Aleesha Rehill has run a campaign centred on student support and equity; if she's elected for USC president next week, she will be the first woman of colour since 1986 to hold the position.
Rehill sat down for a recorded Q&A with the Gazette's opinions editor, Hope Mahood; Radio Western recorded the conversation. A transcript, edited for length and clarity is below, but you can listen to the full interview here:
So you've mentioned in your platform, you want to restructure council — essentially to have the majority of policy proposals coming from councillors rather than the executive. But past executives have attempted this culture shift and have yet to find a model that actually works.
I'm wondering how you feel your model will be different? And more importantly, if you're at all concerned that this move will shift the majority of the workload onto unpaid students?
I really started thinking about that after I met with Jeff Armour, the chief operating officer of the [University Students' Council], and he mentioned that that's how the USC should be functioning.
I think, at the end of the day I do understand that we are shifting that on unpaid volunteers. But I think there are more councillors who can do in their role and it doesn't have to be “go survey every single student in your faculty.” And that's also why we have the representative amount of councillors per faculty, right? Because that's how we keep that ratio and trying to make sure that councillors are bringing forth motions.
We want to be holding our councillors accountable. Obviously, we want to hear their opinions and their thoughts, that's why they ran. But we also want to make sure that they are embedding the student voice in what they are saying.
I think a few councillors have done online posts and things like that just saying “hey, please send me your thoughts”, or doing an Instagram story and saying “ask me a question” and things like that. So I think there are small ways we can move that culture shift because I think we are in an error.
The vibe that I'm getting is that students want to be heard. When we did these sexual violence policy focus groups, I was chatting with Jenny Massie and she said that, initially, we didn't have a lot of students come out, but eventually we got a really big turnout. That’s when students find out that we’re actually listening to their voice and they're like, “Oh my gosh, I think they actually want to hear me.”
So I think we kind of can make that shift. I think students are willing to give their two cents but I think we need to be the people to go out there and grab that from them.
I'm wondering about how you're planning on leading a multimillion dollar corporation whose primary function is based on passing policy and doing administrative work, considering you've never served as a councillor?
Yeah, for sure. I think this was also something that I was very, like, self conscious about going into it.
I actually had the opportunity of shadowing Bardia for about four hours back in December. It was a really great opportunity to ask him a lot of questions. And I that was one of the bigger ones that I asked him and he gave me a really great response. And being like, “we are here to do the best that we can, you're going to learn a lot and there's a good transition period, so we support you through that.” So that really made me feel good.
And in terms of making the change, I think it was Jeff who kind of said, “we can always try. And that's one thing that we can always do. It's maybe it will not happen, but we can always give it an attempt and try to make it happen for students.” So that was also great.
But I think my orientation coordinator experience is actually very similar to the president role, because I was responsible for organizing a budget of over $800,000 and working very closely with the USC on that.
And then obviously, doing a lot of work. Orientation does have our fair share of policies as well our uniform policy or clothing policy, our open alcohol and drinking policy or soph contracts. So we do have a lot of policies as well. So it was really great to sit on advisory, which does all the policy work and really edit policies, look at how we can we reframe them.
I even went to like the gender based violence policy review. So I do have my fair share policy. work, but I will admit that I'm no expert. But really just making sure that I have those transferable skills, which I think we can see from Eddie, we can see from Sophie and a few other past [orientation coordinators], who have gone on to be presidents of the USC.
Alright and last question, if elected up the seventh woman, the sixth person of colour, and the second ever woman of colour to be USC President. The last woman of colour president was in 1985/1986.
What does it mean to you knowing these figures?
It's really disheartening, honestly, and working in the USC office all summer, every single day I walked by big row of all the past presidents and I always noticed that. I only saw Sophie's picture and I only saw [Sondra Gibbons]. And those were about it and the rest were men as well.
I did see a few people of colour. In my four years here, it's great to see Bardia, it's great to see Tobi and Eddie as well. So I think we've seen the numbers but I think there's definitely just so much more that we can do. And I think that me running this year is hopefully opening that avenue.
I've had so many people come up to me being like, thank you for just putting your name on the ballot or you know, you're doing a lot to represent women, you're doing a lot to represent people of colour, you're doing a lot to represent both.
It's really heartwarming to see Western students really want to see themselves in their USC executives, which I think is why we're not getting the voter turnout that we really want because people just don't want to vote because they just don't feel like they're represented by the current options that they have.
So I am here to say that we have more options are four people running this year, which is amazing. But we have more options. We have women, we have people of colour running.
If you are struggling to see yourself in your University Students’ Council and your executive team, then cast your vote because that goes a long way even though you might think you're one of 35,000 it's every vote matters. So that's what I would say that