DSU Presidential candidate: Aisha Abawajy

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and formatted for style and clarity.  

The Dalhousie Gazette sent a similar questionnaire to each candidate in the 2019 Dalhousie Student Union election.

Name: Aisha Abawajy
Running for:
 DSU President
Pronouns: She/Her
Program and Year: Applied Computer Science Major, Political Science Minor, fourth year

Why are you running for this position?

Basically, I see a fundamental disconnect between students and the people in power who are supposed to serve them. I think this holds true both between the DSU and its constituents, as well as between students and the administrators.

I’ve been involved in the margins of university governance for years, whether as an O-Week leader or as Night Manager. As such, I see the students who slide through the cracks, like Sexton students and International students. I also understand how to navigate university governance to effectively and quickly meet currently unmet needs.

What do you admire about the current DSU executives?

I really admire President [Aaron] Prosper’s commitment to listening to students, such as through his student survey or his 50 days of listening campaign. Vice-president [Masuma] Khan has made this campus a better place through advocacy – I’m thinking specifically of the free menstrual products campaign she led. Vice-president [Chantal] Khoury is making an unprecedented effort to get students involved in the budget-making process, which I really admire and want to emulate.

What would you like to see the DSU do differently?

There are a few things I’d want to see changed if I am voted President. Some of these are budget-based: I think the DSU could improve its transparency in terms of how much is spent on conferences, for instance.

I would hire a student to conduct a review of some of our spending: the Grawood goes overbudget every year, so I would like to know how we could change our policies or practices to make money through the student bar; O-Week went $95,000 over-budget last year, so I would like to hire a student for long-term policies to ensure O-Week profit stability. Basically, I want the DSU to put money right back in the hands of students by cutting executive spending and increasing student employment and society grants.

Another area I see the potential for change is how the DSU could improve the day-to-day lives of most students. Increases in tuition fees, for instance, are a great concern for a lot of students. We know that over 40 per cent of students will graduate with over $20,000 debt. We also know over 10 per cent of students work more than 31 hours per week during the school year.

I am the only candidate taking a strong stance on the decrease and elimination of tuition fees for all students which would be beneficial to all students.

Food security is also a huge issue for me – I will increase funding to the Food Bank by moving money from now-defunct levied societies, and I will work with Feed Nova Scotia work towards increasing the food limit so students can take however much they need. I will advocate for food services on Sexton and make a calendar of all free food events on campus for students. Parking can also be a huge annoyance for students getting to campus – I would look at our parking regulations to see if I can free up more parking space and decrease fees. If I find that’s impossible under current regulations, I will exhaust all avenues until I find a way to get students affordable parking.

Another passion of mine is making sure students are well-equipped for the post-university world; as such, I will provide subsidized workshops in First Aid, Food Safe, and mental health support that will be open to every student at Dal.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest issue on campus right now?

In my opinion, the biggest issue is student mental health. I know very few students who haven’t cried in a bathroom on campus or had to skip class because they can’t face the day or missed meals because they’re too anxious to eat. This isn’t how it has to be!

There are root causes of poor mental health, from climate change anxiety to money problems to institutional oppression or any intersection of the above, and I see this group of students struggling in unprecedented ways with a fundamental lack of institutional support.

What are your goals if elected?

If elected, my goals are to advocate for lower tuition fees, which would mean lobbying the province to increase our funding grant. I want to make the DSU actually serve the majority of students, rather than just a vocal minority; this means concrete actions like improving parking and cheap food access, as well as longer-term policy to improve, for instance, the International student experience. I want to engage students and listen to their concerns, empower them to reach their goals with my full support, and enrich the Dalhousie experience.

You mention mental health in your platform, which hits close to home for many students. How do you plan to help prioritize students’ mental health?

This is a great question, and I have a lot of thoughts on this topic! Some of my actions will be short-term: I will create a nap room on Sexton and Studley campus, get an on-campus cat and I will allocate some of the Equity and Accessibility funds to create a permanent free breakfast program for exams.

I also think the DSU has a responsibility to address some of the more systemic causes of student mental health issues, including money and a lack of a social support system. Given this, not only will I advocate for lower tuition fees, but I will also table a motion in my first month to raise the minimum wage paid by the DSU to $15/hour.

The DSU also has a budget for accessibility grants for students in need – this budget frequently remains under-used, so I will work to make sure that money gets to students who need it. In terms of building a strong support system, I will host more low-key social events for Dal students to meet one another and study (with snacks)!

I also recognize that many students meet their closest pals through societies – by increasing the society and levy and ensuring societies receive their fund early in the year, I hope to facilitate more students joining societies that interest them to meet like-minded people and build that critical support system.

Finally, I will hire a student to audit Dal Health’s policies and see how to shorten the waitlist for seeing a mental health professional.

Why should students vote for you?

Students should vote for me because I’ve seen how so many people slip through the cracks of the DSU, and because of my familiarity with university governance, I know how to fix those cracks. Students should vote for me because I will meet them where they’re at, and I will put DSU money back in their hands.

What have you been watching on Netflix lately?

Right now, I’m really into re-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine! I think it’s a stress response…

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Rebecca Dingwell

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