Name: Daniel Nicholson
Hometown: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
Program: Neuroscience & Law and Society
Nominated for: President
Relevant experience: Current president of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Society
Dalhousie Gazette: Why do you want to lead the DSU? What made you want to be DSU president?
Daniel Nicholson: After I had given running for president real thought, I started talking to students to find out what the general opinion was. To hear how poor the image of the DSU was from the perspective of a lot of students was something I didn’t personally think was right. I also have a problem with the student body being represented by a small portion of students. We have a student body of 18,000 students, but only 10.8% vote during the elections. You can’t expect the union to do anything to benefit the masses if the masses don’t have their own input, especially during election time.
Once I was privy to the extent of how unhappy students were on campus, that’s what did it for me. To think that it took me three years to realize how bad it was, that’s a problem. If students aren’t taking note of how their voice can make a difference then something’s not right, and somebody needs to step up and make some changes.
DG: What are your plans, if elected?
DN: One of the main things I want to focus on is doing research on the source of the indifference students have for a lot of issues on campus. I want to know how we can get the student body engaged. For years I felt that I was indifferent, but now I ask myself: why are you indifferent? Why are students spending their life at Dalhousie attending classes, going to work and hanging out with friends, and that’s it? There’s a lot more that students can learn outside the classroom. So I think that facilitating this crucial learning experience for students is something that I would like to do.
DG: What is the biggest issue facing Dal students next year?
DN: I would say the biggest issue facing the students is feeling further disconnected from the student union. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to reconnect with students. If we see no changes in the way things are going and we carry on doing things in the same way, student representation would only be worse. The feeling of neglect among students would increase and the negative attitude that they have towards the student union would fester. If students don’t feel connected to the union representing them, there will be even less student pride. Eventually, we’ll get to a point where it’s so bad that groups of students will try to leave the DSU and form their own union to better represent themselves.
DG: Name three things that you would change from how the DSU is currently being run.
DN: I would like to do some research into why some positions are appointed and not elected at the DSU. I was also surprised at the amount of things that need to get done, from pressing issues even down to the small annoyances on campus. I reached out and talked to many different groups on campus to get a sense of what they would like to see changed. There are simple things that we could do to make this campus safer and more inclusive. For instance, many single bathrooms that we now have on campus have the male/female washroom sign. I would implement a universal bathroom policy where the sign on the door is not binary. Doing things like this is within the DSU budget and having universal bathrooms is an issue that has been around for two years now and is being pushed this year, as well.
I think that making little changes is where we need to start, because that is how the students feel that they are part of the union. Although I see policy change as a necessity, the smaller things that students see in their day to day life ultimately, in my opinion, will change the quality of their experience at Dalhousie.
The underrepresentation of Dalhousie students on the Sexton, Carleton, Yarmouth, and Truro campuses is also something that I would like to change. Apparently, the presence of the DSU is unknown on the Sexton campus. I believe that’s an issue because if the students don’t know the DSU executives representing them, how are they supposed to know that they are being taken care of?
There are many problems on the Sexton campus that need to be addressed. For instance, there is a great need for study space for students. Students have also complained about mouse problems. I also noticed that there is only one small Tim Horton’s, and at lunchtime large numbers of students stand in line for what I believe is too long just to get some coffee. I think that is very inefficient and unfair for students on Sexton campus when students on Studley campus have three places where they could get coffee.
I would also like to start a conversation for introducing a new Tiger Patrol van. Maybe during peak travel season, we could offer students from the Halifax campuses rides to the bus stop downtown. From there, they can go on a Halifax Transit bus to the airport, instead of taking a cab or lugging their luggage to the bus stop.
I have a ton of these little fixes that would give students a sense of being taken care of.
DG: What are your plans to review internal governance?
DN: Right now, there’s a lot of buzz around insider vs. outsider influence within the DSU. Personally, I think that it creates problems when there are members of the union who are part of the same group of students and are hiring students coming out of that same group. If this continues, after a while the DSU as a whole will become more representative of that group of students, as opposed to having a variety of students who can represent the diverse student body at Dalhousie.
As an outsider, I bring a fresh perspective to the way the DSU looks at issues and deals with any concerns or questions raised in any of the DSU meetings. If we can shake things up internally then we will have a real chance of changing who the union represents. We will be able to change it from “the” student union to “our” student union, collectively.
DG: What do you think of DSU council’s recent decision to disaffiliate from Students Nova Scotia?
