Executive candidates face off at SGPS debate

Candidates discuss inflation, livable wages, and events

The candidates answered questions on Zoom.

SGPS executive candidates went head-to-head in a debate on Zoom before polls opened on Feb. 6 and 7.

Each of the candidates running uncontested for the respective positions were given the opportunity to defendand answer questions about their platforms.

In attendance were: Emils Matiss, running to be re-elected to the graduate student senator position; Devin Fowlie for the presidential position; Jordan Balson, one of two candidates for the vice-president (graduate) position; Gabriela Fekete and Matthew Kuciak, who are vying for the vice-president (finances and services) position; and Maya Kawale and Elizabeth Frangos, who are both running for vice-president (professional).

Steacy Coombs, the second candidate for vice-president (graduate), and Tony Hu, the sole candidate for vice-president (campaigns and community affairs), were both unable to attend the debate.

Several candidates stressed inflation as a pressing issue impacting graduate students, and noted they hope to continue advocating for livable wages and financial support for SGPS students.

In his opening statement, Matiss emphasized the need for the University to address inflation issues as they pertain to students in research-based programs.

“The most pressing issue is distress and inflation, and inadequate funding are harming current students and the university's competitiveness to attract future students,” he said.

“This is especially true for research-based programs, where students invaluably contribute to the research productivity of Queen’s, and our effects group [are] paid less than minimum wage for the work.”

When asked how the SGPS budget surplus should be reinvested, Fekete said the SGPS should work to implement a grant program to relieve financial pressures for students experiencing financial duress.

Kuciak answered the same question by saying the surplus presents the perfect opportunity to expand on the financial assistance already offered to students.

Fekete mentioned her goal of advocating for better mental health funding for graduate students in her term, if elected.

Commenting on the current state of mental health resources available to graduate students through their student fees, Fekete noted a lack of confidence in students’ general awareness of existing funding.

She brought up her desire to bring awareness to the available funding for mental health services, and to expand awareness of the EmpowerMe service.

“I will focus my efforts on ensuring students are aware and knowledgeable about the mental health support,” she said.

In answering a question about the proposed end of the graduate tuition freeze, Balson indicated her interest in moving not to reappoint Principal Patrick Deane should he continue to fail to meet graduate student needs.

“What we make is not livable, and we need a non-stagnant, livable wage, not a minimum wage. And if we can’t have a faculty that supports that, we need to lobby for it, and ensure that we don't reappoint people that don't support our student interest,” she said.

Fowlie said that in the event of a tuition increase, the SGPS would look to take a more targeted approach to ensuring resources for graduate students were well-allocated to alleviate any student suffering.

“I think we do have some sort of angle that we can work with in a way that will get us some movement forward,” he said. 

When asked what unique challenges she believes professional students face, Kawale said there are obstacles in forming community within professional programs, and she hopes to address this by having more events for all graduate students across the SGPS.

Frangos also mentioned the need for offering more events to SGPS students. She specifically mentioned the challenges COVID-19 posed to allowing high quality events to run and hopes to offer more avenues for event participation this coming year.

“I'm prioritizing increased digital participatory opportunities, so they can be a part of the governance process when they can't attend live meetings,” she said.

“I would also like to provide adjunctive updates throughout the semester to the professional student community to highlight existing resources [and] upcoming events.”

Balson noted she hopes to increase the overall experience of graduate students by promoting interfaculty events to provide a more well-rounded education beyond one’s thesis. Advocating for a “more comprehensive education” is one of three pillars of her platform.

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