Society of Graduate & Professional Students (SGPS) 2018 elections

SGPS Executive candidates share their platforms, prior experience and vision in this Q&A

The SGPS offices in the JDUC.

After a completely uncontested election last year, the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) is seeing two of five positions contested in the upcoming executive race. The Journal met with the candidates to hear about their motivation for running and some of the plans they have for the future of the SGPS.

Tyler Morrison, Law ’19 — Presidential Candidate

Past Experience:

Currently sitting on SGPS 2017-18 executive council as the Vice-President (Community).

Platform summary:

1. Stabilize the SGPS Health & Dental Plan:

As the Health & Dental contract is expiring this year following the end of a three-year contract, Morrison believes the SGPS is in a strong negotiating position. He has the experience to run a process through which insurance providers bid on the SGPS business, and aims to come to an agreement in which the rate and benefits of the plan most greatly benefit the SGPS student community. Additionally, he is interested in fostering a “flexible model” for insurance, which offers students different packages at different rates tailored to their individual needs.

2. Continue to Grow the SGPS Community:

Tyler aims to continue to engage SGPS members through “subsidized social events, workshops, and the pursuit of graduate space” as outlined in his official platform statement on the SGPS website. Furthermore, in consideration of the potential JDUC revitalization, he believes that having been associated with the project in his current role leaves him well situated to take on the President’s advocacy role in vying for allocated space for graduate students in the new building. 

3. Increase the SGPS’ Advocacy Presence:

By building on existing initiatives, Tyler wants to increase the SGPS’ advocacy presence. He believes that student engagement is a crucial to having an effective advocacy presence. Furthermore, he believes that building and maintaining positive relationships with administrators is critical in helping the SGPS attain a “stronger advocacy voice.”

Q: What’s the biggest issue that SPGS students face that you want to tackle?

TM: The Health and Dental [contract reinstatement] is something … that students will be feeling for not just the next three years of the contract, [as] insurance is a finicky thing. If they are unsure about how students behave or how they claim, the companies will hedge their bets by charging more money. When something is stable and they have a good idea of what [the student body] looks like, they can lower their price.

The other two things that I believe will define the presidency this year are the JDUC revitalization*…and picking the next Principal. The next President is going to be on the selection committee and that is a huge advocacy role. We need a Principal who is committed to graduate space and building that graduate community, [and] increasing funding for graduate students, not only to benefit the school, but graduate students as a whole.

* Tyler clarifies that he is not on either side of the decision, and re-states that students have the right to vote for whether or not it should occur

Q: Why should students vote for you – and what is the most important thing that you bring to this role that separates you from the opposing candidate?

TM: [Sitting as the current Vice-President (Community)], I worked side-by-side with this year’s [SGPS] President, Adam Grotsky, to do a lot of the day-to-day stuff. A lot of the stuff that makes the headlines that people talk about are the bigger initiatives, and those are important, but what people don’t necessarily realize is the amount of day-to-day stuff that happens in operating something with a budget the size of the SGPS. Just being in the office every day, understanding the process with the JDUC revitalization, understanding how health and dental works, understanding the process that will happen to pick a new Principal…and being involved in those decisions makes me well positioned to take on this role. Working with Adam, I have that experience, and I think that I know the role better than anybody.

Q: What is the greatest strength of your opposing candidate?

TM: I wouldn’t say that I’m not passionate, because I am, but Stéfy brings a level of passion for graduate causes that I can envy as well … she is very into it, and anybody can see that.

Q: What is your favourite study spot on campus?

TM: I’m gonna say that my favourite study space on campus is the Fireside Reading Room in Stauffer. I thought that that place was really cool [and it has] lots of light during the day.

Stéfy McKnight, Cultural Studies PhD Student — Presidential Candidate

Past Experience:

  • Currently serves as SGPS Vice President (Graduate)
  • During undergraduate studies, she was the President of the Residence Life Council at Nipissing University
  • She is a member of the Cultural Studies Steering Committee – the body that governs the Cultural Studies program in lieu of a department head, made up of students and faculty
  • She was the PSAC 901 Information Officer from 2014 to 2016
  • She was the President of the Modern Fuel Board of Directors, a community based organization, from 2016 to 2017

Platform:

1.Stability through Continuity:

As the current SGPS Vice President (Graduate), McKnight is involved in current SGPS discussions regarding issues such as the JDUC redevelopment initiative. She wants to continue with this project’s ongoing strategic planning. Having been at Queen’s for four years now, McKnight has observed lots of changes in the SGPS, and she believes that serving as a “consistent face” for another year would be extremely beneficial.

