SGPS debate sees little contention

All but one graduate society positions uncontested

Image by: Emma Sewell
The SGPS debate was prefaced by usual council business

With five of the six positions uncontested, this year’s graduate society all-candidates’ debate saw more cohesion than contention.

Candidates instead used the opportunity to discuss issues facing graduate students — most of which they agreed on.

The Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) held the debate in McLaughlin Hall at 5:30 on Tuesday night. The debate was prefaced by general SGPS business, including executive reports and a visit from KPMG — a financial firm that performed an audit on the society’s financials — after which SGPS Speaker Eric Rapos, PhD ’16, began the debate as the moderator.

For more coverage on SGPS elections visit our microsite.

Prominent topics of discussion during the debate included advocacy for better student-supervisor relations and a need for inclusivity towards students in short-term programs, international and Aboriginal students.

None of the topics were greatly contested, although at one point candidates disagreed on whether the SGPS should be taking public stances on social issues.

Sexual assault survivors

Each of the candidates were asked about the systemic barriers facing survivors of sexual assault at Queen’s.

Boika began, saying that while it’s important to work alongside the administration and undergraduate societies, the discussion also needs a graduate specific perspective.

Her opponent, Al-Mqbali, agreed, noting that SGPS-specific counsellors are direly needed. (The student-embedded counsellor ratio is currently 4,500 to one.) (link: grad counsellor feature)

Sonoc added that there’s a harmful stigma around sharing experiences of sexual assault similar to the stigma around mental health. Clark built on Sonoc’s point, saying that, most importantly, “any response we take must not revictimize people who are sharing their experiences.”

Lakhani, who worked with a sexual health and disease service during his Master’s degree at University of Manchester, said approachability is important for encouraging survivors to come forward.

Gorlewski reminded the audience that mental health is inherently tied into the care of sexual assault survivors and stated that there’s a need for additional graduate counsellors. Farbodkia rounded out the conversation, concluding with her point that any response needed to be proactive rather than reactive.

Integration of underrepresented student groups

Candidates also discussed the integration of underrepresented student groups — specifically, those in eight-month or one-year programs and those from minority groups on campus, such as Aboriginal students or international students.

The candidates talked about providing liaison programs, welcome brochures and other tangible information about services on-campus as methods to tackle the issue. Several candidate brought up institutional pressures for graduate students and discussed methods of improving student-supervisor relations.

All candidates agreed on the issue, and presented solutions ranging from Teaching Fellow (TF)-Teaching Assistant (TA) mentorship programs to more structured research goals.

Public stances on social issues

The one contentious issue was whether the SGPS should take a public stance on social issues, which outgoing Rector Mike Young asked of all the candidates.

Farbodkia and Boika said it should be an issue-by-issue situation, while Sonoc stressed the importance of action over statements. Gorlewski, meanwhile, said such an action should rarely be taken but that there are some exceptions.

Al-Mqbali and Lakhani were hesitant to impart the beliefs of the executive over the student body as a whole, and Clark said students outside of council needed to be consulted first.

Farbodkia began by saying it depends on the issue. But taking a stance on a contested issue was a bad idea, as the SGPS is meant to represent everyone, she said.

“The majority doesn’t necessarily mean the truth,” she said.

Sonoc said he would take a stance if he could also take action on the issue. If the stance is taken to merely chastise or give support, it wouldn’t be “terribly useful”, he said.

Gorlewski brought up an exception. He said if there was a violation of basic human rights or a hate crime on campus, the SGPS would need to take a public stance.

Al-Mqbali agreed with Gorlewski’s point, but said public bodies could not impart their personal beliefs upon the organization. Lakhani then brought the discussion back to Farbodkia’s statement about a majority, and said majority systems are what allows minorities to be underrepresented.

Boika added that such discussions should be made issue-by-issue to “make sure we as an executive are standing as a unit, rather than divisive.”

Finally, Clark said his job wouldn’t be to lead student opinion, but rather reflect it. Therefore, it’s important to have discussions with students outside of the SGPS council before making any decisions on public stances, he said.

— With files from Jordana Goldman


Anastasiya Boika is the current Features Editor at The Journal. She had no involvement in writing or editing this article.



debate, Election, SGPS, SGPS elections

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