This year’s Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) executive candidates—all uncontested except those vying for vice-president (Graduate)—have common goals in mind.
The candidates gathered for the SGPS election debate on Sunday night in the Lower Ceilidh of the JDUC. The debate saw an empty audience, save for two current SGPS executive members.
For Presidential candidate Justine Aman, Vice-President (Community) candidate Anthony Lomax, Vice-President (Finance) candidate Tamara Mitterer, and Vice-President (Professional) candidate John Jeyaratnam, goals include increasing student engagement within the SGPS and ensuring a smooth transition during the JDUC’s redevelopment. They also hope to keep existing services with the opportunity for expansion, thanks to the SGPS’ “healthy surplus” budget.
As more than one candidate noted, however, when collecting signatures to become eligible to run, many people asked, “What is the SGPS?”
Lomax said the SGPS isn’t necessarily one large community, but could be more accurately seen as a collection of communities.
“My role suggests that there’s only one community, which is a problem,” he stated. “There’s a lot of different communities within the SGPS, and part of my job is to find out which communities are not being heard.”
Lomax said being proactive will be an important part of his role in representing different cultural identities. He pledged to reach out to club leaders that represent different cultural corners of Queen’s to find out what the SGPS can do to better represent their needs.
For Vice-President (Professional) candidate Jeyaratnam, increased professional development for graduate students is an important goal. He hopes to work with different faculties to discover how they can benefit one another. A mutual exchange of information and “soft skills” may be the key to unlocking better professional development in graduate programs, he said.
Vice-President (Finance) candidate Mitterer spoke to her financial goals of responsible investing and generating monetary interest that can be reinvested into the SGPS. She also hopes to use some of the SGPS’ current surplus to give back to students through increased access to bursaries. Some of the money will also likely go towards the new JDUC, she said.
Vice-President (Graduate) candidates Courtney Bannerman and Rohit Shukla have similar visions for their role. Bannerman will focus more on professional development opportunities, while Shukla discussed increased engagement as the SGPS’s biggest opportunity. Both hold the same values as important, including lowering the rate of international student tuition.
For increasing student engagement, many of the candidates cited an increased social media presence as one possible route. Lomax said he believes the SGPS too often stays neutral on political topics, and that taking a more polarized and grounded stance may increase student participation and voice.
Mitterer suggested showing students more clearly what the SGPS spends their money on by targeting specific graduate Facebook groups. Bannerman took this proposition a step further by suggesting creating a Facebook page for all graduate students together. Shukla suggested improving the SGPS website.
The last issue addressed at the meeting was the SGPS’ higher rate of membership opt-outs than the AMS. When asked if she feels responsible to represent students despite their decision to opt out, Presidential candidate Aman said, yes, she absolutely does.
“It’s very important that the SGPS doesn’t choose to isolate students that have opted out of the fee,” she responded. “There are financial considerations there. Not everyone can afford to spend money on these fees in addition to their life expenses. Those voices are equally as important.”
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