The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Undergraduates vote in new USSU executive

By in News

Jack Saddleback, Desirée Steele, Max FineDay and Elias Nelson (left to right) were announced on March 27 as the USSU’s incoming executive.

From seven possible candidates, University of Saskatchewan undergraduates have chosen four students to represent them as members of the U of S Students’ Union in the roles of president, vice-president academic affairs, vice-president student affairs and vice-president operations and finance.

Coming off of his first term in the position, Max FineDay will continue on as USSU president for the 2014–15 academic year. His election marks the first time that a president has held office for two consecutive years since Gavin Gardner held office from 2004–06.

In his campaign, FineDay ran on a platform pushing for solutions for on-campus childcare, student based action on tuition rates, implementing a tuition waiver for youth exiting foster care, working toward a stronger voice for the Association of College Presidents — which includes all colleges as well as the Indigenous Students’ Council and the International Undergraduate Students’ Association — and being a voice for students during TransformUS.

To be implemented on May 1, TransformUS is a program prioritization process intended to minimize a projected 2015–16 deficit of $44.5 million by deciding which academic programs and support services should receive increased or decreased funding, be reorganized, cut or remain as-is.

FineDay hopes to achieve his goals by highlighting the student narrative.

“It’s all about telling our story. We’ve made great gains this year because we told the story of what’s going on with students,” FineDay wrote in an email to the Sheaf. “If it’s about unaffordability, inaccessibility, a specific vision for post-secondary in Saskatchewan or having a strong union, we need to be able to tell the story of students to admin, the province and Saskatchewan — that’s how you get results.”

FineDay wrote that he chose to run for a second term because he felt he had made  commitments to students that went uncompleted in his first year, including finishing his recent advancements toward an open textbook policy, and he hoped to follow through on those.

With one full year as president already behind him, FineDay believes that his prior experience will help him ease the remaining incoming executive’s transition into their new roles and build a stronger USSU for the student body.

“I have a better sense of the job. It’s funny, in talking with past presidents about the job they all say, ‘You don’t really know what you’re doing until October’ — and that’s true,” FineDay wrote. “A second term gives the opportunity to hit the ground running on day one and students are going to benefit from that.”

Taking over as vice-president student affairs, Jack Saddleback has spent the last two years as the USSU Pride Centre Coordinator. Enjoying his time as a representative for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities, Saddleback looks forward to taking on a similar role in a larger capacity for the entire undergraduate class.

“I find my experience within my past role as the Pride Centre Coordinator is going to add to the USSU because I’ve been able to look at all aspects of students’ lives and celebrate them, affirm them and advocate for students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Saddleback said. “Being able to do this on a larger scale is just epic.”

Saddleback has spent much of his time as an advocate for LGBTQ rights and believes that this experience has made him an ideal candidate to represent undergraduate students as a member of the USSU executive.

“I’ve been working with students in regards to their academic and non-academic lives, getting them involved in different social justice issues, getting them involved in community building initiatives,” Saddleback said, adding that pushing for LGBTQ rights is a battle that affects everyone.

“It isn’t just affecting the queer community, it affects all communities. Getting these rights for gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation, we are going to be able to get rights for all people. It isn’t just for one community; it’s for all.”

Saddleback campaigned on a four-fold platform that included encouraging intercollegiate communication, promoting community on campus to achieve a balanced student experience, making the student voice heard in all levels of the university and enhancing student services through collaborative efforts.

Seeing a degree of redundancies in communication, Saddleback used Mental Health Awareness Week as an example of how he hopes to have student services work together in order to improve their overall output. Saddleback believes that by promoting collaboration between the USSU Health Centre, the Peer Health Mentors, mental health-focused student services and the Mental Health Commission of Canada — with which he works as a member of its youth council — during the event’s planning and execution, the four bodies could more strongly and efficiently spread awareness of mental health on campus.

Aside from further developing Mental Health Awareness Week, Saddleback listed sustainability initiatives such as a composting or a community garden as well as engaging students to take a more active hand in on-and-off campus voting as goals he hopes to achieve during his time in office.

As the first openly two-spirited — a term that acknowledges the historical acceptance of LGBTQ people in First Nations’ cultures — and transgender member of the USSU executive, Saddleback credited the undergraduate student body for disregarding sexual orientation in choosing a leader based on merit alone.

“I am more than humbled to know that the university community celebrates me for me — sees my experience, sees my skills and sees me as an individual who can do the job regardless of my gender identity, sexual orientation or whatever relationship I’m in.”

In her new position as vice-president academic affairs, Desirée Steele said her experience as an active member of the St. Thomas More Students’ Union, her passion for student politics and her boldness as key characteristics that make her a strong member of the USSU executive.

Having spent the last three years involved with STMSU — acting as president for the 2013–14 academic year — Steele views her time with the college as having benefits and drawbacks as she prepares to take over as vice-president academic affairs.

“It’s a fairly small college, so in this case it allows for a lot of different avenues for engagement across the college decision-making structure and I’ve been privileged to be a part of those things. That’s given me a lot of experience,” Steele said. “However I also realize that that experience is in one college, and … for any student getting involved in representing all undergraduate student there’s a huge learning curve in terms of what other students experiences have been and will continue to be.”

Steele believes that increased and open communication between the USSU executive and the undergraduate body will encourage students to take a greater interest in what the union can do for them and why it is important to the campus community. With voter turnout sitting at 19.2 per cent this year, Steele hopes to foster dialogue with the campus through projects such as an update to the USSU website.

“Regardless of what your portfolio is coming in, the USSU executive has some serious work to do in terms of communicating what we do and why students should care,” Steele said. “A lot of students I talked to when I was campaigning didn’t have a clue there was an election going on … That’s a problem we have to address.”

With a heavy interest in experiential learning initiatives such as practicums, internships, co-ops, hands-on research, field-based study, community involved learning and study abroads, Steele is aiming to use her time in office to promote such programs as valuable means of bolstering the university academic experience.

Having previously run for 2013–14 executive, Elias Nelson has earned the undergraduate vote and will act as vice-president operations and finance for the upcoming year.

After spending the 2012–13 academic year as president of the Arts and Science Student Union, Nelson aims to use this experience with the campus as he strives for increased discussion between the undergraduate body, student groups and the USSU.

“If the executive is very personable and trusted and has good leadership, that will help,” Nelson said. “But it’s a matter of … positive exposure and making clear that the USSU is here to benefit them and we’re not just rent seekers in the market taking their student fees and spending them on our own salaries.”

Looking forward, Nelson sees maintaining and supporting relationships with student groups as vital in achieving his goals.

“Student groups are important because they’re local; they have their feet on the ground in their constituencies and they know the issues that affect their students best,” Nelson said. “If we work with student groups, that can build a strong communication network with an effective information flow between the USSU and them.”

With TransformUS less than a month away, Nelson believes that this communicative effort will ensure that the USSU most accurately represents undergraduate students’ interests moving into the new academic year.

“I’m going to have to listen — like the rest of the executive ­— and hear what we need to get our feet on the ground, communicate … with students and student groups and make sure we say the right things,” Nelson said. “If our voice is strong and we’re saying the wrong things, it means nothing.”

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