2.Student Wellness & Experience:

McKnight recognizes that the role of President is broad in its nature, as it encompasses both graduate and professional student issues. She aims to continue to work on improving supervisor and student relations, building on her work completed over the past year. One specific initiative she’d like to pursue in this area is the development of an agreement for both parties to fill out to ensure research deadlines and meetings are respected. Additionally, she is seeking to facilitate more opportunities for hiring – such as research positions – for professional and graduate students.

3.University Relationships and Engagement:

According to McKnight, the role of the President is specifically to build relationships and to advocate for the SGPS in different forms. She wants to do this by creating a strategic marketing plan, and having a marketing firm come in and looking at productive ways of optimizing the SGPS’s presence on campus. Although she adds that marketing steps have been taken in the last year, she wants to continue to do so in a way that suits the entire society. 

Q: What’s the biggest issue that SPGS students face that you want to tackle?

SM: I think Health and Dental is a go-to…but I think there are a lot of things we can be working on. We need to diversify our SGPS, we need to work with inclusion and equity, we need programming, and [working on] our representation would be huge. I am really happy this year with some positions being contested [in reference to last year’s SGPS election in which all candidates ran uncontested], as it demonstrates that we have made an impact this year, and that people want to get involved. I think it’s great to have a platform that looks at very specific things and issues … but if we don’t have diversification and student engagement, those things don’t matter. We need to engage our population and mobilize them in order for them to work, and fight, and help us work on those issue together.

Q: Why should students vote for you?

SM: Voting for me is voting for students. I was asked by a colleague about what my vision is, and I struggle speaking about what my vision is because I don’t believe that the President should be the one who creates the vision. It should be something that the collective society should create together. A vote for me will ensure that people have….someone who will link the concerns of the society to council. I am more interested in being an interlocutor of people’s thoughts and using my access to give people room to speak…I am one person that represents, but I promise that my vision and my goals are completely directed from the society and my executive.

Q: What is the most important thing that you bring to this role that separates you from other candidates?

SM: I bring accessibility. I am very self aware, I am aware of my access and privilege in a role like this, I understand that my position is not self-serving and that it is a position for others. I don’t see this as a one-person role, which I think is really important for a President [to believe]. You can have several promises, but it is your executive that has their portfolios and your role is to support them, council and their initiatives. I bring experience to lead in ways that are transparent and that also allow others to speak their mind.

Q: What is the greatest strength of your opposing candidate?

SM: [Tyler and I] have completely different leadership styles and that is not a bad thing [as] it gives voters the opportunity to vote for what they think that they need. [Tyler] is somebody who will listen to everything that you have to say, and despite the fact that you might get into debates, he does cares about what you think. He is the first person to ask you how you are feeling, how you are doing. He is caring … and I think it is important to be caring in a leadership position.

Q: What is your favourite study spot on campus?

SM: There are two. The Isabel Bader, right on the water, or the Juniper [Café]. [In the Isabel Bader] there is an amazing tiny little room on the film floor...overlooking the water, it is just amazing. People don’t know this, but people can study and bring books into the Agnes Etherington House, and that is one cozy place to study as well.

Isabel Luce, Art History PhD Student — Vice President (Community) Candidate

Past Experience:

  • During undergraduate studies at McGill University, was the Co-President of the Art History Student Association and the President of the Redpath Museum Club
  • During Master’s studies at York University, was involved in the Graduate Student Association as the Representative for the Master’s in Art History Department Association, and then the Co-President of the Art History Students Society 
  • At Queen’s, currently the Art History Graduate Department Representative to the SGPS council, and a front desk staff member at the SGPS department office

Platform:

1. Community Support and Wellness:

Based on experience at the SGPS office as a front desk staff member, Luce has first hand experience answering SGPS students’ question. She states that many students are not aware of services that they have available to them (such as the health and dental plan, advisor programs, grants/bursaries, mental health support, etc.). She wants to create an information campaign to inform the students as a new way to reach out and connect with the students and keep them informed. Furthermore, she places an emphasis on ensuring that information is accessible.

2. Community Space:

While working at the SGPS office, Luce notices that people come in to talk, but that the space is small, and believes that students need a larger, more practical gathering space for graduate students where they can speak, study, and meet. This space needs to be a middle ground between the silence of the Graduate Study Room in Stauffer Library and the bar-like environment of the Grad Club. With the proposed JDUC revitalization in the works, Luce believes that it’s important for graduate students to have access to a place in the meantime.

