworthy. Furthermore, he has informed and constructive ideas for doing so. This is especially important within the VP UA portfolio, as many advocacy projects, such as the fight for a Fall reading week and reforms to the Pass/Fail Policy, require several years of consultations with the university. As Shapiro recognizes, it is difficult for any single SSMU VP UA to make headway with the university in just one year, and he hopes to implement a long-term solution to this.
While he has ample experience leading youth activist projects within the city of Montreal, Shapiro’s lack of prior firsthand experience with SSMU may make his learning curve steep upon entering his position. However, he displays an impressive knowledge of SSMU and its governance structures. If elected, Shapiro must continue to research both SSMU and university policies and governance structures, and consult with student leaders past and present before entering this position.
Jun Wang, U3 Management, is the only candidate running for Vice-President (VP) Finance. He draws on his experience as the director of Marketing for Desautels Women in Business, his work organizing numerous case competitions within the Management Undergraduate Society (MUS), and his financial knowledge gained through his degree.
Wang’s platform puts the functioning and efficiency of all SSMU student services front and centre. He also has plans to improve the communication and transparency of SSMU’s finances to students.
Should he be elected, Wang plans to continue incumbent Esteban Herpin’s work toward more socially-responsible and green investing by SSMU, and to increase student understanding of the Society’s investments. He emphasizes socially-ethical investment, in line with SSMU core principles, as the way to build a more reliable and valuable investment portfolio in the long run.
To better communicate with the McGill community, and to streamline the funding application processes for clubs, services, and ISGs, Wang intends to hold group, in-person meetings with these student groups’ executives. In addition to developing templates for standard application components, he wants to better educate respective student groups’ executive teams on fundamental processes like budgets and auditing. Wang hopes that these efforts to improve the financial literacy of his constituents will make communication with the VP Finance’s office more efficient and open.
Wang also wants to digitize the club funding application process, and create a framework for clubs to apply for interim, quicker funding prior to achieving full club status.
To further improve accountability across the SSMU executive, Wang plans to include weekly memos in the executive team agenda, which would outline any key developments or activities for each portfolio. These memos would be made available to students on SSMU’s Accountability webpage.
Wang’s prior experience proves that he has the administrative finance and accounting skills necessary for the job. He also brings specific, actionable ideas to improve communication with student groups, and to increase community knowledge and understanding of where exactly students’ SSMU fees are going.
While Wang has never sat on a SSMU governance body, his work as a marketing director and organizing case competitions are more relevant to the VP Finance’s job description than extensive institutional experience. Moreover, the pragmatism and specificity of his platform suggests a sound understanding of key SSMU processes and funds, particularly those pertaining to clubs and services.
Additionally, ideas like introducing weekly memos and focusing in on the financial literacy of club and service executives are innovative-yet-feasible steps toward bettering SSMU’s financial transparency and communication. Past VP Finance candidates have promised improvement on both of these fronts, yet have largely neglected specifics on how to do so. Wang presents a refreshingly actionable platform—should he be elected, he should be sure to put his plans in motion.
Sophia Esterle, U2 Arts, has previously served as Douglas Hall’s Spirit Representative, and sits on the SSMU Equity Committee. She cites her past struggles with depression at McGill as a driving motivation in her campaign, and she hopes to use her personal experiences to reform the university’s mental health programs.
Esterle’s platform focuses on improving and adding to existing mental health initiatives. She wants to create an in-residence counselling support system, shorten wait times for McGill Counselling Services, and offer more workshops surrounding mental health. She also hopes to remove gender check-boxes on McGill counselling forms.
In addition to improving mental health programs, Esterle wants to expand SSMU’s social media presence in order to better engage students in campus activities. She also hopes to implement a search engine that helps students narrow down clubs, services, and independent student groups by interest or keyword.
