From January to February every year, student unions and associations are bustling with energy, noise, and anticipation of who will become their next executives. But election campaigning took a dramatic turn this year, shifting from in-person campaigns that filled the halls with posters, eager candidates and volunteers, to virtual social media campaigns. Given this new reality, how will students engage with candidates, what should they look for, and why should they even pay attention?
This election is more critical than ever before. With high hopes of COVID-19 vaccines and a return to “normal,” student unions and associations will be tasked with working with their universities to respond to government updates and the potential to return to campus. They may also find themselves pivoting at a moment’s notice as public safety initiatives require completely online learning models, and to be ready to deliver mental health resources and other supports to keep students safe and engaged.
With so much on the line, what should you look for in a candidate to lead us through these uncertain times and respond to the heightened needs of students? Your interests in each candidates’ platform points are yours only, but here are a few key qualities to look for:
- A sincere commitment to putting students first
- Ambition to work hours when necessary
- A clear vision for the year ahead, understanding that so much can change at a moment’s notice
As with all political campaigns, voters are looking for a candidate who will put the interests of their constituents, in this case the student body, first at all costs. This looks like someone whose inbox is open to hearing students’ concerns, questions, and rants about how frustrated they are with the barriers and challenges they face as a student. Importantly, they’re willing to act on these concerns and make sure every student knows that their voice has been heard. In the search for a candidate who will put students first, consider their extracurricular involvement, including their volunteer experience, involvement in clubs, the student union or association, and more. Candidates that have been highly involved in student life have demonstrated they have the experience and expertise to make a difference on issues that students are concerned or passionate about. In the online environment, you can get a sense of how committed your candidates are to putting students first by attending and engaging in online debates, Q&As, town halls, and other spaces where you can directly engage with them.
Consider asking your candidates the following: “How do you plan to put students first, and make sure that we feel heard and acknowledged?”
This year was challenging for all student unions and associations, and there is no doubt that next year will be just as time-consuming and unpredictable. In order to deliver on platform points, respond to the government’s new announcements, and work towards creating an engaging, meaningful and safe learning experience for students, the candidate you vote for should demonstrate willingness, and ambition, to put in long hours as necessary. Most of these positions are salaried, so candidates are aware that they can flex their time and put in the work when students need it most.
Consider asking your candidates the following:, “How do you plan to manage your time and respond to government changes as a result of COVID-19 if elected? Are you willing to work long hours when needed?”
The third, but certainly not least important characteristic you should consider in a candidate is the clarity of their vision for their term as an executive. When campaigning begins, candidates will share their platform points on their social media pages and websites, where you will be able to analyze how well thought out their goals and plans are. Do you easily understand their plan and think that it is achievable? Have they indicated how they plan to respond to challenges presented by COVID-19? If you’re unclear about a candidate’s platform based on what you read, bring your questions to an online debate, Instagram live or send them an email to find out more. This might be the most important student election you vote for in your time at post-secondary, so understanding who and what you are voting for is critical.
In the midst of this hectic election season, why does your vote matter anyway? Wouldn’t it be easier to ignore all these posts and wait for it to be over?
Staying up-to-date, asking questions and getting involved in the elections may take time and energy but it is worth it, and it is critical. Student union and association executives can advance policies that will address your challenges and have impacts for years to come, or stall. For example, it was the result of the tireless advocacy of student union and associations that led to the provincial government’s proposed amendments to Ontario Regulation 131/16 which will make post-secondary sexual violence policies more trauma-informed, survivor-centric, and evidence-based. Student unions and associations were also pivotal in the moratorium on OSAP loans for six months in the Spring of 2020, billions of dollars in investments for mental health supports, and countless other wins on individual university campuses.
In order to maintain this momentum in the fight for students, and to continue to see improvements to online and in-person learning models, we need committed, ambitious and dedicated student union and association executives to lead the way.
Here’s what you can do right now to be prepared for this election:
- Go to your student union’s website, find your election date and how to vote, and set a reminder in your phone to vote on your election day.
- Find your candidates on your student union or association website, and check out their social media platforms.
- Share your newfound information with your friends, and send them a reminder to vote!
- Attend virtual debate and/or other opportunities to hear them speak live.
Happy election season, folks!