Undergraduate trustee candidates' Q&A

Four candidates vying for position talk issues

Shoshannah Dwara.
Evan Zucker
Aidan Turnbull.
Supplied by Aidan Turnbull
Michael Fraser.
Supplied by Michael Fraser
Michael Zhang.
Supplied by Michael Zhang

This year, four candidates are vying for the position of undergraduate student trustee. The candidates are Aidan Turnbull, Comp ’21, Shoshanna Bennett Dwara, ArtSci ’21, Michael Zhang, ArtSci ’21, and Michael Fraser, ArtSci ‘21. The Journal spoke with each of the candidates about their platforms.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Why do you want to be the next undergraduate trustee?

Turnbull: The undergraduate trustee is a phenomenal position. It has the ability to make some good change for this University, not just this year or next year, but for the next decade or so. I've been a member of the Queen's community in the roundabout way my entire life. I'm from Kingston. The reputation of the school is very near and dear to my heart. I just want to do my part as a student in whatever way I can to improve relations.

Bennett-Dwara:  I do think there is a lack of diverse amount of voices that's present on the Board of Trustees right now. I think a lot of the decisions being made aren't able to reflect the concerns and the needs of those from different communities. As a woman of color and a woman in STEM, I really do think I can bring a different voice to the Board. I can connect those that are making those rather large decisions at Queen's to communities.

Zhang: To represent the entire undergraduate community, there needs to be a new perspective. With the recent events concerning the previous trustee and the coronavirus party is evidence that in order to facilitate creativity and the equality among all Queen students, regardless of race, gender, or wage, there must be someone who's willing to run a program regardless of any of this. And that's what I believe I'll bring to the table.

Fraser: I'd like to be the next undergraduate trustee because since being at Queen's, I've wanted to continuously get involved in campus affairs, campus life, advocacy, etc. But I wasn't able to find a way that I could make a difference for more than one group by truly staying non-partisan. With the recent events that have happened this year and seeing the vacancy in the trustee position, I feel like I can make an adequate change and work hard for all undergraduate students to be a voice in a way I've always wanted to.


What’s one thing you would change in the role should you be elected?


Turnbull: Well, I don't know if I have a magic wand. I know I'm just one number out of the 20 or so trustees; however, one thing I definitely believe needs to be addressed at Queen's is the mental health resource wait times. I know a lot of students use Student Wellness Services and a lot of students want to have access to these things. But one massive complaint I have observed through Overheard [at Queen’s] online and just in person is these wait times are sometimes many months before people get proper treatment or even have the ability to chat with any sort of professional. I really think a big thing Queen’s should do is try and cut back on those wait times if that means having more staff [or] referring to outside sources. I'm totally open. Once again, I know I can't just show up on day one [and] say this what we're going to do, but that is something I'd like to change for the better. I believe the Board of Trustees has the power to make that change.

Bennett-Dwara: One of the bigger issues is, like I said before, that previous individuals [who] have been granted the position of the role of undergraduate trustee just don't have the experiences on Queen's campus to touch on the different topics that are really, really important among the communities that are often disregarded, or unheard. Through my background and through my connections with those communities at Queen's, the one thing I would change about that role is being able to bring those opinions up and voice those concerns that are really, really ignored a lot of the time.

Zhang: One thing I would change in the role will be to bring further access to the trustees. Many students don't understand what the trustee does at the Board, despite the fact that the Board is a monumental part of what makes Queen’s experiences vital for the students. I would foster open connection between the Board and the students of Queen’s, and make sure that any point of view they want heard will be heard via either email or in-person office hours, along with creating a summary document of each trustee meeting.

Fraser: One thing I would change in the undergraduate trustee role is to be more open about what it does [and] help students get more engaged in the affairs of the undergraduate trustee. At the end of the day, they're a voice for students, and if students aren't actively knowing what's going on with the Board, if they're not consistently engaged with the representative in that role, then the representative can't do their job properly and they can't speak for students. I think one thing I would really change is making sure that there's a constant flow of communication.


