University Students' Council presidential candidate Callista Ryan sat down for a recorded interview with the Gazette's Coordinating Editor of News and Opinions Hope Mahood. Radio Western edited the audio for sound quality and a transcript of the interview, edited for clarity, is included below.
Hello, my name is Hope Mahood and I’m the Coordinating Editor of News and Opinions for The Western Gazette and I’m joined today by USC presidential candidate Callista Ryan. How are you doing Callista?
I’m good, how are you?
I’m not bad, yeah!
Thanks for having me!
Thank you for being here. So this is the USC’s first fully-online campaign season — how’s that been?
It’s definitely been a really good experience and really challenging at the same time. I definitely had to use a lot of creative strategies in engaging with students. But at the end of the day I work in communications, digital communications is a strength of mine and I’ve gotten a lot of really positive feedback on my communications and marketing strategy and I have a really good team and I’m proud of the work that we’ve been able to pull together for a digital campaign in such a short period of time. And it’s definitely been a whole whirlwind of experience but debates — online debates — have been going really smoothly and so that’s been really exciting. Other than the bot attacks that I got in the early stages of the campaign — other than that everything’s been pretty good.
Can you tell me a bit about that?
Yeah, my team is still working on it. We’ve contacted the platforms of Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, but in the third day of the campaign we got massive surges of bot likes on all of our social media, including my personal posts only related to my elections material and also my Gazette candidacy announcement on Facebook. So it kind of messed up our whole coms — we can’t really track how many Western students are following our content so that makes it really difficult for us to follow back and communicate and it puts it at risk if those bots decide to message us and flood our inboxes. So that’s been really frustrating — we don’t really know what to do about it.
But, this morning I checked my Instagram and some of the bot likes are taken off photos, so we’re assuming whoever is paying for the bot attacks has started to stop paying for it so hopefully before the end of the last few days of the campaign it goes away. But that’s something we’re working with the platforms directly on and hopefully they get back to us in the next few days.
Yeah, it’s a really unexpected thing about being online — these just aren’t the things you think about.
Right? We were definitely not prepared for that. My team got a statement out right away and so that was really great and yeah we’re just waiting to hear back. We don’t have much control in this and so it’s definitely an interesting thing to keep in mind for the future. This could happen to anyone, both in the USC elections, but also in political elections as well. So we’re hoping that this doesn’t happen to other candidates and that this doesn’t become a trend, but yeah — definitely something we weren’t expecting to have and we’re hoping to hear back from social media platforms soon.
So I did want to talk a bit about your pillars. A big part of your platform is affordability and I believe you yourself have said you’re a low income student. Can you tell me a bit about how any of your own experiences have shaped those platform points?
Absolutely. In Grade 12 I wasn’t really planning to go to university. I was really excited to, and I wanted to, but when I did the cost calculations I realized that it just wasn’t feasible for me to go and my mom wouldn’t be able to get me lines of credit based on her financial situation. So it really hampered me from even having that vision of going to university.
So in the later stages of that year I ended up winning — not winning but selected for — a large scholarship where I could choose an institution and I really wanted to take the opportunity to leave British Columbia and see other parts of Canada and Western was really attractive to me because of that classics college experience that it presented and the student life and the extra curricular and leadership opportunities. I just thought campus seemed so beautiful and the program was great — so it was everything I’d never really dreamed of.
Western was a great experience in accessing what I never thought I could. But then I did notice there were issues of, you know, I wanted to attend conferences with Model UN and go to all these programs and study abroad and so there were limitations to my access to those opportunities.
But, I also recognize that the living stipend I receive on my scholarship allows me to volunteer in the community and also gain higher-up leadership roles and also allowed me to be a residence advisor as well. Because when I was a residence advisor, we got paid half of what RAs get paid now, so it’s great to see that housing did increase those housing fees, but I still had to cover some costs of living with my stipend, so I just don’t want students to see their opportunities with extracurricular campus life limited because of affordability issues.
