FIMSSC Presidential Interview- Kevin Chao

Kevin Chao for FIMSSC President Poster

Interview conducted by OPENWIDE Editor-In-Chief, Chris Ling and Western Life Editor, Travis Welowszky. For Steph Schoenhoff’s interview, click here.

OW: Kevin, you mentioned in your platform and reiterated in the debate that the stereotypical culture associated with FIMS is a counter-cultural, “fuck-the-system” attitude. Can you elaborate on what concerns you about this position? Do you see this general outlook as being fatalist?

KC: I definitely think that the counter culture attitude is what unites FIMS because that’s what we study in our classes. But I think that if we only emphasize that and never embrace the diversity that our entire faculty brings to the table that we’ll never have an inclusive, tight-knit community that we have the opportunity to have since we are such a small faculty.

I feel that student council can be more representative of what everyone is and what everyone brings to the table. If we are only streamlined into this one viewpoint, then that’s not being critical of ourselves at all. And realistically, not everyone has the same ideological viewpoint. And although it is important to give everyone their voice, it’s important people can speak out against that. And sometimes it’s a little bit intimidating when everyone is fighting for [a singular] cause that not necessarily everyone identifies with.

OW: Where do you think that perception comes from?

KC: Again, I think it’s ingrained within our faculty because it’s what we study. And I don’t think we should get rid of this, I think it’s very important that we remain critical of the community around us, of Western. We also need to remain critical of ourselves and realize that we really need to make sure that there’s more diversity in how we express ourselves as a constituency, as a student council, as a faculty as a whole within the Western community.

OW: Your idea to expand FIMS’ reach to the London community is a fairly large task, I think we can all agree. So what specific steps will you take to implement this?

KC: The first thing we need to have done is [to implement] a new position on [FIMSSC] called the ‘FIMS Hits London Coordinator’, or whatever we decide the team name to be. And we would need somebody that is very creative and has the hands-on skills that would be able to create promotional material for non-profits, charities, co-ops in the London community. But also someone who not only is a student leader who would be able to get people together to actually organize a team well, but also someone who cares a lot about how Western students actually contribute to the community. Preferably, you’d like someone who cares a lot about these initiatives. I’m doing an internship right now in Green Energy London and I did some volunteer work for Salthaven Rehabilitation Centre.

I know that a lot of people do internships through Susan Weekes, a lot of these small groups with really strong causes are desperate for people to just come out and help out with something as simple as making a poster for the next event. Or if someone has web skills, have someone be able to just put their stuff up on a website so anyone who needs their help can find them.

OW: So I guess the second part of that question is how will you reconcile the tensions between the new program that you’re planning to introduce and the existing programs that FIMS provides, in terms of internships and practicum, which are already part of the faculty?

KC: I think that the issues actually go pretty well in hand. Obviously not everyone can do an internship, I’m doing one right now and I’m contributing ten hours of my week to that. It’s a lot of work, and not everyone wants to do that. At the same time, I know there are networks of not-for-profits and charities and co-ops which really can use the help. And not all of them need an intern to try to fill ten hours a week of work for them because not all of them need that much time, they just need one poster every few months. So realistically I think that it actually goes really well together because we’ll be able to help the people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to benefit from an internship but will also be able to find opportunities for the students who don’t necessarily have the time to commit that.

Also, students who might not have those hands-on skills to start off but want to develop those with the team, that would be a great opportunity for people to get involved, learn a lot form each other, and then do stuff as a group as opposed to tasking one individual project on one individual person.

OW: You mentioned in the debate that advocacy had been a big focus of the FIMSSC, perhaps too large. How would you approach advocacy in the upcoming year?

KC: If it came across that I was saying advocacy was too large of a portion of FIMSSC’s initiative, I didn’t mean that. I think that advocacy is very important and we should keep doing that, I just think that we should also focus on the culture of FIMS and the students within out faculty, and how they feel. Advocacy is part of our community and it is something we need to focus on going into the New Year: critiquing the USC, critiquing Western and the London community around us. But I also think that we should be focusing on our culture and community [as FIMS] at the same time.

