Interview conducted by OPENWIDE Editor-In-Chief, Chris Ling and Western Life Editor, Travis Welowszky. For Kevin Chao’s interview, click here.
OW: So your idea for developing a single, unified public sphere relies on fostering an atmosphere for your constituents to both contest and condone one another’s viewpoints, as you say. Are you concerned that some voices will overpower others?
SS: I think that normalizing discussion will of course be a process where people feel uncomfortable initially voicing their concerns. But I think if we are able to, as I talked about in the debate and in my third platform point, inform people about certain things people might feel less intimidated to broach certain topics. So I think people that are already ‘in the know’ might initially have more voice in these kind of discussions. But if we, as a council, work to inform people about certain topics of discussion, whether they be administrative or at the USC level, then people that might have contesting views that might not have previously been ‘in the know’ might feel more comfortable addressing their concern.
OW: You certainly talked about providing students with greater agency so that they can actively participate in FIMS political life. How do you aim to achieve this specifically?
SS: On my platform I did mention specific things. Including something like a page on our FIMS website where there is casual, anonymous question and answer that students can engage with the FIMSSC with whatever commitment they have to ask questions and hold their council accountable to those questions. And those answers would be published. And I think one of the important things is giving students information that they can use in say something like the senate [meeting]. I used in the debate, the example of [Media Studies PhD. Candidate and FIMS T.A.] Atle Kjosen’s approach to gathering students to come to the student protest. It was informative, one on one interaction that left me with the decision that I had to make: did I want to participate, did I not want to participate?
But I had in that moment agency given to me by an external group that I was not a partof initially, or am still not a part of, but was able to make that decision to go myself. And I think that’s an example of more formal, committal, concrete events we can provide students but then also provide something more laidback online that people can begin to engage with their student government, but not necessarily feel intimidated or necessarily feel obligated to make a certain commitment.
OW: Your second platform point says “publish monthly lists of books, articles, etc.” and it feels like it could be adding a lot of work to certain council member portfolios. So, if you were elected president would this be added or do you think it should already be there?
SS: I think there is a certain level of organic process that would have to go about just sharing the burden throughout council. But I think the information is there, personally amongst student council I think collective people know a lot of [content] but there isn’t necessarily a way to publish that. Even myself in working towards planning this conference* I’ve been able to read a few Naomi Klein books, I’ve been able to read a Jeremy Scahill book. Or Chris Hedges for instance, before he came it would’ve been nice to publish a list of books he’s written and give a little synopsis. And that might be work that’s already done that we can maybe formalize through the Webmaster position.Perhaps it can be the work of Street Team, or just a collective, organic thing council does online.
* [Ed. Note: Schoenhoff is here referring to the FIMS Undergraduate Student Conference ‘System Error’, set for March 1st 2014. Featured speakers include NaomiKlein and FIMS’ own Tim Blackmore and Warren Steele.]
OW: You and Kevin differ on this part of your platform, from what I got from the debate.Now, his focus is a lot more about outreach, community and inner-faculty relationship building, partnerships, and that. But you seem to place a stronger emphasis on the internal workings of council as a unified body. What are the advantages to that?
SS: I think as a student council, as FIMSSC, that before we do something like a promotional venture in the London community we need to explain to students exactly what we already have access to. For instance, you can through OSAP, get a research assistant position with a prof and be paid per semester to make bibliographies as a work study position and engage in that kind of thing. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a prof throughout the past year and it’s such an enriching opportunity that I would like other students to know about and it’s also beneficial to profs who might be overburdened with their workload. And it’s a very equitable way to do that and it’s a good way for students to be paid.
Also, something like the Undergraduate Student Fund (USF) is something that I think FIMSSC should use, instead of collaboration with other student councils on campus. [The upcoming student conference is] funded from the USF, as well as the USC. It is open to collaboration from all students on campus but it’s entirely a FIMS initiative. I don’t think students know that … every year you do pay $50 into the USF. By the time you graduate, it is my goal for you … to have council host $200 worth of events for you, or give you $200 worth of things so that you are actually making use of that money you are already paying for. So yes, while the conference is free it is something you already paid for as a student and deserve. So, I think council should focus on those kind of things first. Even letting people know about MPI, which is a program that is not that difficult to get into. There’s lower enrolment, you stay on main campus, but you do get a practicum experience. So if you are looking to graduate with more experience, MPI is a great internship program and a practicum program where you do a whole credit. So that’s where my focus lies.
OW: On that point, a lot of students I think feel that during first year, there’s not enough information provided to them about MPI and MTP, those streams. [They] don’t have the knowledge to make a really informed decision and make that switch. What would you do to strengthen that?
SS: One way I’ve seen council be instrumental in explaining the FIMS undergrad program is in O-Week, the past couple years that I’ve been on student council, there’s been a rotational period on faculty day where students get to meet council. And one station was set up near academic counseling and it did explain the streams quite well to students, but I think that could further emphasized. Of course after O-Week the Stream Video initiative that Street Team is putting on this year is awesome and there’s going to be an event coming up at Wink’s. It’s going to be an all-ages night where they’re going to have instructors from Fanshawe and professors from MPI come and talk about it, engage with first year students. But also [upper-year] students because you can transfer into MPI after first year as long as you take the required courses.
So I think, first of all, introducing students to events like this that might be a little more informative as programming, we can put on. Also, something like the stream video is a good example of information we can publish that will be more informative for students to have brought to them.
OW: Over the past year, FIMSSC has worked hard to gain a foothold in campus wide student advocacy. How will you use your position to facilitate student advocacy in the future?
SS: That’s a good question. I think that one example that I talked about in the debate that I thought was a great initiative the student council took last year was the $2 student fee-freeze infographic that was sent out to the faculty. And it sort of allowed students to know about something that was happening in the governance of the school that they might want to contest that I think was a great example of how FIMSSC can inform people and give them agency in terms of what they want to advocate for. I also think that we can’t ignore that Western Solidarity Network (WSN) is mostly FIMS students and I would like to meet with people in WSN, and I have meet with people in WSN, to see what they’re planning on doing, how they’re planning on continuing initiatives as people leave the school next year, I know a lot of people are graduating from that group. I think, as much as we can, I’d like to include students on advocacy initiatives that student council would like to take on at the USC level. So try and garner that feedback that’s appropriate for us to be able to make a stance at the USC level. If we want to vote against something in the council chambers, making sure students know what we’re going to vote against and also have that backing from the faculty as well.
OW: The approach you take towards the USC is holding it accountable and critiquing it, while Kevin’s is more forthcoming to its resources in terms of fostering inter-faculty relationships.
SS: I think it’s important that the FIMSSC remains an informed body that can make decisions that might be counter to the status quo within the USC. And I don’t see a problem with that. I think that so long as we are making decisions based on accurate information, based on what we feel our constituents would benefit from most, then I don’t see a problem in being the hand in the small of the back of the USC, so to speak. Making sure they’re being held accountable for the decisions that they’re making.
But of course the USC is also a great resource: it’s where we get our budget from, it’s where we can apply for grants to provide amazing events. The FIMSSC should never try to ruin that relationship, but certainly shouldn’t be afraid to engage in dialogue with the USC to make sure that constituents in FIMS, and also in the broader campus community, are being served adequately by their representatives.