At open forum, rector candidate talks support, community, & change

Sam Hiemstra fields questions about representation, mental health

Hiemstra addresses the audience at Saturday night's debate.

Ahead of the election for Queen’s 37th rector, uncontested candidate Sam Hiemstra said he’s shifting the narrative of his campaign.

“Something that I’ve brought to my campaign, and my campaign team can attest to this, is we’ve shifted the narrative from voting me in as the next Rector to finding out what students want from a rector,” he said at the rector open forum on Jan. 25.

An audience of approximately 20 students attended the forum Saturday night, questioning Hiemstra on topics like the climate crisis, town-gown relations, and campus discrimination.

He used his opening remarks to establish the three major “policy pillars” of his campaign: “community for you, support for you, and change for you.”

Under his platform pillar “change for you,” Hiemstra said he plans to change the physical nature of the Rector’s Office, as well as increase open office hours.

“As of right now, and I can say that it speaks to the fact that I’m the only one up here tonight, is that there’s a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes,” he said. “That’s something that we need to bring out.”

When responding to a question about how he’ll accurately represent graduate students, Hiemstra first acknowledged his own position as an undergraduate student.

“As an undergraduate student, it’s very difficult for me to understand the needs and the wants of graduate students,” he said.

Hiemstra said a graduate policy director has helped inform his platform so it encompasses both the undergraduate and graduate student bodies.

In his goal to change student perspectives toward the Rector’s Office, Hiemstra said the position itself didn’t need to change.

“It’s unfortunate to me that as I’ve been campaigning to be the next rector, I am continuously learning more and more about what the rector does,” he said. “It should be more accessible to students. I don’t think that there necessarily needs to be a change in what the rector is currently doing in the position, but I think it should be supplemented with much more active student engagement.”

Under the support pillar of his platform, Hiemstra pledged to advocate for professors being trained in mental health awareness. Considering that the collective agreement between professors and the University prevents faculty from being required to undergo such training, Hiemstra was asked how he would work with the Administration to bring professors forward voluntarily.

“It’s a very difficult set of circumstances the University finds itself in when we’re talking about mental health, because this is something that should be represented in every single policy,” he said.

He added students need to have mental health at the forefront of their Queen’s experience.

“If that means having a conversation with every professor who doesn’t want to do this training, then that’s something that might have to be done,” he said. “Students want this from their professors, they expect it from their professors and faculty.”

Current Rector Alex da Silva asked Hiemstra which issue both keeps him up at night and gets him up in the morning.

“Since I was a young kid, environmental policy has been my big thing,” he said.

Pointing out that the rector position isn’t structured as a team like the AMS or SGPS, da Silva also asked Hiemstra what he’ll do to avoid the negative impacts of the isolation she said comes with the position.

Hiemstra said the individualized structure of the rector position is something he’s already noticed as a candidate.

“It is going to be a very isolating position, but all the ideas that we’re talking about, all the changes that I want to make, are things that bring us together,” he said.

With files from Raechel Huizinga.

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