OW: Much of your platform relies on overcoming a general sense of ‘apathy’ in the FIMS student body. Firstly, where do you think this supposed apathy is coming from and secondly, what do you plan to do to remedy it?

KC: I think this apathy comes from the fact that not all students identify with this faculty or necessarily feel that they belong. In my first year, I remember walking into that lecture hall and having no idea who any of these people were. It was 1500, John Reed,and that was the most intimidated I’ve ever felt at Western. I definitely think that it’s easy for people to lose interest in their faculty culture when, right off the bat, they don’t necessarily feel like they’re being engaged and involved on a social level, even though I enjoy the academics of the class.

OW: I just wonder how that’s different from any other faculty?

KC: I think it starts from the ground up. This idea that yes, it’s important we have this counter-culture attitude, but it’s also very intimidating. I feel like because of that we have to make more of an effort to make people feel included in the beginning or else they take a step back. And one of our very first events, Martini Bar, is a 19+ event that immediately cuts out a quarter of our faculty. The quarter, the first years, who probably [need] the opportunity to meet more students the most. So as for more inclusion, I definitely think it’s very important everyone gets engaged and everyone gets involved earlier on. In my platform I have a lot of different ways to remedy that. First off, more events that more people can go to. For instance, making more events wet/dry. Having even some social events such as nights in the Spoke that is a more casual environment.

OW: I guess the thing is that the council coordinators work really hard to put on events- there were events before Martini Bar. Meet FIMS was in the Spoke. Is your suggestion more events or to alter the ones that already exist?

KC: Either more events or better publicizing of those events and hopefully more than just the one opportunity at the beginning of the year because I know the first couple of weeks are very busy for a lot of people and not everyone has the chance to come out and meet their faculty. Aside from that, I definitely think we can be more inclusive [with] the events we put on. For instance, in deciding the events themselves I think that we really should let students have more say in what events FIMSSC decides to put on. I know that apathy is a big concern. Naomi Klein, even though she’s a great speaker, not a lot of FIMS students spoke out in support or against having her come.

So one of my platform points is having a meeting at the end of this year where any student who cares anything about the events we put on can come and voice their opinion and voice their suggestions of whether what speaker we have, or whether they want more dances or more concerts, more bar nights, more casual social nights; maybe they have new ideas for social events. And then over the course of the summer and the year, FIMSSC would be able to work those ideas out and actually put on more events that people are going to be immediately interested in.

OW: The stance you take on the USC is to work under its existing structure, rather than to hold it accountable as Schoenhoff proposes. What are the benefits of this approach?

KC: Well, I definitely think we should be doing both. I don’t think I would take a softer stance on critiquing the USC than [Schoenhoff] would. I definitely think that’s something that’s part of our root cause as FIMS, to critique our student bodies. At the same time,

I also think we should use the USC as a tool for our advantage because it’s something we pay into, they are our elected officials, and as the student government that represents us, it would be silly to not be both critical and also use the tools which they provide us. Whether that’s protesting something they say or using it as a tool to collaborate with other faculties and reach out to other students as a whole in the Western student body. In fact, I think that sometimes they go together. For instance, using the connections faculty leaders make in the USC to reach out when we’re trying to advocate for a certain critique with what goes on with the slate or with the elected officials. It definitely would make sense for us to use all the elected representatives that we meet to help us advocate for what students really want. We are all elected to represent our students.

OW: Many first year students feel they do not have enough information to make informed decisions about what FIMS stream they would like to continue in. how will you educate new students on the options available to them?

KC: That’s a good question. I suppose the responsibility to inform students about each FIMS stream is on the administration, and if it’s a widespread problem we can lobby for more information sessions. But realistically, we as older students should be doing everything we can to make sure incoming students can have a better idea of what they can expect from our faculty. Having more casual social events and encouraging all students to come out is a must, because that would allow opportunities for first years to connect with upper-year students and learn from their experience – not only regarding which FIMS stream to study in, but in any faculty matter, from course selection to how to get involved. I always appreciated meeting older FIMS students at parties and hearing their suggestions on which classes were the best or what initiatives might be suit my personality, so fostering an inclusive community through casual events is important. An open-door policy and face-to-face interaction is essential to support students looking for advice.

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