What are some of the student concerns you want to communicate to the Board of Trustees and how will you effectively do so?


Turnbull: Well like I said, the mental health resources wait times are a massive concern. Other concerns that we see on campus, particularly are the bylaw that was recently implemented, the nuisance bylaw. I know that, especially with the recent events happening with the St. Patrick's Day party amidst the coronavirus, has probably inflicted some strain on the City and the University's relationship. And, as I said, being from the Kingston community [for] the majority of my life, I remember what it was like to just see Homecoming shut down for all those students after burning cars, throwing them. I just want to make sure as a student trustee, I believe in the very level-headed and reasonable voice. I would like to be a nice liaison between student voices because I do think, for example, on St. Patrick's Day, that 99 per cent of the students didn't participate. Yet the global headline, the students didn't cooperate. And I think that is a bit of a miscommunication between what the actual students represent and how [they’re] perceived. But honestly, I don't have too much of a preconceived agenda. I do really want to fix the mental health wait times.

Bennett-Dwara: There’s a huge cultural insensitivity on Queen's campus, especially among undergraduate communities. I think a lot of people, because of the communities they come from, because of their background, because of their educational [and] cultural upbringing, they are unaware of the fact that a lot of the things going on at Queen's may affect other groups differently than it affects them. I think that being able to speak on the experience, I've had at Queen’s and speak on the voices and concerns of other people at Queen's, I really can raise those concerns to the Board of Trustees that other people wouldn't necessarily be able to.

Zhang: From what I hear not only on Overheard, but the general Queen’s community, mental health is a huge concern for many. I heard stories of some students waiting up to three weeks and not receiving an appointment because the health department at Queen's is too overwhelmed. The Board controls the financial aspects of the University. I think that I would bring the issue to light and argue for bringing more counselors into the program to make sure anyone who requires mental health aid can do so. My second priority as trustee would be regarding the issue of racism and inequality on campus. The coronavirus [caused] difficulties for many Chinese international students.

Fraser: The undergraduate trustee is a voice. It's not about what I would put forward personally, it's about what I think students want to put forward. This year has been a huge year on campus for advocacy of different kinds. We have the Wet’suwet’en walkout, which was huge. We had the divestment campaigns with fossil fuels, which was huge. Then there were also different issues on campus. At the beginning of the year, there was the horrific events that took place in Chown Hall. I think what I would bring to the Board is not so much an individual issue. I think that students just want to be shown by the Board that they’re being heard, that their voices are getting through, and that the University is listening.


What are the pillars of your platforms?


Turnbull: I feel like I’m a broken record. My biggest concerns are the wait times. I don’t really have a true platform per se.

Bennett-Dwara: My first pillar is to increase the engagement and accessibility to boardroom discussions. I plan to do that through on-campus office hours, direct interaction with the Board of Trustees and trustee meeting summaries. My second pillar is to enhance representation and diversity on the Board of Trustees. I plan to do that through different student body seminars and workshops. I also really want to get involved with co-sponsoring different student organizations to increase my connections with different groups on campus.

Zhang: Of course, foster accessibility and the transparency to Queen’s community, prioritize mental health, and increase access to services for those need, further disinvestment from fossil fuels based on what the community desires, and I think my fourth and the final point [is to] make sure I'm constantly available for whenever students want to come forward to me.

Fraser: My platform relies on three pillars and that's transparency, accessibility, and integrity.


There are three other people running for this position. What do you believe you will bring to the table that no one else can?


Turnbull: Well, I’ve been here a very, very long time. It’s an interesting question. I really don’t know these other candidates as well. I don't really want to speak towards what they bring to the table. All I know is from myself, I'm a computer student. I'm a biology student. I want to help bring a scientific approach to everything. I don't want to be a reactionary. I can only speak for myself. I have a background in science. I have a background as a Kingstonian, and I love the University and I believe in [being a] level-headed person. I can shoot down the middle; I want to be able to just make the best decisions.

