The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) hosted their executive candidate debate virtually on March 9. Each candidate presented their platforms and took questions from the current SSMU executives, the SSMUnion, the audience, and an online form. While there are three candidates running for president and vice-president (VP) Internal and two candidates running for VP Student Life, the remaining positions––VP External, VP University Affairs, and VP Finance––are uncontested. After a tumultuous year for SSMU, presidential candidates drew particular attention to themes of transparency, accessibility, equity, and accountability during their responses.
All three SSMU presidential candidates emphasized the need for structural change within the student government. The first, Risann Wright, U3 Arts, who currently serves as the SSMU Student Rights Researcher and Advocacy Commissioner, Black Affairs Commissioner, External Affairs Commissioner, and Faculty of Arts Senator, explained that addressing deep-seated systemic issues is a focus of her platform.
“The structural and systemic issues that I can identify [within the SSMU] include structural and systemic misogyny and racism that runs rampant within our student government and is frankly unacceptable and makes the student government unsafe for all of its students,” Wright said. “I have built my platform on concrete actions, including the development of an equity, diversity, inclusion plan, and also a comprehensive HR and governance review at the SSMU for a new conflict-resolution process and complaints process and bolstering other students within it.”
Julian Guidote, BA&Sc ‘21 and 1L Law, believes that the reason behind the SSMU’s workplace tensions lies in a fundamental lack of empathy and understanding among the entire community.
“I think that one structural issue that currently exists at SSMU is that it’s very easy for us to lose touch and connection with each other, to demonize the problems that are going on, and to villainize the people behind the politics,” Guidote said. “And what this does is it creates an atmosphere so tense that we’re tempted to take down everything and rebuild from the ground up.”
Bryan Buraga, 43 Arts and Science, who served as SSMU president in 2019-2020, highlighted a different structural problem: The lack of student representation on the McGill Senate and Board of Governors.
“I’ve seen how debates go in those positions and very often administrators already have their minds made up,” Buraga said. “[…] In addition, McGill student services are very underfunded. So as president it would be my top priority to […] ensure that students get what they need and deserve.”
Buraga stressed the urgency of repairing the relationships and structural issues within SSMU to maintain a united front against the university’s administration.
“Now more than ever, it is clear that our student unions are broken,” Buraga said. “Our university doesn’t give a damn about us and our landlords raise rents for mediocre housing year after year. That’s why I’m running to democratize SSMU and faculty associations, to democratize university governance, and to create a McGill tenants’ union […] Let’s stop the bullshit, together.”
A previous version of this article stated that Bryan Buraga was a U3 Arts student. In fact, Buraga is a U4 Arts and Science student. The Tribune regrets the error.