USC elections - Zamir Fakirani 8

University Students' Council presidential candidate Zamir Fakirani 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.

You can also listen to interviews from fellow presidential contenders, Parker Thomlinson and Callista Ryan. All three interviews were recorded Tuesday morning.

Hello Western, 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 Zamir Fakirani. How are you doing Zamir?

Hi, Hope. I'm doing really good, I'm excited to be here.

Thank you for coming.

Thanks for having me.

So you really jumped right into the deep end with this election: you did a Reddit AMA, nomination launch on the first 12 hours. How's it been running a fully-online campaign?

You know what, it's not what I anticipated. Last year, when I ran for Social Sci Pres, I was totally in-person and it felt really nice just being able to actually do in-person boothing and visit classes and so forth. But, you know, I recognize the circumstances change and I still wanted to make sure I was reaching out to students and making sure they're aware of the platform, why to vote, why to get involved. So my amazing team, and I came together and we thought about ways, we can still make sure we have an impactful launch, that we still are engaged with students throughout these two weeks. So it has definitely been a bit of a challenge, but it's also been very rewarding.

How does it feel to be halfway through?

It feels really good. It's also kind of nerve wracking. So last year, when Aleesha, Victoria, Keenan and Matt were all running, I remember I was talking to them, and they were like, "listen Zamir, this is going to distract you from classes. It's a lot of work" and so forth. And I heard them or I listened to them, I didn't hear them, or whatever the expression is. I guess I'm realizing just how much time a campaign takes. But again, I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't love the USC and want to get involved further. And so as much as it has been a challenge, it's been rewarding. 

So to jump right in on your platform, I see you have by far the largest EDI section to your platform. And you're also the only candidate of colour and the only openly LGBT person running for president this year. Can you tell me a bit about how any of your own experiences have really shaped this pillar?

Yeah, so last year, I attended a guest lecture on transitional justice. And the professor who was speaking was talking about the ways in which language can be used to dehumanize civilians. And in doing so, she used three racial slurs for communities she didn't belong to. And as a racialized person in the classroom, I was definitely taken aback, and I raised my hand and I said, "hey, I don't think you needed to use those words to really teach what you're trying to, I think you could have done without them." And another professor actually stood up and said, "Oh, don't worry about him. Kids these days are just too woke." And that was, I guess, the moment where I realized just how institutionalized and pervasive racism is on campus. It was literally weeks after the whole Arts and Humanities incident of last year. And so that really, really made me realize that we need more equitable leadership, not just at Western, but also at the USC, to make sure that we are actually representing diverse students' voices, and leading the USC in a direction that's helpful for each and every student.

So when I was running, I made sure that we focused on equity, having a super large equity component was an intentional choice. Because, far too often when I walk into USC meetings, I'm the only gay person in the room, I'm the only Muslim in the room, I'm the only brown person in the room. And I'm often asked to speak on behalf of students' experiences, which I can't. Racialized students' experiences aren't homogenous, queer voices and our experiences aren't homogenous.

I want to make sure that we're representing all communities really, really well. And so that was an intentional choice. I'm a little bit disappointed that I'm the only racialized and openly gay candidate running for the position. But I think it's about time that we do things differently at the USC and give students who typically don't have their voices heard the time of day.

And the section of your platform is so expansive, I'm really wondering, is there one thing that's most important to you to achieve in there?

I would definitely say the racism reporting tool is my biggest priority when it comes to equity-related work. Students experience so much hatred on this campus. During clubs week alone, there was two instances of racist Zoom bombing. Earlier in this podcast, we talked about two instances of racism in the classroom. And these these might be anecdotal evidence, but through my consultations, I've really learned that it is an experience, unfortunately, that far too many racialized students go through.