Bennett-Dwara: In doing research on the other people running and the people that have run previously, like within the last four or five years, like I said, there really is a huge lack of representation and diversity on the Board of Trustees. I mean, it's kind of ridiculous. There really is no one to advocate and to represent the marginalized communities at Queens, and they deserve to have their opinions and concerns voiced just as much as the majority of the undergraduate community. But at the moment, there's no one to really bring those concerns up and there's no one who has experience being from one of those communities to personally speak on those opinions. I really think that in running for undergraduate trustee this year, I do think I can bring those opinions, those voices, and those concerns to the Board, more than anyone else can do currently or have previously done in the past.

Zhang: I believe I can bring an experience none of the other candidates can bring because I've seen firsthand how frustrated many of my classmates were when they couldn't have their views heard. I would ensure that as trustee, regardless of any other factor, I would foremost bring the concerns of the undergraduate community to the Board.

Fraser: As a student who faces serious financial difficulty myself, I can understand what's that’s like, and so I think the one thing I can bring to the table is being a voice. I don't want to have my own personal voice heard. I want to allow this office and my candidacy and potential role, should I be elected, as a place where students can come to me through an open-door policy, and know that whatever they say to me will get passed on, will get brought up, whether it changes the agenda or not.


What relevant experience do you have at Queen’s that will prepare you for this role?


Turnbull: I've been a member of the Queen's Ski and Snowboard club executive. Throughout my time, I've learned to help with logistical planning because we operate three trips a year. I've also had to deal with client relations, making sure that everyone has their ducks in a row. I'm pretty good at organizing things, and this upcoming semester, I will be the acting president of the Queen's Ski and Snowboard club. In addition, I've been a member of computing in the QMIND section. And for a long time, I really focused on positions of leadership to see you know how to build myself as a leader, get some experience on my resume, per se. But this past year, I was just a member of the team. I actively did not want to be a leader, and that's there because I felt that was a little bit in over my head, and by being by a member of the team, I was able to kind of experience it from a different perspective. My whole life, I've very much been trying to be at the top of the organizational food chain per se.

Bennett-Dwara: I am currently on Queen’s Student Diversity Project, which is a great initiative looking at people from different marginalized communities [and] from the LGBTQ+ sector. And in my role there was this last year, I was faculty initiatives coordinator, but this year, I'm moving in as vice-president. I really think that leadership role will not only give me the ability to gain access to the different communities at Queen’s and gain more access to their opinions and their concerns that I can bring to the Board, but I really do think that my new position as vice-president will enhance the leadership skills I’ve begun to hone at Queen’s. I'm also the chief of sponsorship at the Queen’s Black Medical Association, so again, that's just going to allow me to bring different concerns, more varying concerns, back to the Board of Trustees.

Zhang: I am co-president of [the Queen’s Creative Writing] club that has a moderate to high-end viewer base. I manage everything from finances to meetings to scheduling events and along with taking a leading role in the Queen's Speechmasters club, which [is] open communication, of course, this is quite relevant to the entire basis. But I believe that, regardless of experience, anyone can become a good trustee as long as they remain open and able to change to what the ongoing community demands.

Fraser: I was a Gael, I mentioned, consistently doing charity fundraisers and fundraising on campus. I was an advocate with Model UN [and] QIAA [Queen’s International Affairs Association], which means that I was also on the core executive. My main thing this year, beside the wellbeing in the ranking of the Model UN team, was to push financial accessibility and fighting the elitism that surrounds that within certain organizations.


Considering the controversy surrounding the previous trustee’s social behavior and subsequent recognition, how do you plan to represent a diverse range of student needs and voices should you be elected?


