Photo credit: Haley Greene
Over June and July, McMaster Students Union President Ikram Farah, vice president (Administration) Kristina Epifano, vice president (Education) Stephanie Bertolo and vice president (Finance) Scott Robinson finalized their year plans for the Student Representative Assembly, laying out templates for a year of improvements to student life.
As President, Farah is the MSU’s head spokesperson. She oversees the executive board, board of directors and the presidents’ council.
While settling into her new role, over the summer, Ikram presented a comprehensive year plan encompassing a number of objectives. The document outlines 23 objectives, focused on several key areas, including international student support, food on campus, exam scheduling and MSAFs, campus space and lighting and commuter support.
Farah was successful in implementing extended Go Transit hours during Welcome Week. Extended service for the 15A and 47 eastbound Go buses will continue throughout the year.
In September, Farah will turn her attention to increasing lighting on and off campus, as well as supporting the Caring Communities Network.
A tax-free-Tuesday pilot project will be introduced in November, in what will hopefully be a step towards providing more affordable food options for students. The long term feasibility of the program will be assessed after the pilot month ends.
During the rest of the year, Farah will work to change the current examination policy so that two exams in one day will qualify as grounds for rescheduling. Currently, having three consecutive exams over two days is considered a conflict, leaving those with just two exams in one day in a tough position.
Revising the examination scheduling policy falls under Farah’s long term objective called “Re-Examine Exams.” This long term objective also includes re-assessing the gap between the last day of class and the start of exams.
“This will be a year-long priority for me and I will encourage future MSU Presidents to take this on as we have been testing students the same way we have in the past 100 years,” said Farah in her year plan.
Farah’s second long term objective entails strengthening international student support. While working to fulfill this promise, Farah will address transportation, financial accessibility and student services. Ultimately, Farah hopes to build a foundation of strategic priorities and strategic planning in these areas so that practical changes can come in the coming years.
Vice President (Administration)
As the vice president (Administration), Epifano coordinates the administration of MSU services, works alongside SRA members and oversees MSU part time managers.
Epifano’s year plan largely focuses on improving current structures and programs rather than implementing broader changes.
Her objectives, 12 in total, include meeting regularly with SRA caucus members, strengthening SRA support and supporting PTMs.
With many students unaware of the work of the SRA, Epifano also hopes to improve the transparency of this governing body. She will accomplish this is by promoting SRA meeting livestreams and facilitating more effective SRA outreach.
In addition, Epifano sees a need for more transparency.
“The common confusion is, ‘What does student government actually do?’ – these steps will allow us to move forward in answering this question and showing what we do to students,” reads part of her year plan.
Over the summer, Epifano also focused on various aspects of Welcome Week. In particular, she chaired the strategic themes advisory committee and spearheaded themes including responsible drinking, sexual violence response and prevention, mental health and wellness and community engagement. In the fall, Epifano will conduct a review of Welcome Week planners, specifically their compensation and hiring qualifications.
The only long term objective entails improving relationships with vice president (Administration) equivalents from other universities. This initiative will be implemented over three years and aims to establish regular conferences and meetings for these officials.
Vice President (Education)
The vice president (Education) serves as the chair of the academic affairs council and is in charge of academic and lobbying strategies. In her role, Bertolo is responsible for MSU policy regarding municipal, provincial and federal government advocacy.
Bertolo’s year plan highlights 42 general, albeit ambitious, objectives. These address topics such as exam scheduling, quality of education, racial, cultural and religious equity, international student support regarding Ontario Health Insurance Plan and work permits, health and well being, youth employment strategy, sexual violence prevention, education of tenant rights, transit advocacy and food security.
An MSU education team objective established last year, the Pride Crosswalk that can now be found between Sterling Street and Forsyth Avenue, was ultimately the result of a joint effort between the city of Hamilton and councillor Aidan Johnson.
Another objective relevant to off-campus housing students is the launch of the Landlord Rating System in September, a pilot project that will allow students to rate their landlords. This project is building upon previous work facilitated by the municipal affairs committee.
Bertolo is also hoping to increase voter turnout for the upcoming municipal election through the #MacVotes Campaign, which was also in full force for the provincial election in June.
Transit advocacy is another one of Bertolo’s priorities.
“It is important that the MSU continue its strong advocacy in support of the LRT and improvements in transit across the city,” said Bertolo in her year plan.
In addition to attending transit meetings held by various groups, Bertolo hopes to run a #YesLRT campaign in the fall.
The vice president (Finance) is responsible for the financial direction of the MSU, including the budget.
The 26 objectives laid out in Robinson’s year plan focus on priorities including the Student Activity Building, revitalization and development of TwelvEighty and The Grind, graduating student support and the Student Assistance Program.
This summer, Robinson implemented renovations for the TwelvEighty event stage and a menu redesign featuring a wider range of food at the restaurant.
In September, Robinson has promised new programming for Homecoming that better aligns with students’ interests. Robinson also hopes to increase the financial transparency of the MSU, especially regarding the budget.
“Currently, the newly elected SRA approves the $2,900,000+ operating budget at their second meeting in April. Without any financial literacy training, and little provided information about the operations of the MSU, the newly elected SRA is expected to make an informed vote on the fate of this important document. I will make tangible steps to improve this process,” reads part of Robinson’s year plan.
Robinson will also be working with Farah to optimize student space. One specific target is to add moveable furniture to the MUSC atrium.
Another focus for Robinson is supporting graduating students. Specifically, he wants to continue the “Life After Mac” program in January that was implemented by his predecessor last year and continue to grow the Hire McMaster program, which connects new employers with Mac graduates.
Other aim is to increase funding and training for clubs and increase awareness about SAP. Another priority includes investigating the effects of newly-instated OHIP+ on the MSU health plan.
Overall, the year plans feature some objectives that, if accomplished, will result in visible changes for students. Other objectives will support existing frameworks and programs. Last year’s board of directors implemented changes, but were not able to fully execute their year plans. It will be interesting to see what this year’s board prioritizes and is able to accomplish.