DN: I think we are now in a tough spot where we are left without any outside representation. Dalhousie is a huge institute. We have a lot of reach and a lot of power but I think that there’s something to be said about letting an external group handle something that they are designed to do. I’m not saying that Dalhousie can’t handle its own advocacy, but there’s merit to being part of a collaboration that had a number of universities that are all geared towards one main direction. I think there is power in numbers. As to the validity of the claims being made to the on-goings within SNS, I don’t know if they are true or not. I can only go on based on what I was told and what we’ve been allowed to see. And it’s tough to make a decision just based on that information.
We were part of SNS, but the DSU was calling to take our funds out of SNS without giving us enough information. I’m going to question this decision, especially if the executives of the union are voted in by a small percentage of the student body, and because I’m not one to follow blindly and take recommendations based on partial information.
DG: How can you make the DSU’s work more visible?
DN: I think that starts with making the information that’s coming out of the DSU more accessible. When the DSU is putting out meeting minutes and updates, they seem to be very long documents riddled with jargon that the average student doesn’t want to sift through.
Sure, there’s the small population that’s interested in the politics of the union and is willing to put in the work required to read these documents and formulate an opinion, but I think breaking it down to digestible chunks would make it easier for students to be involved.
We can also increase the amount of platforms where students can voice their opinions. For instance, not all students can make a meeting in the middle of the evening. So there needs to be other ways in which students can voice their opinions other than writing out a wordy email. I think there are definitely easier ways to implement in order to make sure that we are listening to a wider range of students than we are now.
I’m also considering implementing something like biweekly or weekly short video updates, one or two minutes, where I would update students on what I’ve been up to and the initiatives I’m working on and how I’m working on them.
There are so many students who can be involved but are not utilized, and I think the number of students that we have is a great resource. As a student at Dalhousie for the last four years, I wish I had that information. I wish that I would have been able to see a little update.
So I want to make it easy for students to get updated about what the DSU are doing, the difficulties we are facing and I want to ask for their opinion on how to improve and do things more efficiently.
DG: Some professional and graduate students have announced their desire to disaffiliate from the DSU. What do you think about this?
DN: I think that this is happening because these students don’t feel that they are represented by the student union. It is an issue that we need to address immediately. And the only way that we will be able to address this issue is if students say something and get upset enough to call for change and do something real about it.
I don’t think it’s hard to voice your concerns. Go out to a debate and ask a question. If you see a candidate, talk to them. I’m going to be all over campus for the next ten days and I will be talking to as many students as I possibly can. Ask me a question, talk to me, then make an informed decision and have your voice heard. But representation shouldn’t be limited to election week only. I understand that being the DSU president is a full time job, but part of that job is being there for every single student who needs representation.
I think there needs to be an open door policy where members of the DSU make themselves available to hear students’ concerns. I realize that there are a lot of things that need to get done by members of the student union, but talking to students and making sure that they feel supported needs to be a priority.
DG: How do you think Ramz Aziz, current DSU president, performed this year?
DN: Ramz is very approachable. He doesn’t come across as aggressive when you talk to him one-on-one. In my experience, he gets really excited when you talk to him about the initiatives he’s advocating for. That type of energy is something important for a president to have because a president needs to instill the same kind of energy and passion in the student body.
There was a lot of negativity in the media surrounding Ramz’ performance and I don’t think that’s an accurate portrayal of how he performed as president. If I were to use a word to describe Ramz, I would say he is a workhorse. He works incredibly hard behind closed doors, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of students don’t see that, and that’s something that I want to work on changing. I want students to be able to see what I’m doing so that maybe that might reduce the level of negativity, and I think at the same time it might increase the accountability.
So I think it’s tough to say if Ramz did a good job or a bad job. He pushed through a lot of things and got a lot of things done as Vice President (Internal) and as President. So if I were to judge based on the new things he brought, I think he did a great job. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no progress to make. I think that I can take it further and that’s what I’m really excited for. I hope that I can convey my excitement to people as I campaign this week and get the students to call for some real change.
DG: If you could travel in a time machine and go anywhere, where and when would you travel to?
DN: If I could travel to the early nineties and be the same age that I am now, I think I would fully understand the music scene, for instance. A lot of my friends were born in the eighties and they rave about the music scene and I’d be like, yeah, I can listen to the music. But I can’t experience it the way I’m experiencing new music now, as the whole population listens to it for the first time. I think that brings another level of excitement. I would travel to the early nineties, probably, for the music and the movies.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Update, 03/16/2015, 10 p.m.: This interview was updated to include a question that was omitted from the first published draft.