Undergraduate Trustee Debate: Sharma & Shelvachandren discuss vision for future

Candidates address COVID-19 response, EDII action plans, and student engagement

The debate was held Wednesday night over Zoom.
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Jaya Sharma, BHSc ’24, and Seyon Shelvachandren, Nurs ’24, discussed their platforms at the Undergraduate Trustee debate Wednesday night over Zoom. 

Each candidate had three minutes to make their opening statement. During the question portion of the debate, candidates were provided a set time to answer three predetermined questions from the AMS, followed by three prepared audience questions. 

Shelvachandren’s opening remarks included his platform pillars: mental health; academics and affordability; health and safety; student life; diversity; inclusion; sustainability; and transparency. 

“[These] are all feasible, possible, within reach and done by other universities, which I think Queen’s University should implement,” Shelvachandren said about his pillars.

Sharma’s key platform points included continued learning, accessibility, and representation and engagement, with a goal to meet with experienced student leaders and activists to develop specific action plans. 

She also stated a commitment to address student issues including systemic racism, sexual violence, lack of financial and social support for international students, and the inaccessibility of mental health services. 

“Throughout my campaign I've emphasized […] how much I value student perspective,” Sharma said. “If more students are aware of the work that is being done, they may feel less frustration with our government and more inspired to work with us and share their voice.”

Student Representation 

When asked how to ensure equal representation and empowerment of diverse student needs and concerns, Shelvachandren recognized the challenge of representing the student population over the course of the two-year term. 

He proposed the appointment of the first Undergraduate Trustee Council, consisting of students from diverse backgrounds, that would present the Board with the information collected every four months. 

“You want to make people know you're genuine. You want to let them know that their actual voice is being heard and their real time concern, it's going to go to the Board within next few months,” Shelvachandren said. 

Sharma said she’s committed to accessibility, keeping students up to date on the work of the Board by posting updates and monthly progress on digital platforms, and hosting open question and answer sessions. 

Sharma addressed conversations with international students regarding financial and social supports, the lack of student services on campus, and stigma around elevated international tuition. 

“I’m going to make sure I’m incorporating all of these different viewpoints within each action I take so I'll never make any of these decisions by myself—it'll be shaped by a wide variety of perspectives from our community,” Sharma said. 

Subcommittees

Regarding the requirement of Undergraduate Trustees to participate in subcommittee discussions on the Board, Shelvachandren said he’d ask questions to learn about the decisions of previous Trustees and self-educate before voting on current decisions. 

“I think it's important not to have pride, and acknowledge that at the end of day, you are students in a room with […] experts in their fields who've been at this for decades,” Shelvachandren said. 

Sharma proposed meeting with past student administrators to learn negotiation and presentation strategy, as well as looking at past decision-making practices. 

“One thing I really emphasize through my ‘continued learning’ platform pillar is that the Undergraduate Trustee can't be afraid of hard work, you have to stay up to date with the decisions, and you have to stay informed,” Sharma said. 

The Queen’s Experience 

When asked to recollect a favourite memory at Queen’s and how it helped shape their undergraduate career while pursuing leadership roles on campus, both candidates acknowledged the impact of remote learning on the university experience. 

Shelvachandren explained how nursing orientation leaders maintained engagement and mentorship through an adapted Orientation Week, and how these leadership qualities can apply to his position as Undergraduate Trustee. 

Sharma cited her experience as First-Year Intern to the AMS President as sparking her interest in student advocacy. She emphasized the importance of student engagement with government to increase the validity of social movements.

“I think this AMS position has really kind of defined where I'm going to go with my undergraduate career, because I've realized that there are so many issues facing students at Queen’s.”

COVID-19 Response by the University 

Addressing the strengths and weaknesses in the COVID-19 response by the University, Sharma detailed a lack of streamlined communication as the University’s greatest weakness. 

Sharma said there wasn’t enough guidance provided to international students. 

“I recognize this pandemic you can't really take as many corrective measures, but right now we can follow the public health guidelines and ensure we’re making the right decisions as to when to reopen and when it's safe,” Sharma said. 

Sharma said the University has been following public health guidelines and cracking down on students not following policy, but consistent and clear communication is required. 

“We have to consider engagement and mental health, also equity of education [for] a hybrid format next year [to] ensure there's adequate supports available both in person and online, so students don't feel their education is going to suffer if they may not have the financial stability to come back, or if they're in a different country, or out of the province.”

Regarding poor student engagement during the pandemic, Sharma proposed outreach to clubs and student groups for events and recruitment and conversations around job creation. 

Shelvachandren praised the University’s productivity and rapid decision-making regarding lockdown and social distancing precautions but cautioned around the consequences of fast-paced decisions. 

“I think the University needs to weigh the consequences and weigh the practicality of decisions before they implement them, and if they do make the decisions need to follow up on how they can make sure the decisions made are being executed correctly.” 

Potential of Undergraduate Trustee

When asked about the excitement about the potential of the Undergraduate Trustee position, Sharma explained that a growing discontent with inaction at Queen’s had influenced her campaign.

“For me, the thing that was most exciting about being Undergraduate Trustee is that I could finally depend on my own personal work ethic to actually get things done,” Sharma said. 

Shelvachandren expressed excitement for the two-year term of the position, saying there’s potential to implement initiatives that would benefit the student body for years to come. 

“[The Trustee] can be that bridge between the board, the AMS, as well as the student population. I think there's a lot of potential to do a lot of good with this position because the nature of it just allows you to be versatile,” Shelvachandren said.

EDII 

Addressing how to prioritize the lived experiences of others, navigate space, and amplify the voices of marginalized populations, Sharma proposed reaching out to student advocacy groups to get a comprehensive view of various issues and concerns. 

For Sharma, this included addressing systemic racism through recruitment policies, holding Queen’s accountable for pledges of change, implementing University-wide training in consent, and emphasizing the lived experiences of students. 

Sharma said she would reach out to clubs for mental health campaigns, work with the incoming AMS executive team, listen to experiences of LGBTQIA2S+ and international students, and determine whether current supports meet individual needs.

Shelvachandren said all students have the opportunity to engage with his position as Trustee, communicating personal experiences and expressing need for changes. 

“It's not about hiring based off merit or our previous work experience, it's about hiring based off people's lived experience, people's individuality,” Shelvachandren said. “There's no particular requirement to be a part of this, to come up to show up and show your voice.”

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