Meet the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Executives

Bryan Buraga, President

What are your three main goals as SSMU President?

“Three of my main goals include governance reform, advocacy for student issues, and just better communication with the student body. Governance reform is a project that will take about a year to unfold. We are consulting with a lot of different stakeholders here on campus, a lot of different executives and their portfolios to try to figure out how to better structure SSMU form the ground up to allow as many members of our university community to participate. There are student issues as well. There is a lot of mobilisation happening right now [for] divestment and for climate justice so that is something I am working with the rest of the executive team [on] better communicating with the student body. I think [that] there has always been this sort of disconnect between [what we’re actually doing] and what the student body thinks we are doing and I think it is important to let the study body know exactly all of the good things we are doing for them. [We want] to make sure that they know their student rights, but also the ways in which [SSMU] advocates for them, not just at a university level but also at a provincial and national level as well.”

Billy Kawasaki, VP Student Life

You mentioned that there is some friction between clubs and SSMU, especially in light of last year’s sanctions and all the new policies that have been developed. How do you hope to reduce this tension?

“So the policies [that mandate clubs to go to workshops] were in effect before last year, [but] they were just never followed through with. And I think [that] one of the problems is that these policies come forward, and then they say ‘we’re going to mandate clubs to go to workshops,’ but then they never really considered that there are other workshops [clubs] have to go to that are mandated by other policies. And then that becomes like five or six workshops that you have to go to. One of the things that I did is [create] a checklist at the beginning of the year, so that club executives know exactly what they need to do so that they’re not sanctioned. And the club portal will hopefully help with that as well, in terms of onboarding clubs for the workshops, as well as all the forms they need to submit so that we have their contact information.”

Sam Haward, VP Finance

What is the best part of your job?

“The best part of my job is seeing an event happen, to be honest. A lot of what I do is very abstract, [like] I’ll get a cheque request to book a venue. But I don’t see any of that. So just occasionally logging into Facebook, seeing [the Black Students’ Network] or whoever it may be posting pictures of their event, what they did, and how their funding helped them and their operations [….] it is really, really nice to see.”

What is the worst part of your job?

“Sometimes there’s a lot of red tape. We’re a not-for-profit corporation funded [almost] entirely by student fees. So there are some pretty strict restrictions on what we can and can’t do with our money. Sometimes that has a knock-on effect: Students will come here wanting to take on some kind of project, or pay for something [….] and we’re not able to make it happen because of the restrictions placed around us as a student union.”

Adam Gwiazda-Amsel, VP External

What are your three goals for the school year?

“Establishing and promoting a culture of institutional memory. And so that looks a lot [like] my portfolio, doing canvassing work, making sure that students who are coming into McGill know about the different political priorities that students have identified. So that’s one. Another one is like linking the Montreal and McGill communities and establishing our community outreach. And the third one that I stated in my platform is provincial affiliation, or sort of exploring avenues toward working more collectively with other student unions in the province. Because the reality is, if you try to go to a government as a single student union, and especially as an English student union [in a] French province, you don’t get much traction with the government, historically. So, collective organizing, in that sense [….] is a fairly big priority of mine, because we’re kind of flapping in the breeze right now.”

Madeline Wilson,VP University Affairs

Why did you want to work at SSMU?

“I think that, as tacky as it sounds, there are things that I can bring. [Over] the past few years, I’ve been really involved in Academic Affairs at McGill. And honestly, McGill’s fucked up! So I want to do my part to help change that; I think that being on SSMU is one of the most effective ways to do so.” 

Why do you say that McGill’s fucked up?

“McGill’s fucked up because it has no ability to perceive what being a student is like [….] You have a community where 70 per cent of the population, approximately, is students, but most of the decisions that are made are targeted towards the interest of alumni and donors [….] That manifests itself in things like international tuition deregulation, which disproportionately impacts people from low socioeconomic classes [….] and the revisions to Student Services’ Wellness Hub care model, and there’s just no perception of what it must be like to be a student walking through that system. And you just end up with a structure that’s so distant from the people that it’s really supposed to be helping.”

Sanchi Bhalla, VP Internal

What would you say is the biggest challenge of your job?

“The big thing definitely that I’ve noticed is that because my name and face [are]  in every student’s inbox, people who don’t know about SSMU still recognize me. So even just around campus, if I’m running late to class or [if] I’m around Montreal, people who have a problem with SSMU or have a problem with a club or service, even if it’s not on my portfolio, come up to me and [say] ‘Hey you’re the SSMU girl, can you help me out?’ [….] If I am at Nesta [bar and lounge] at 2:45 a.m., I don’t want to help you answer a question about club sanctions but I do recognize that I’m the face you recognize the most. Unless you’re very involved with student government, you probably don’t know the executives or their faces [and] it’s kind of sad. It’s something that I’m working on through the SSMU Instagram [….] It’s just people directing all types of SSMU questions at me because I’m sort of the one that everyone vaguely recognizes. I feel pretty bad if I can’t help them [….] I have my job but I am also a directory of sources you can go talk to.

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