3. Interdepartmental Connections:

Luce believes that the Graduate studies departments need to focus on fostering and facilitating inter-departmental connections. She believes that although different departments are very separate, they often overlap in the interests, industries, and types of jobs that the individuals within seek out post-graduation. Luce wants to offer events in which departments can come together, and increase the occurrence and capacity of the events to accommodate the overwhelming interest that has been expressed in events past.

4. Community Engagement

Luce seeks to use resources from within Queen’s and wider community in efforts including encouraging commissioners to partner in their event planning with different services off-campus who offer workshops and opportunities that students otherwise might not know about or utilize.

Q: What’s the biggest issue that SPGS students face that you want to tackle?

IL: Mental health is a really major one. I have encountered so many students, and dealt with my own struggles in completing my PhD, and it is really important that graduate students know that there are so many services available on campus, from the Student Advisor Program…to the Graduate counsellor. This past year one of the commissioner’s role [was widened from Mental Health] to Health and Wellness, and I think that commission could be [further] enlarged.

Q: Why should students vote for you?

IL: I am really passionate about creating a safe, welcoming, informed graduate community here, and I have a lot of experience being a graduate student as well as working with them. I would like to put a lot of focus in working with the exec as a team towards fixing some issues I've been seeing, as well as being on some of the advisory committees … the provost advisory committee of mental health advisory would really be a good one to sit upon. I would take this job extremely seriously … it would just be me completing my dissertation while also working towards making the [graduate] community a better one.

Q: What is the most important thing that you bring to this role that separates you from other candidates?

IL: My experience working at the front desk at the SGPS. The person in VP (Community) role is going to have to interact a lot with the full time staffers, who I have gotten to know very well. My experience working with them [at the SGPS office] would be an asset, [in addition to] the way I have gotten to know grad students on a personal level. I have become aware of the day-to-day issues that grad students find important – a perspective that is important that makes me unique.

Q: What is your favourite study spot on campus?

IL: I really love the Douglas ‘Harry Potter Room’. I used to take up one of the big tables with my friend and we would just stretch out all our books and just camp out there, for like, 10 hours. The Grad Club is another one … because it’s like a relaxing oasis away from undergrads that could possibly be your students.

Mac Fitzgerald, Urban & Regional Planning Master's student — Vice President (Community) Candidate

Past Experience:

  • Residence Don for three years, and Senior Don in final year
  • Assisted several student election campaign teams

Platform:

1. Housing Resources for Incoming Students:

Fitzgerald is interested in distributing information packages regarding resources on campus to all incoming SGPS students via email, connecting students with the resources they need before they need them. He believes that while this information is helpful for all students, it is particularly important for international students and students who are bringing their families with them when they come to Kingston. 

2. Mobile Office Hours:

The implementation of monthly on-campus visits with departments by SGPS executives will enable communication directly with students. This would involve visits around campus, set up in co-operation with the departmental teams, and would facilitate an on-campus presence to engage with students.

3. Enhancing Community Programming

Fitzgerald wants to scale up community events by continuing to build relationships with campus and community partners. Additionally, he believes that a focus on providing necessary support to departments will enable them to run events and promote collaboration within the faculty. 

4. Building Relations with the City of Kingston

Fitzgerald wants to increase graduate student representation within the city. He wants to do this by working with the AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner to identify pertinent issues, and pursue an active presence in advocating for the SGPS’ interests in city discussions.

5. Integrating with Departmental Orientation

Using the SGPS orientation to supplement existing departmental orientation, Mac believes that current gaps in programming can be filled. He is also interested in implementing more detailed orientation calendars with more family-friendly programming time for students.

6. Making space for students

Mac aims to advocate for graduate student specific space in the revitalized JDUC, equipped with facilities like a kitchen and audio-visual equipment.

7. Informed programming

By implementing post-event surveys to gauge student satisfaction, Mac believes that the overall satisfaction rate amongst students can be improved in a simple, yet effective way.

Q: What’s the biggest issue that SPGS students face that you want to tackle?

MF: We see a lot of candidates talk about the Health and Dental Plan because it is up for renewal next year, but in terms of my portfolio, I think the biggest issue is engagement. [Last year] we saw a six per cent voter turnout. We are seeing a lot of participation in SGPS events … and we need to find a way to harness that excitement for events and turn it into some excitement for the society in general.

Q: Why should students vote for you?

