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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

AS VP Candidates speak at forum for election closing Wednesday evening

Candidates take their seats at the beginning of the forum on Monday, Feb. 25. // Photo by Audra Anderson

By Tris Anderson and Audra Anderson

Nine candidates participated in a forum as part of the current special election for the position of Associated Students VP for Business and Operations. The position was previously held by Genaro Meza-Roa, who was recalled by a majority student vote on Feb. 4.

The candidates are competing to fill the position, which will be eliminated by the end of spring quarter if the new AS Constitution is approved by a student vote. If it is approved, the position’s roles will be redistributed to other students on the AS Board of Directors. Though the term lasts only four months, each candidate said they were dedicated to bringing change at the forum on Monday.

Candidate Eric Baril advocated for finishing the year strong and working toward a better Western that listens to student voices.

“I want to get involved,” Baril said in his opening statement. “I want to help people learn this crazy system as the Associated Students grow and learn along the way.”

Baril said he wants to further engage with students via social media, where the AS can give updates on what they are doing to improve the school.

“I want to make sure that we’re asking questions on what can be improved, and looking at what we already have that’s positive and can go from there,” Baril said.

Many students are unaware of some of the resources on campus that offer free food and clothing to students who are struggling financially, Baril said. He wants to make these services more accessible for students, he said.

Baril said he would like to increase funding for mental health services to allow for the hiring of more healthcare staff. He said he would also ensure that there are more counselors with mixed identities so that marginalized students can seek out a professional who better understands their perspectives.

Baril said he supports the restructuring of the AS Constitution which would remove the position of AS VP for Business and Operations. However, it should not affect the seriousness of the position for the months to come, he said.

“If I am elected, I’m going to give it all the time and attention it deserves,” he said.

Candidate Adam Bullard first mentioned the issue of legitimacy within the AS and assured students that the AS would work hard to address these issues and restructure the student government.

“I am here to represent everyone attending WWU and will fight for what you believe in,” Bullard said in his opening statement.

Bullard emphasized the importance of access to information.

“I’m advocating for the development of an app for students to contact AS officials and view publicly available information such as meeting minutes and AS events,” he said.

Bullard said what is done in the last term is crucial to the success of the AS Board of Directors as a whole.

“I promise to promote a positive attitude through both my words and my actions,” Bullard said. “I know the board is excited at the prospect of a new AS VP who is willing to communicate and I am equally excited to prove myself and make change happen at Western.”

Bullard wants to reach out to activist groups on campus to listen to the changes they would like to see, he said.

Bullard also supports the removal of the AS VP for Business and Operations position, he said.

“It’s just a job title,” Bullard said. “It’s duties can be redistributed after the new constitution. What matters most is how the person in this position behaves and how they contribute to the AS Board of Directors and Western as whole over the next four months.”

Candidate Nate Jo focused on the delegation of the funds generated by the mandatory Student and Activities fee as well as inclusion on campus.

“We have to justify every single dollar that the AS spends,” Jo said in their opening statement. “I believe that we as students deserve joy.”

Jo wants to reach out to the students with budget plans, they said.

“On Fairhaven’s Hall Council — as the VP for hall representation — I worked closely with our budget coordinator to present a simplified form of the budget for students,” they said. “I summarized it and put it on a piece of paper that was visually appealing and posted it in every residence hall stack. I want to do the same thing for the AS.”

Jo also touched on the mental health facilities on campus. They said there is one counselor for every 900 students, and wait times can last months.

“We know that students just aren’t getting the services that they need, and the most troubling part about that to me is that students that need those services the most often face the most barriers for accessing them,” they said.

Jo also addressed the lack of gender neutral bathrooms on campus.

“Replacing family bathrooms with single-occupancy gender neutral bathrooms doesn’t count,” they said. “It further isolates genderqueer people.”  

Jo said they are in support of the restructuring of the constitution, and they want to see more power delegated to the student senate and AS committees.

Candidate Brandon Lane brought three goals to the table: transparency, accessibility and engagement.

“The same small group of people participate in all the elections and club events,” Lane said in his opening statement. “I want to bring more students in. I want the AS Board to work for the student body and not require the students to make the AS work for them.”

Lane said from his experience, communication defines the success of a committee. Coming in and trying to make a dramatic change is unrealistic, he said. This is why he hopes to improve communication and outreach to students, he said.

“The VU really isn’t seen as a place you can just walk into and engage with despite the fact that the AS says you can,” Lane said. “We need to really work on ensuring that everywhere in the VU is a safe and tolerant space, that people really feel like they can be welcomed.”

Lane said the AS VP for Business and Operations position has two facets: the financial side and the operations and management side.

“The most effective changes that students will be able to see — given the short amount of time that we’re unfortunately going to have in this role — are those that revolve around setting norms and building up the future to ensure that things are going to run smoothly.”
Lane wants to make sure that if the AS VP for Business and Operations position goes away, the finances are in good hands with another AS official, he said.

Candidate Kyle McCaffery in his opening statement said he’s excited to work with the AS to continue the momentum they already have.

McCaffery said he wants to lower the cost of tuition, expand facilities, and ensure students of different identities and backgrounds have their own space on campus.