I think the most upsetting thing to me is that the way Western currently structures their approach to dealing with racism on campus, racialized students who want to report racism, either have to email the Equity and Human Rights Office and wait for a response during business hours, or, in case of emergencies, have to contact campus police, and I don't think it's fair to ask racialized students who have a history of being disrespected by police forces to rely on the police for support. I think we need more community-based support. And I think we need a tool that's going to streamline seeking justice and healing and also reduce the need for police in this process. So it's definitely, definitely, definitely my biggest priority when it comes to equity.

And move on to another part of your platform, you've been really vocal that axing Proctortrack completely, I seem to remember a pretty eye catching Instagram post from a couple days back. But you're also advocating for profs to kind of move away from linear exams, which are one of the main replacements for e-proctored ones. Obviously, the ideal is that we're going back in person next fall. But if we're still online, what alternatives are you thinking of for courses that can't necessarily do written projects or essays?

Yeah, I would say that, you know, the the current approach that our university is adopting when it comes to Proctortrack is extremely privileged and problematic. I remember I was reading the Senate meeting minutes, and Andy Hrymak was talking about how if students don't want to write a Proctortrack exam, they can either defer the course and take another semester, they can suck it up and deal with it. Or they can drop the course entirely. And I think that comment comes from such a place of privilege, I don't think he really understands the time, the energy, the money it takes to actually complete our degrees.

So yes, I have been quite vocal about finding alternatives to Proctortrack. I don't know if I'm allowed to swear on this podcast, so I'm not going to quote the post we made. But there are alternatives. A lot of other universities have developed their own. A lot of other universities have sourced their own, Waterloo and Queen's included. And yes, Queen's is doing better than us in this respect. And that's disappointing to me.

But there are alternatives that do exist, that can be sourced, that do respect students' privacy. And I think seeing linear exams as the only alternative is a little bit short sighted, we can also rely on other softwares, we can rely on Zoom proctoring and so forth. We can also rely on different forms of assessment that don't fall to, you know, multiple choice assessments and so forth. Because as we know, pedagogically that's not even the smartest way to test how much we're learning and so forth. And so I think there's a lot of room for ingenuity. And I think COVID-19 has really helped us hone in on our skills on that end. So I think it just boils down to just thinking outside of the box.

You have a lot of big events planned to your platform, you're mentioning bumper cars, concerts, and I think even an in-person OWeek kind of comes into play there. If a vaccine doesn't pan out, and COVID cases don't drop, a lot of these in person events just aren't going to be possible. You've already said you don't really want to host online concerts. So I'm wondering how you have plans to keep the student experience going online?

Yeah, that's a great question and I appreciate it. What I will say is, I'll refer back to my leadership at the Social Science Students Council. This year, we had the the same challenge the USC face of trying to transition all of our programming online while still making it engaging for students. And one thing I made sure to champion was what I call programming with a purpose. I think, far too often, our student associations are using money on events on the basis of it being a tradition or on the basis of it being interesting to the executive, and so forth. But at the end of the day, we should be spending our money and our resources where students want them.

So I think my biggest concern with [Orientation Week] this year is that we took what should be or what has become an online event, but we simply copy and pasted in-person events and transition them online. And I think we need to realize that what students look for in an online setting is fundamentally different than what they look for in an in-person setting. So definitely making sure that although we're not hosting online concerts, because when we had the Arkells come over for OWeek, only 20 students came out, making sure that inside we have speed friendship events, speed networking events, we have a virtual coffee house, there are cost effective alternatives that still help build community that we should be investing in.

The other thing I do want to mention is that all of my in person programming, just like all of my in person programming, at the SSSC this year comes with contingency plans, I definitely recognize that we don't know what we can expect when it comes to COVID. And I think we have to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. And that's something I've definitely been sure to do in my platform. So for example, you mentioned bumper cars and while that is an in person event, on the basis of it being you know, in cars in automobiles, that is socially distant, and that that still provides students with an in person opportunity while still respecting COVID guidelines, making sure we're keeping our community safe, and so forth.