While Esterle is genuinely passionate about reforming mental health services on campus, her platform does not address the full scope of the Vice-President (VP) Student Life’s portfolio—particularly, its jurisdiction over SSMU clubs and services. Additionally, she lacks sufficient experience in SSMU and student governance.
Esterle does not display a firm understanding of the VP Student Life’s specific job requirements, including how to approach the different funding structures and needs of clubs, services, and independent student groups, as well as the responsibilities of the Board of Directors (BoD). While Esterle’s campaign focuses primarily on mental health, she inadequately addresses other components of the VP Student Life’s portfolio. Her platform makes little mention of Student Activities Night, or specific plans for the building closure. Her idea to build a search engine to narrow down clubs by interest is a creative way to better engage students; however, apart from this narrow initiative, her platform lacks feasible and concrete strategies. Her plan to broaden SSMU’s social media platforms is vague, containing few actionable steps.
Furthermore, many of Esterle’s ideas for improving McGill Mental Health fall outside the scope of the VP Student Life’s responsibilities or capabilities. For example, SSMU has little control over McGill Counselling Services wait times. Moreover, Esterle is unfamiliar with existing mental health programs on campus, like the online initiative EmpowerMe, and the McGill administration’s push toward a “Stepped Care” model.
Overall, Esterle has a weak grasp of the VP Student Life’s day-to-day responsibilities, and she has little institutional experience. Her commitment to improving McGill Mental Health, while admirable, is compromised by her inexperience with existing initiatives and her lack of feasible plans for change.
Marina Cupido, U4 Arts, has an extensive history working with The McGill Daily as both a news editor and a managing editor. As a student journalist, she has reported on the different institutions within SSMU and McGill. This year, she was also part of the University Affairs Committee.
If elected, Cupido aims to improve accessibility on campus for both Indigenous and francophone students, as well as improve transparency at SSMU in general. She also intends to better SSMU’s relationship with residents of the Milton-Parc neighbourhood, believing that closer collaboration with the community would broaden the experiences of McGill students as well as foster better relations with local residents. Another partnership she would like to see is with a student federation, which she aims to bring about by attending both the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec’s (AVEQ) and the Quebec Student Union’s (UÉQ) meetings. She also plans to extend the mandate of the ad-hoc committee on the subject. In terms of provincial campaigning, Cupido plans to work with other Quebec universities to lobby against unpaid internships.
To Cupido, Indigenization is the most important part of her platform. She intends to draw on McGill’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education’s 2017 report, particularly its recommendation that the name of McGill’s men’s athletic teams, the “Redmen,” be changed. Additionally, she wishes to increase the relatively small budget of the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, increase its limited work hours, and institute mandatory training for clubs on Indigenous Affairs in order to better address Indigenous needs. Meanwhile, in order to better support francophone students, she intends to translate governance documents into French and bring back the SSMU position of Francophone Affairs Commissioner. More broadly, she intends to hold consultations with students and representative groups on francophone and Indigenous issues.
Cupido has a strong grasp of the Vice-President (VP) External portfolio and of SSMU at large, as well as original ideas to fulfill her responsibilities. This makes up for her lack of a past formal role within SSMU.
Cupido acknowledges that all the actions of student government are inherently political and is passionate about opposing injustices, but also pragmatically prioritizes a functioning SSMU over inflammatory on-campus debates. She rightly commends incumbent Connor Spencer for her work on a Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy while also noting the apparent lack of political campaigns—specifically, a lack of mobilization for demilitarize and anti-austerity efforts.
It is also promising to see Cupido engaged with the Task Force’s recommendations on improving Indigenous accessibility on campus. Meanwhile, her goals for improving francophone acceptance are tangible and achievable. Likewise, it is clear that Cupido is well-informed on SSMU affairs: In pushing for association with student federations, she referenced their recent successes such as the 2012 strikes against tuition hikes and the recent passage of Bill 151, which requires all Quebec universities to implement sexual violence policies. However, should Cupido be elected, she must consider the criticisms of AVEQ that have been brought up at SSMU Legislative Council.