“We as candidates need to make sure we’re listening to the needs of every student in the student body. We’ve got a huge problem with overcrowding in STEM classes, overcrowding in student housing and overcrowding in student spaces,” McCaffery said.

To improve student life, McCaffery said he wants to expand academic facilities to mitigate overcrowding and fit the needs of new students.

McCaffery said he knows he can’t get facilities created in just four months, but he wants to begin the conversation and get it moving forward so that future students will have the facilities they need.

McCaffery ran for AS VP for Academic Affairs last spring, which he said has allowed him to stay in contact with the Board of Directors. He said he looks forward to working with them if elected.

McCaffery said he’s wary of potential restructuring the AS by eliminating the AS VP for Business and Operations position.

“While I recognize the decision to restructure is based off the performance of the last several people, I think the offloading of duties on to existing AS VP’s is a little unfair. They already have a lot of jobs and responsibilities,” McCaffery said.

Candidate Elizabeth Anne Mailo Paulson began by saying she has experienced social injustice and institutional disappointment from Western. Paulson said she is an activist and wants to be elected AS VP for Business and Operations to make changes at Western that she hasn’t seen during her four years.

Paulson also said she wants to make AS a community oriented organization that focuses on the needs of all students.

“I’m an activist,” Paulson said, “and I stand by anyone who needs me to stand by them.”

Paulson said she is often on the wrong end of miscommunication from Western which makes transparency and accessibility important to her.

Paulson opened up the question period by drawing attention to student resources lack of visibility on campus and that campus services are not one size fits all.

“One way to be more transparent is to meet with students and explain campus resources to them,” Paulson said.

Paulson does not want to disrupt the dynamics of the current AS Board of Directors.

“We are very far into the school year,” Paulson said, “this is more of a finishing position. I want to enhance the work that is already being done.”

Paulson said as a sociology major, it’s her job to study systems of power and of government.

“To solve some of the issues I’ve been hearing about AS, I think a restructure is what’s needed. What’s happening now isn’t working,” Paulson said.

Candidate Michael Prostka began by listing four goals he believes are attainable in the four months that he would hold the AS VP for Business and Operations position: terminating the food services contract with Aramark, creating sustainable investing, lowering textbook prices and improving mental health services, particularly for RA’s.

“This is going to be a restructuring period. I’m not going to over promise, but I think I can do all of those,” Prostka said.

Prostka said he would fulfill duties the previous AS VP for Business and Operations failed to, such as attending office hours. Prostka said it’s important for AS to make direct contact with campus clubs.

“I admire all them [AS Board of Directors] and I think they’re doing great work. I’m inspired by what they do,” Prostka said.

Prostka said his plans will improve student life for years to come, like terminating the contract with Aramark.

“If we didn’t have Aramark, if you’re a club or you’re a hall council you could cater and you wouldn’t have to worry about a spending limit,” Prostka said.

Protska supports the potential restructuring of the AS, he said. Prostka said he knows all the board members and has worked on improving the inclusivity and effectiveness of constitutions in his Resident Hall Association position.

“I love the idea of restructuring. I especially support the senate who have hit the ground running. I’d like to see something along the line of shared government. As long as that happens I think that’s totally appropriate,” Protska said.

Candidate Erin Smith said she’s running for office because she was upset by the way Meza-Roa previously handled the position.

“Western is such an incredible place with students who are so accepting and have strong values that were not being up held. Western deserves a Board of Directors who have the same values as the student’s they represent,” Smith said.

Smith said she wants to bring the AS to the students, rather than having the AS expect students to come to them.

“As a theater student, we talk about the feedback loop,” Smith said, “That should be something the AS embraces. It’s the idea of not just putting something out there, but taking in what you hear back.”

Smith said she met with the board to see what they were looking for in an AS VP for Business and Operations.

“The thing that pretty much all of them told me was: they need a team player. Someone they can depend on. I think I’m that person,” Smith said.

Smith said she was hesitant to make promises to students, but she was willing to promise greater student outreach. To achieve greater outreach, Smith proposed “person to person” budget updates, surveys and polls to increase interactivity.

Smith said she supports the potential restructure of the AS.

“I think the VP for this next quarter, their job will be fresh eyes to bring in a new perspective, to make sure things are running smoothly,” she said.

Candidate Skyla Sorenson opened by saying she didn’t originally run for the AS VP for Business and Operations because the AS seemed confusing and daunting.

Sorenson said she’s immersed herself in AS and she is fully qualified to hold the position of AS VP for Business and Operations.

Sorenson wants to increase AS transparency using social media and hopes social media platforms will make it easier for future candidates to run.

“I know that we already have a lot of really good social media pages out there. We need more outreach where students can DM these pages,” Sorenson said.

Sorenson’s plan for working with the Board of Directors is to create an environment that encourages cooperation and isn’t competitive.

“That’s what’s important to me, being able to work in tandem in a communal way that is not competitively driven,” she said.

Sorenson supports the potential restructure of the AS, she said. While the position of AS VP for Business and Operations may be eliminated, she wants to restore prestige to the position.

“My goal as VP for Operations and Business is to pick up the slack from the previous VP and really make sure some dignity was brought back to the position,” Sorenson said.

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