A lot of these big ideas you have do need money to pay for it. And in your platform, you suggest actually surveying students to see what current services the USC is offering that they'd actually like to divert funding from to finance new initiatives. What services are you thinking of including in the survey?

Each and every USC service. I think far too often, we have not let students have their voices heard on how we spend our money, we rely on our elected student representatives to speak on behalf of their constituents. But unfortunately, like I talked about in my Letter to the Editor, we haven't seen over 30 per cent of students participate in the elections in the past decade. So at the end of the day, our elected representatives, as much as they are courageous, brave, really, really great student leaders, they don't necessarily represent the will of the entire student body.

So, I think we need to take budget submissions and budget proposals and budget town halls to the student body, let them drop in on their own time and let them share their own feedback on each and every single USC service. That's my approach. I think that that promotes transparency, I think it promotes communication. And I think it makes sure that the USC is spending money where students want it most.

Are you at all concerned that students might want to defend services that the majority don't use, like, say, Food Support Services, but are really central to those that they do support?

I actually don't think so. I think at Western, we have a really strong community who is embracing and understanding of each other and wants to see everyone doing well. I also can say that the point of these budget town halls is to gather feedback. And if students are not feeling like Food Support Services, for example, just running off of what you said, is providing an important enough service to students. That means that we at the USC have to do a better job of communicating why Food Support Services is a really important initiative.

And I did over 100 consultations and in these consultations when I was speaking to students, each and every single one mentioned that the USC does not do a good job of communicating what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. And I think we need to do that differently. And I think another reason why I am a great fit for the USC presidential position is because I have a history of being transparent, of being a communicator. When I became a USC councillor, I launched UniversiTEA, which is a frequent posting on my social media accounts, explaining everything that happened behind the scenes at USC and SSSC meetings. This year, when I became Social Science president, I launched social circle, which is a monthly email blast to all social science students explaining what happened at our faculty council meetings, what happened in the faculty as a whole.

I definitely want to take these initiatives, bring them to the USC so that students are aware that our programming, that our peer programs, whether it's Food Support Services, whether it's Ethnocultural Support Services, whether it's the Gender Equality Network, all do really, really important things for each and every one of us on this campus.

So I do have to ask, circling back to the financial survey. If you were filling out this survey, what services would you want to divert funding from?

I don't think that's up to me to decide. Ultimately, I will no longer be a student, I will be an elected employee representing students. And so I don't think it matters what I want. I think it matters what you want and what the rest of the student body wants. And that was something I was really cognizant of when I was building my platform, I didn't want to rely on just my own lived experiences, because I just represent one particular niche. But I wanted to make sure we represent everyone.

I recognize that's a little bit of a cop-out answer, so I will also provide you with my personal opinions as a current Western student. I think that especially this year, a lot of the USC's physical infrastructure is not being used the way it should be. We see Western Film, we see the Purple Store constantly running in the red. So I think we definitely need to work on what we're doing with that land and seeing if there's better things we can be doing with it.

There have been so many calls from religious students in particular for more prayer spaces on campus. So many calls from students for more study spaces on campus, the Mustang Lounge project this year brought out so so many students to actually find a place to study on campus in light of all the closures. So I would definitely say I would really, really look into the ways in which we're using our space in the UCC, because I don't think we're using it efficiently right now.

And I've saved our big heavy hitter, question for last. If you were to camp out in a Western library for 72 hours at the peak of December exams, which library choosing and why.

Okay, that's easy one. So, okay, this might sound weird, but I personally love the smell of Weldon. Just like the old book smell, you can smell like the linger of Argo [Tea]. I would definitely go to one of the upper floors because it's a little bit quieter. I can probably like camp out in between some of the shelves. But I'm a Weldon type of guy, so I would definitely say Weldon.

Solid answer. Well, thank you so much for joining me today Zamir.

Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

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Hope Mahood is the Coordinating Editor of news and opinions for volume 114. Email her at opinions@westerngazette.ca or find her on Twitter @hopemahood

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