The “Vote No to Marina Cupido” Facebook page has levied criticism against her candidacy, finding fault in her response to Igor Sadikov’s anti-Zionist tweet and incumbent SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva’s grievances about SSMU. While the controversy is worth mentioning, in responding to the opposition, Cupido has demonstrated confidence, the desire to engage in meaningful, open debate, and an understanding of her new responsibility to represent all voices on campus.
Matthew McLaughlin, U0 Management, is running unopposed for Vice-President Internal. He has been working as Secretary General to the SSMU President since January, and currently sits on the SSMU Community Affairs Committee, and the SSMU Accountability Committee. He is also the President of Douglas Hall Council.
McLaughlin plans to expand the reach of the SSMU listserv by posting the link to it on a wider range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and WeChat. He also plans to create a centralized calendar of events taking place at the University Centre, where clubs, services, and ISGs can submit events through a link in the listserv.
In terms of handling the SSMU building closure and its effects on the operations of clubs and services, McLaughlin plans to release periodic listservs detailing the new locations of their offices and upcoming events.
To encourage SSMU members to become involved in student governance, and to help maintain institutional memory, McLaughlin plans to re-implement the “Day In The Life of a SSMU Exec” program, through which students can shadow a member of the SSMU Executive for one work day. Furthermore, he intends to hold town hall meetings once per semester to regularly engage SSMU members with the Executive. To facilitate access to information on SSMU Legislative Council, McLaughlin plans to release bi-weekly Facebook Live updates on the events of each council meeting.
Given that McLaughlin is a first-year student without experience planning Frosh, he plans to consult Campus Life and Engagement, the SSMU Sustainability Committee, and the SSMU Equity Committee for guidance on how to best manage the planning of Frosh, and on making multi-day drinking events safer and more inclusive for students. McLaughlin suggests organizing events that are not centered on drinking as part of Frosh, such as city tours and cafe meet-ups.
McLaughlin’s platform provides tangible suggestions for improving institutional memory, transparency, and ease of communication with students. McLaughlin appears well-versed in social media, and understands that it can be effectively used to open channels of communication with the clubs, services, and ISGs that will become more difficult to reach while the SSMU building is closed. In addition, using accessible Facebook Live updates to inform students about legislative decisions could prove effective in ensuring that students have greater access to information about SSMU governance.
As McLaughlin is a first-year student, he lacks extensive experience in event planning, especially for large-scale, multi-day events like Frosh. However, he is acutely aware of his lack of knowledge in this area, and has planned to consult relevant groups accordingly. Following through with this part of his platform will be crucial for effectively managing the coordination of events.
McLaughlin emphasized that he would hold town hall meetings where students can come to SSMU executives with questions and concerns. Town halls are frequently brought up by candidates as an effective means of hearing students’ voices and increasing transparency. However, SSMU executives are notoriously overworked, and town hall meetings can be logistically difficult to organize. Given that McLaughlin’s platform includes a number of concrete suggestions such as this one, he must recognize that implementing each of these projects could prove harder than anticipated—and that spreading oneself thin may hinder work performance. McLaughlin has nonetheless put a lot of clear effort into getting involved at McGill in the short time he has been enrolled, and into building a platform that addresses students’ concerns with transparency, equity, and accessibility of information.
In order to present the most informed endorsement decisions possible, our editors attended the SSMU debates, conducted in-person interviews with all of the candidates, and examined each platform in detail. The endorsements are the product of an Editorial Board meeting in which we addressed every position, debated, and voted. In order to earn the Tribune’s endorsement, a candidate had to receive a majority vote. Reservations could also be appended to any “Yes” endorsement with the approval of a majority of editors. In the spirit of transparency and as a matter of upholding The McGill Tribune’s credibility, we feel it imperative to make the process behind these decisions public. Should you have questions or concerns about our editorial process—or its outcomes—please send us an email at [email protected]