MF: Looking at the platform I put forward, I have provided a lot of deliverables and a lot of things that are really achievable in my time. It’s not overly strenuous to put together an information package that can be used by every single student, it’s only a matter of hitting send on an email. Those are really simple tasks, but they’re going to be really powerful. I think I’ve covered a lot of ground with my portfolio, and I think that I’ve been really realistic about what I can accomplish.

Q: What is the most important thing that you bring to this role that separates you from other candidates?

MF: Experience. I’m in a really great position having been a don … I think I would be a great resource to all of the commissioners, especially since a lot of their job is planning events right now. I compliment the other executives that are running uncontested, in terms of the gaps that I could fill in regarding the JDUC redevelopment [as] I am an Urban and Regional Planning student.

Q: What is your favourite study spot on campus?

MF: Right now, my favourite study spot on campus is [at] any of the computers in the library with a wide screen … because my computer has been in the shop for two weeks. 

Abel Hazon, Law '20 — Vice-President (Finance and Services) Candidate

Past Experience:

 

  • During undergraduate studies, volunteered for the Undergraduate Student Association at Carleton University (CUSA) for four years – involving organizing campaigns with topics including mental health awareness, a sexual violence awareness and literacy weeks.
  • Was a CUSA staff member for two years, holding a position as Executive Assistant, Office Manager, and Health Plan Administrator
  • At Queen’s, is currently a SGPS representative for the Master’s of Public Administration program and a Faculty of Law Student Ambassador

 

Platform:

1. Transparency, Accountability, and Responsible Spending

Hazon aims to ensure that the SGPS is spending money in a financially responsible manner, and spending where it matters. With ideas stemmed from experience with budget consultations in his past roles, he wants to implement bimonthly or monthly budget checks in which the SGPS executives can straightforwardly tell students without financial experience where funds are allocated. He believes that releasing several variations of the budget, including a simplified breakdown with graphics for easy reading, will be effective in informing the SGPS student community.

2. Health Plan

Hazon believes that the current cost of the existing Health and Dental insurance plan is unacceptable in comparison to the rates of other, smaller, graduate student associations in. He notes that some associations are currently paying only half of the rate the SGPS pays for comparable benefits and coverage, and aims to assist in reducing SGPS fees and increase coverage.

3. Diversifying sources of Revenue

To increase the incoming sources of revenue, Hazon wants to explore ventures like fundraising, sponsorship options and partnerships as a means of making the SGPS’ financial position more sustainable.

Q: What’s the biggest issue that SPGS students face that you want to tackle?

AH: The biggest issue I see from my experience is the Health [and Dental Insurance] plan cost. It’s overpriced, the coverages are very low … Insurance companies tend to limit marketing to lower claims, and that is a very unethical thing to do when students are paying for them. Increasing awareness around our health plan ... having a good health plan … and making our health plan term sustainable … makes perfect, logical sense. It exists in other plans and I think that’s a big issue that needs to be fixed.

Q: Why should students vote for you?

AH: The experience I bring is very unique. My work experience speaks tremendously to my capacity to lead in this role. My academic experience, given that I am in the Master of Public Administration Program, [allows me to] put to use the things that I have learned this year. I don’t think the [SGPS] has ever has an MPA student … and the curriculum speaks to managing organizations in the public sector and delivering on policy points. I am excited to put that to good use.

Q: What is the most important thing that you bring to this role that separates you from other candidates?

AH: Speaking to some of the current and future candidates, I am constantly told that ‘I don’t think we have ever had a candidate with that much experience interested in running for the SGPS’. I think that is flattering, but I think that I’m in a position with a lot of wealth of experience in working with a lot of organizations … and to work with anyone who is going to be incoming for the 2018-19 term.

Q: What is your favourite study spot on campus?

AH: My office because it is empty and I have access to it whenever I [want] … away from distractions, away from the general public, and I truly believe that you have to practice like you perform. Wanting to have a career in law, there’s going to be a lot of times where you have to study, work, and do things on your own, so I think I am just preparing myself for that.

Lauren Peacock, Law ’19 — Vice President (Professional) Candidate

Past Experience:

  • Currently the Vice-President (Finance) for the SGPS
  • Orientation leader for the Faculty of Law
  • Ran the “Upper Year Buddy Program” which aimed to match incoming first year Law students with an upper year Law student upon arrival at Queen’s

Platform:

1. Improvements to Career Week:

Peacock emphasizes that career week is not “just about professional students”, as it also pertains to graduate students. She aims to expand the event’s reach to graduate students who may not know to seek information beyond their faculty, with regards to pursuing a career outside of the typical path their degree may lead to. In consideration of student feedback, she wants to implement programming to provide universal skills beneficial to all students (e.g. Excel and LinkedIn workshops), even if not directly related to their career plans.