We come to university to get an academic degree and prepare us for a career, but what we often ignore is that getting prepared for a career also means networking and extra curricular activities to build our skills, work with people and other students who are passionate about the same topics that we are. So I want to see better grants and opportunities for low-income students who might be working part-time more than other students, to access those opportunities, and that’s something I’m really passionate about.
I’ve worked with clubs on getting bursaries for large conferences and I just want to see that happen more across campus, but also addressing basic needs as well. That’s sort of where I got into student politics was Food Support Services and so if you look at my platform you’ll see a very robust foods and nutrition plan and that’s because those options I believe are really feasible. But again, to be the best student you can be, you have to stay healthy and a huge part of that is eating and nutrition and that’s becoming a growing problem and so that’s something I really wanted to address as well.
And kind of circling back to that talk about student experience and that Western student experience — you’re the only candidate who doesn’t mention bringing PurpleFest back in your platform you talk a little bit about hosting smaller scale PurpleSeries concerts events — but there doesn’t seem to be any goals for major concerts like we’ve before the virus. With vaccines expected to come out in fall 2021 — I’m wondering if there’s a reason for this omission?
Absolutely. So HOCO — Homecoming — will be coming back. So my platform does address HOCO, really glad to see that the university is moving it back. In my first year was the first FOCO and so I remember how political it's been for the past few years and I want to focus on what a good Homecoming looks like. So that could include a PurpleFest, absolutely, but it really does depend on COVID. I don't want to include large concerts if I can't promise a large concert and that's why it's not in there.
However, if by second semester, if there is the possibility of doing a large concert, I'd love to have one absolutely — just because it's not in my platform doesn't mean I don't want to do it. But I don't want to promise anything I can't deliver.
I think we've all had hopes, you know, for student life with COVID and we've all constantly been disappointed. The last thing I want to do is disappoint students by promising a large festival and concert and so I've tried to work around that with other campus programming, like the campus opportunities fair, which will be entirely outdoors and smaller, more frequent concert series to bring students together.
Another piece of feedback I got from students in my consultations is, a lot of the large concerts focus on, you know, drinking, which is, you know, a lot of students love to go out with their friends and go out for a night with a concert. Again, really hard to plan for that with COVID. But I wanted to focus on more events that bring students together to form a sense of community.
And again, community is at the heart of my platform, campus opportunities fairs will allow students to connect with other students interested in the same topics that they are, find upper year mentors, get first-year students to meet upper-year students who can support them on their journey in university. So I prioritized events that focus on that style of student experience.
But, there are other ways that I think we can still have fun next year, which is getting a patio in the concrete beach with paid student performers from the faculty of music and our marching band to perform as well. There are ways we can navigate COVID and still have fun, but being realistic. I'd love to have a PurpleFest if we can make it happen, but we just need more information on COVID guidelines and we need to be prepared. So I didn't want to promise anything that I wasn't sure would be 100 per cent realistic.
And just to kind of circle back some of that HOCO programming — you mentioned those smaller-scale events and stuff. But of course HOCO and FOCO, what they were always known for was those huge gatherings on Brougdale. And what PurpleFest was originally designed for was to draw those crowds off Broughdale and onto campus. Are you all concerned that the small events might not have that effect of actually bringing students away from the big parties?
For sure, and I think we saw this year at FOCO that a lot of students did stay on their lawns, which was really great to see. I felt really, you know, proud of our student community for coming together and most of us staying in our backyards that year.
What I would like to see is some of the successful programming in Orientation Week this year. You know, Western was one of the only, student campuses that hosted an Orientation week that didn't have any links to COVID outbreaks, those were all linked to off campus partying. And so, I'd love to see events such as the roller skating and TD Stadium, that was a very successful event to OWeek, we have a small skating rink near the tennis courts — utilizing more of our outdoor spaces and activities to draw students off of Broughdale.
And again, this is the time for a reset — this is the first year that we're going to have HOCO in five years, we got to take advantage of that, and again, work with our athletic community, the marching band and all the students spirit networks that we have to draw students back to main campus and participate in our Western student experience together. And again, I can't make those decisions for students — we as a USC can only provide those alternative options. And I think I have a lot of creative ideas that are safe but accessible that will bring students on campus.
