Election nominations are now open. Students are signing up to run in the 2017 elections, and by the end of next month we’ll know who the next USC president and vice-president will be.
But before we get too far into electing the next fearless leaders of our student government, it’s important to keep in mind that the current executives still have half a year left in their roles.
At the halfway mark of their term, The Gazette editorial board sat down to discuss the good and the bad of the Avila administration and what we think they should consider for the remainder of their term.
The Avila executive team has been one of the more open and approachable ones in recent years. They are fairly popular at council, within the USC staff, with the University administration and with the students that follow USC politics.
The executives have often been vocal and have taken firm stances several times through their term. After council expressed its concerns with how Western handled the Homecoming move in the summer, the executives conveyed students’ concerns to the administration.
When the “Western Lives Matter” incident happened at Reunion Weekend, Avila made a video calling out the insensitive poster and offered support to those who might have been negatively affected.
The USC can also give itself credit for a number of multi-year advocacy points which came to fruition over the past months, including the revamped OSAP structure and the raised federal financial aid repayment threshold for students. The USC has played a big role in setting up and continuing ADVOCAN, an emerging federal student lobby group, which is needed since a number of governments have chosen to leave the controversial Canadian Federation of Students.
It’s also been a year of turmoil within the USC’s full-time staff portfolio. Long-term leaders, most notably the former general manager, left the organization and a new position was created to give more power to the student executives, courtesy of the previous Helpard administration. It didn’t work out too well, however, and the new COO left months into her three-year term. But the Avila administration has managed to keep the USC functional despite being handed over the reins at a difficult time.
It’s the reality of the job that you won’t be able to achieve most of your platform promises. But keeping that in mind, the Avila administration has yet to make progress on some of their major platform points.
In light of the tragic student accident on campus last year, the Team Avila platform advocated for an increased focus on pedestrian safety on campus. They specifically recommended a pedestrian scramble at the Talbot College and Delaware lights — a welcome suggestion considering the vehicle-heavy traffic on campus. But since being elected, little, if anything, has been heard from the executives pushing Western on pedestrian safety on campus despite continued close shaves for pedestrians and cyclists at campus’s busy intersections.
A major point on the Team Avila and the student programming officer Allie Adamo’s platforms was event diversity. It was targeted towards getting out of the USC holding EDM concert after EDM concert and offering more tangible and diverse programming to students. There has been some progress here, like alternative programming on Reunion Weekend, but overall there has been a scarcity of high-profile, student-engaging speakers and diverse events hosted by the USC (beyond O-Week) despite having the resources to do so.
Time and again, this administration has also focused more inwards than on students-at-large. “No longer will clubs be made to share space — clubs HQ!” the Avila platform screamed last year. Well, the clubs got kicked out of their space in the summer, which was made exclusive to USC staff, and clubs didn’t end up getting a room of their own until October, in the UCC basement.
The good news is there’s still six months to go for this executive team, and many of their plans are in progress. They are definitely popular, but they need to put their political capital to better use, whether it be pushing Western on pedestrian safety or engaging more with students rather than spending time on their internal bureaucratic issues. Surveys, strategic plans and federal advocacy are all buzzwords if at the end of the day on-the-ground, tangible campus issues aren’t being addressed by the student government.
The USC also needs to take a more proactive approach to issues. While their responses to incidents like “Western Lives Matter” was commended by many students, conversations on racism, sexism and other student-facing issues on campus need to be held and facilitated regardless of a trigger incident. This is especially important since during the last elections cycle Avila and Cleary pointed out racism as one of the biggest issues facing Western students.
One of their biggest upcoming challenges is the USC budget and that is often a legacy-defining period for many executives. The USC is in good hands with the former board of directors chair and current secretary-treasurer Isaac Jacobi in charge, but it’ll all come down to how the budget is presented and sold to council and students-at-large.
The USC also has built a good relationship with the city over the years and the executive need to capitalize on these relationships and push for one of the more optimistic points on their platform — restorative justice. Programs like Project LEARN still continue and students were painted as troublemakers by the city police during the Homecoming uproar. It’s time students get more credit for their contributions to the city, and progress on restorative justice programs instead of fines and tickets will be a great way to move forward.
For slates planning on running this election, make sure your platform goals are achievable. It’s not difficult to promise students everything just to win, but be honest and realistic. Look at what the USC can tangibly offer undergrad students at Western. For example, the three-in-23 exam policy is not the USC's issue to fix despite being included in every USC platform over the past several years. Look at what issues resonate with students-at-large versus issues which may be amplified for USC insiders. Address issues students care about, and they’ll inevitably come out to vote.