2. Increased Communication Within Faculties:

To exhibit that the SGPS does more work than students may be aware of, Lauren wants to establish a sub-committee of professional students to address the community’s concerns. The committee would also promote awareness about what the SGPS does and the resources they offer.

Q: What’s the biggest issue that SPGS students face that you want to tackle?

LP: There is a bit of an apathy amongst our membership. A lot of people don’t know that we even exist, so just increasing the amount of attendance we get for things like council or executive debate[s] … having people from our general study body coming out [is important]. I imagine we are going to have to find some way to incentivize people to come out, because pizza clearly isn’t working. This year there will be a kind of incentive for people to come out and vote, and we are hoping little things like that will make people more aware and help them to want to get involved”

Q: Why should students vote for you?

LP: [The Vice-President Professional role] really isn’t about me. It’s really about what the students want, and what I can do for them. I have a few ideas of what I think will be good for career week, but that may not be what ends up happening, because I’m going to go out to students and ask ‘okay, what do you have now and what do you want.’ Also, meeting with different department heads, with the SGPS, with the Law school, with the Education [school]; seeing what they offer, and making sure we’re not duplicating.

Q: What is the most important thing that you bring to this role that separates you from other candidates?

LP: Being on the current executive is a huge benefit because I already kind of see the inner workings of the society, and also, it’s made me really aware of the gaps between professional and graduate students.

Q: What is your favourite study spot on campus?

LP: I actually rarely study on campus because I live alone, so it’s really easy for me to just go home and study, but if I did have to pick a place on campus, my office is a good place — but it’s really cold in there. So probably the Law library.

Leo Erlikhman, Sociology Master's Student — Vice President (Graduate) Candidate

Past Experience:

  • Was an ASUS Representative to the AMS
  • Was on the Board of Directors of the Faculty of Arts & Science
  • Currently an SGPS Representative from the Sociology Graduate Students Association

Platform:

1. Diversity in Programming:

Leo wants to work on providing more diverse programming for Graduate students, particularly family friendly options at a range of locations to ensure accessibility throughout campus, and more sober social programming

2. Increased Communication:

Chiefly working with the School of Graduate Studies, Erlikhman wants to increase communication on a departmental level and within the Vice-Presidential community to provide primers to all incoming graduate students. He seeks to ensure that incoming students have prior access to resources like basic housing and internet, in addition to all necessary orientation materials. As well, Leo wants to develop a graduate-student-specific resource at the Peer Support Centre, and collaborate with their staff to enhance the SGPS’ existing student advisor program.

Q: What’s the biggest issue that SPGS students face that you want to tackle?

LE: The biggest problem that faces graduate students doesn’t really exist. There is no ‘one’ issue, just because of how diverse the group is. The School of Graduate Studies has targeted graduate student engagement and student satisfaction as a priority … so that is definitely something that the executive is going to have to look at pretty quickly. As a team, we will have to look at engaging and increasing the satisfaction, and hopefully, by offering a diverse range of programming, we can improve those services.

Q: Why should students vote for you?

LE: I’m just passionate about improving graduate life at Queen’s. I’m hoping to improve overall campus life through my research and looking at ways that we can make the university experience more inclusive and more diverse. We don’t [want] to have a cookie-cutter experience for everybody, because we have to recognize that as our school grows, our experience needs to grow as well. I hope to be someone who is approachable who will create that experience.

Q: What is the most important thing that you bring to this role that separates you from other candidates?

LE: I have a good working relationship with Craig Draeger [AMS Director of Communications for the 2017-18 term]. I have known him for quite some time, which will really help in building a relationship with the undergraduate student government. Particularly when you see it at Queen’s, graduate students and undergraduate students seem to have a divide, so building a relation and building services that are offered now through the undergraduate experience is something that we’re going need to work with. With the SGPS no longer having a clubs office and being merged with the AMS … we are working on developing those relationships. I think it will be really nice because there is a relationship already there which could lead to quick growth.

Q: What is your favourite study spot on campus?

LE: My office. Because I have an office. So, it’s an uncontested spot, and it’s pretty easy to use … I used to take classrooms in Mac-Corry Hall. I think that’s one of the little tricks that a lot of people don’t take advantage of.

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