A lot of that HOCO planning stuff usually starts happening months in advance. I think in previous years even in the springtime, with the previous USC executive having a lot of input. I guess I'm wondering, with the uncertainty around COVID, kind of how are you balancing that need to plan exciting programs with that inability to really plan at all?
I know that's such a great, that's such a good question. I think it comes down to flexibility and communication, which is why I don't want to promise a large concert, because I don't want to disappoint students. And I think that's something that we're constantly promised, like large events, or, you know, getting back together with students and really, at the end of the day, students just want to be with each other in a way that's safe and following the guidelines.
So COVID is really at the heart of my platform, because I think a lot of my points really navigate, focusing on outdoor space activities and working with our campus community to make it safe. So, at the end of the day, if there's a lockdown, of course, that will change things drastically. But I think with, you know, the vaccine, there is hope that by September we might be able to hold some outdoor activities. But I think, at the end of the day, it really boils down to the USC, the executive and president, communicating with students about the guidelines and what our options are.
But there is always risk and I and I don't want to say that there's no risk. COVID is a health risk, but it's also an event planning risk as well. And that's just something that is a reality that we can't control, but we can navigate. And I think my experience in communications with the USC, that's something that, you know when I started my job with the USC this year, the first four weeks of my job, not a single one of it was listed on the job description — it's just been constantly changing and evolving, my workload increased drastically. And that was great, it gave me a great insight to how the USC has had to navigate to COVID and I can take those skills into planning for next year as well. Because you're right, we have to be flexible and reflect that there's a pandemic happening and there's only so much we can control. But we can be flexible and communicative to students.
I also wanted to talk to you about some Instagram photos I’ve seen floating around. I’ve seen about three or four that all look like they were taken on the same day — they have you, Parker Thomlinson, who’s also responded to this in his interview, and some other USC big names — and you all seem to be in the USC offices mostly unmasked and sharing some kind of waffles buffet? What would you say to students who have been vocally upset seeing these photos on your social media?
Yeah, the upset is honestly valid. And that's something that I can only apologize for, and take account for those actions.
Absolutely, it's a completely valid concern. In October, the USC offices reopened, and I have my own office space in the associated space, which I've been using, and that day, there were just a lot of people in the office and I guess we just got really excited. Like every student, it's been so hard and I just have to say like, it was just a mistake, and we shouldn't have taken off our masks for photos, that's just inappropriate.
And that's something that, now that I've seen how that workplace culture affects, our student image but also trust with the student body, but also it was health risk — which is the most important part — as USC president going into the role next year, if elected, kind of making sure that that doesn't happen again, because I think the pandemic will still be around and if that does happen, making sure that you know, the USC office spaces stay closed if it presents a larger risk. So that's something we really need to prioritize, especially since that happened.
But yeah, and I think the student body is exactly right for bringing up those photos, it's a valid concern and we need to take account for those actions.
Thank you. And I guess my final question — and you know the one that will be determining my vote — if you could introduce any spoke bagel flavour to the menu, a brand new one, what would it be?
Oh my gosh. Okay, like the cream cheese or the actual bagel? This is this is my question.
The actual bagels, so you will have to take into account complementing the cream cheese flavours we have.
That is a good question. I eat at The Spoke all the time so I definitely — OK, I want, like, a cheese bagel. You know, how they have like the cheesy bread pretzels? Yeah, I want it, I want a fully cheese flavoured bagel. Or wait, no, maybe? Maybe that’s too much cream. That's too much. Cheese on cream cheese, that's too much.
Oh! I want a pretzel bagel. Yeah, that would be so good. Herb and garlic on a pretzel bagel. Oh, that's the dream. That's my new dream, that's why I want to be USC president. All right. Let's get that pretzel bagel at The Spoke.
Sounds great, well, thank you so much for joining me today Callista!
Thanks for having me Hope.