DSU presidential candidate: Maddie Stinson

Dalhousie Student Union 2021 elections

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

If re-elected president, what are some things you’ve learned over your term that will make you do things differently? 

I mean, there’s so much I’ve learned over the past year. It’s such a learning curve to step into this position especially from a mostly business background. I didn’t have a lot of student organizing experience from a social justice lens when I moved into this role. But the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) does take on a lot of that work. I think the most important skills I’ve learned are more soft skills, like how to foster a space where students feel like they can come to the DSU. I’m very happy we have seen an increase in students reaching out with their issues because they know that yes, you can help advocate for them.  

Things like learning how to listen. To listen, I think just more than I speak in spaces and learn what it means to be in my role. How even though I’m a student, this specific role has a relationship with students that deserves a little bit of nuance and respect. Learning how to interact with people who are my peers. But also, in a way where I have to recognize I am in a position that has resources and privileges attached to it. 

One of the things you spoke about last year in your candidate interview with the Dalhousie Gazette was how you’re a business student, and you look at everything kind of through a more analytical lens. You said you wanted to look at the DSU in more of a business sense, ensuring services were running well for students. How has the way you look at the DSU changed since then? 

I would say it’s probably a little less analytical. My idea of analytical last year was to look at things from an efficiency, productivity and numbers driven way. To me that meant I couldn’t include things like anecdotal experiences, feelings and opinions. But over this year, I’ve really learned when we’re talking about optimizing our services, or making sure our fees are being used in the most productive way, what actually helps bolster that work is using live student experiences. By listening to people’s feelings and thoughts about things in a way I didn’t think was possible last year. 

Last year, you were also a vocal advocate against the DSU. How does having experience being on both sides of DSU issues affect the way you deal with constituents’ issues? 

I think it gives me a good perspective to understand how students feel when they come with issues and say, “The DSU is doing this wrong” because I can remember a time where I also felt that way. So, I want the DSU to continue to be a safe space for students to come forward and say, “I don’t like what you’re doing, you need to address this issue, you need to change how it’s going.” To feel like the things they’re saying are actually being listened to and acted on. Because at the end of the day, if students aren’t happy with what we’re doing, then we need to change what we’re doing. That’s just the reality. The DSU shouldn’t be a reflection of the executives, it should be a reflection of the students. So, if folks are saying we’re doing something wrong, good. Tell me, I’m going to listen and we’re going to change things. It’s nice to have that background to be able to recognize that side.  

At the end of the day, the DSU is an institution. It’s not a grassroots organization. It takes longer for us to adapt to things just based on the way the organization is built. Having that perspective, I think provides some added flexibility. 

What are you most proud of after your term as president? 

I think I’m most proud of the reconnections the DSU has made, even just over the course of the year. Seeing how different student groups who were at odds with the DSU have since come and said like, ‘We really like what we’re seeing this year.’ They’re now more willing to come to the table to tell us what’s going on and how they need help. I think that’s a good reflection of how the work that this team has done this year has really met the goal a lot of us campaigned on, which was to reconnect the DSU with the student body. So, I’m not saying we’re completely done, I don’t think we’ll ever be completely done. But even just seeing those small steps, especially in a year where folks are just so overwhelmed with things. 

Can you give a few examples of some of those groups you’re happy to have that reconnection process started with? 

I think Sexton campus is a really good example. We’ve heard a lot of good feedback from students on Sexton feeling like the DSU is a bit more representative of that student body this year. We’ve heard from some folks on the Agricultural campus that they’re happy, that Truro seems to be more of a consideration this year. We even heard good feedback from the Dalhousie medical campus in New Brunswick, which was nice because they’re quite far out.  

The university as well, which is not necessarily a student group, but we’ve been able to mend quite a few fences with the university this year, and engage in partnerships that are new and old. Some that we’re restarting and some that are completely new, which is really nice. 

What do you think the DSU needs to improve on after this year? And why would you be the person able to improve it if re-elected? 

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the course of the year is how student advocacy works on our campus. This perspective was really brought to me by other students who I was working with. They recognized sometimes other students on campus who want to advocate for issues are excluded from the spaces they want to be in because the DSU is there. It’s taking up space. 

When we want to advocate for things, there’s very little time, and resources and space for that to happen. So naturally, these student groups are competing and the DSU hasn’t been there to support them. We’ve actually been standing in the way of some student groups having the conversations that they want to have with the university. So, I think it’s really important that we start looking at how the university, like the student body as a whole, gets involved with advocating for students.  

I think my perspective in being a student who wanted to get involved, and was told no last year and then found a way to do that, gives me some background to one, understand that issue. Two, I’ve had the opportunity to get in touch with a lot of these groups that have said, ‘We want to be at the table, this is an issue we want brought forward.’ Maybe it’s a smaller issue and there are less students on campus who care about it. But by building those relationships we have some sort of environmental awareness of what’s going on. I hope, just based on some of the stability that comes with having consistency in executives, students feel like there’s more of a structure they can come to find support with some of those smaller issues and not be cut out of discussions. 

Do you have any plans if you were to be president when students return to campus? 

Yes, it would be so exciting. It would be so exciting. Because I sit in my office all day long, every day and see so few students. Especially in September, there was this kind of sombreness around the office because usually that’s a time when you can feel the energy on campus and we were missing that this year. Something I’d really like the opportunity to do when students come back is to actually like go to student events. To be with students and hang out with them to really hear what’s going on in a more personable way. Instead of having folks just send me emails all the time, actually being able to meet face to face. To support fundraisers, and go to events and really actually engage with people in a way that’s not just over a screen. I think we’re all tired of that. 

What initiatives that you started this year would you like to see through by gaining another term? 

Specifically, things like our governing review, we started that this year. I had really high hopes to go through all of our governing documents, and amend them with the bylaws and policy review committee. That plan just quickly fell apart once COVID-19 became a never-ending issue on campus to address. So, we’ve actually gotten external support for that and now we have Wickwire Holm [a law firm] who’s helping us conduct that review. I’m really excited to see where that goes. Once they deliver the results of where they think we can improve, I want to consult with students and bring those amendments forward. This [is] something I’m really interested in because my academic interest is in policy analysis and development.  

As well as things like our strategic plan, which I think is something that the DSU is missing compared to other student unions of our size. A lot of them have a mission and an overarching vision with goals. That also addresses that issue of there [is] sometimes being a lack of stability in the DSU, because our executives turnover year to year. Folks come in with new great ideas, but sometimes some of those goals that got started earlier are lost. By having overarching goals for the next five, seven and 10 years, we can keep some of that momentum going, and making sure when we start on a student issue we follow through and come to a meaningful resolution. 

What’s the most fun you’ve had on a screen this year? 

You know, what I really like actually is watching the livestreams of sports games when they first started putting random people in the stands that were little screens because I came into that a little bit late, and turned on my computer to watch something and was so startled by the fact they had these things in the stands. That was like a memorable moment of like, wow, we really are living in a different world. 

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Lane Harrison

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