Turnbull: Well, I want to keep myself out of trouble. To be honest, I believe that Tyler was very much caught in a bad, quick judgement decision. I don’t believe him to be a bad person. I think the best way to represent the community is to always put the undergraduate students first. You don't want to maybe favor or not favor a certain demographic of students. You don't want to alienate anyone; you don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. So if I was trustee, I’d try and keep everything as for the undergraduate students as possible, keep things more in student role than any sort of any sort of agenda for any one demographic. But on top of that, I mean, in the case of what happened with Tyler, I would give my word that I just could not get myself caught up in these types of controversies, or try and do something that might be perceived as inappropriate. I mean, parties happen. I do my best to avoid issues. I don't want to be perceived as supporting anything that I don't want. I don't want to say I don't go out to parties, but you know, there is a judgment decision there. I would like to say that I’d make the right choice.

Bennett-Dwara: In being on different extracurricular communities, I've already had that experience to be sensitive to people coming from different groups at Queen’s. I really do think my experience that I've had from those roles will really enable me to hear and target different communities so their voices can be brought up and heard. Once again, on the Board of Trustees. I think that, like I said, having the powers hovering general body meetings, what I plan to do with those is to have general body meetings. And to very rarely have to have these general body meetings, general body student body meetings, I want to kind of target each meeting to different community at Queen's, especially the ones that I'm not personally a part of, and I can't use my own experience to speak on. For example, having meetings that directly look at women in STEM, having meetings that look at individuals in commerce, engineering, and women in engineering, having different meetings that are targeted to the LGBTQ+ community. I think that having those different kind of specific focuses will really enable me to hear the different concerns of each group, especially the ones that I'm not a part of, personally.

Zhang: I vow to bring a non-biased view to whatever concerns that [minority students] need raised. Of course, regarding groups like lower-income students, students of color, and those other marginalized groups in the queer community, I will be the voice for all. As a minority member myself, I've also faced discrimination.

Fraser: Integrity is something that I think is huge. It's the one point that I, as an individual, would bring to this position. The other two are how I would interact with the Board, how I would interact within the confines of the actual job description. Integrity is something that I want to bring, especially with what's happened in the past, and really shine a light on what the position should be going forward. You know, being a person who understands that every single action I might take, every word that comes out of my mouth, every decision that I decide to influence or fight on the Board is reflective of the students that would potentially vote me into the position.


What is your message to voters?


Turnbull: [I’m] a trustee you can trust. The trustee position to me is not really a position of governance. I've kind of mentioned it, but I believe it's a real judicial role. It really is fluid, and it really depends on what the challenges of the day present. We didn't foresee the challenges that COVID-19 [is] going to bring. Nowadays, they're the most important issue this year. To me as a trustee, I don't want to be tied into one box and I just want the voters to know that no matter what comes our way as a University, I will always act in the undergraduates’ best interest.

Bennett-Dwara: My message to all the voters is definitely go vote. It's really easy, just through your Queen’s email. You don't have to go to a personal booth or anything like that. I really do think that I can bring something to the Board that has really never been seen before and never been touched on. I think that a lot of decisions currently being made at Queen's by the people on the Board of Trustees, and due to the lack of representation on that Board, it really just does not reflect the concerns we have from those marginalized communities. And that really does need to be changed because Queen’s, every year, is becoming more of a diverse community.

Zhang: I will be your voice. As long as you vote for me, I vow I will be your voice. I will communicate anything you have of concern to the Board. Since the trustee is the only undergraduate member on the Board, regardless of anything else, I promise I will always be there to foster a link between the Board and the students.

Fraser: My message to voters is to go out and vote. It's fairly simple. At the end of the day, there's a lot going on in our world right now, whether that's campus life, Canadian life, or international life. We have issues with COVID-19, which has absolute strain on people's ability to get home or people needing to get home right now. Schoolwork is hectic, and it's fairly easy to detach from what's going on, on campus, and I'd say just remember that the decisions they make, whether they vote or not, or who they vote for, will affect and will reflect on the way the Board makes decisions in the future over the next year.

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