Owen Connolly is a biology and environment, sustainability and society student from Halifax. He’s running as a candidate for Dalhousie Student Union president.
Two students — Connolly and Mariam Knakriah — are running for the position.
The below snippets of the Gazette’s interview with Connolly are edited for clarity and grammar.
What makes you a good candidate for DSU president?
I think that I’m a good candidate first and foremost — before I get into the more nitty gritty of my experience — I think it’s because I just really enjoy working with people. And I think that’s paramount to the position of being the president of the student union: you have to represent such a large, diverse student body. And that’s no easy job.
I have experience doing exactly that job here in Halifax. I was the [student council] president of Citadel High School — that’s a large student body of about 1500 students. It’s not nearly as large as Dal, but [it’s] the stepping stone to get here. As part of that job, I learned how not only to work in a team that is a council or student union, but also working with the student body as a whole.
Furthermore, I work here at Dal already. For almost two years, I’ve been doing research in the faculty of medicine on projects like gender equity, program accessibility and program improvement. So as part of those jobs, I’ve had to do interviews and stake out key stakeholders to assess where problem areas are and then create plans to improve those problems or to completely eliminate them. And I think that is definitely a transferable skill set to the presidential position of fighting those issues.
What are your goals if you become DSU president?
My goals are first to increase school spirit and foster positive community engagement with the DSU. A second one is to stand up to insulting tuition increases in a prepared, publicly communicated manner. And my third is to approach all problems holistically to accurately serve the entire student body.
First, the revitalizing school spirit and fostering positive community engagement with DSU. It’s a two-pronged one there. I’d say, first and foremost, Dal is not lacking in school spirit at all; there are lots of great communities with great people. But I think for a while — especially since COVID-19 — Dal’s student union has been lacking that all-encompassing sense of community. There’s not one force that brings us all together. And I think that it should be the DSU’s responsibility to bring everyone together.
One area that I think the DSU should focus on would be homecoming. Other universities host their own. Dalhousie does not. And in the previous years, as I’m sure you’ve seen on the news, it’s caused a negative light on the Dalhousie community. [This] is a disservice to not only the students but also the institution itself.
The DSU should instead harness all that social energy and use it for good. And I actually have experience doing large social events like that at Citadel. We hadn’t had a dance in 12 years because of rambunctious previous behaviour from students. But I was able to pull it together and host [dances] several times.
The second part of that [is] to foster community engagement with the DSU. That’s tied to if the DSU shows up big and says this is how much we appreciate you or this is what we’re willing to do for you. Then I feel like students won’t just want to engage with the DSU [because they] feel an obligation to engage with student governance. They’ll want to engage because we’re showing them how much they’re worth to us.
Two: stand up to insulting tuition increases in a prepared, publicly communicative manner. And that second part is the key to my plan. Because looking back on previous platforms, most student union presidents have to this point, in some way or another, stood up to the tuition increases. And unfortunately, tuition continues to increase. And that’s by no fault of anyone [at the DSU]. It’s hard to stand up to that monolithic institution that is Dalhousie, especially through a pandemic. Still, it is insulting to the institution of Dalhousie that they continue to increase tuition for students, especially international students. I think that putting that stress on the international students and community of Dal — which brings so much value to the community — is despicable.
If the DSU were to approach the issue, I think a key part of that would be [ensuring that it is] publicly communicated. What I mean by that is that I’m doing interviews with the newspaper for this election. I have a podcast later today that I’m doing an interview on. There are public debates. I think that if we asked the same of the Dalhousie administration, for instance, we had a big talk or interview in a public venue [like] the debates for this election are where the student body could ask questions, and then you know, me, and President of Dal could sit down, and I could ask them questions.
Finally, [I want to] approach all challenges holistically to equitably serve the entire student body. I think that diversity is incredibly important because with diversity comes strength. I’m a [biology] student. That’s true in ecosystems and it’s also true in communities and on teams with different people, that is, the diversity of their experiences, skill sets, perspectives, opinions and work styles. Bringing that all together is incredibly important. [It’s] paying extra attention to those issues that need more attention or are marginalized racialized people or people of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
What are you offering as a presidential candidate that your opponent isn’t offering?
I would say it’s probably the depth and breadth of my experience.
Beyond [those achievements] — and I didn’t touch on this in the initial “Why am I good for this position” — I have other ones as well that contribute to my leadership style. I worked on my family’s farm for many years — that gave me a deeper appreciation for the environment and taught me that it’s okay to get dirty and to get the job done. I played sports for over a decade, which taught me the importance of camaraderie and teamwork, especially in high-stress situations.
Beyond that, I think I bring enthusiasm to the role. I’ve been doing these interviews with people, created a video, and created a thorough platform. I’ve created posters for my campaign. That’s not a lot, let me be clear, but I think that it is. I’ve been putting in the work now to show how much this position means to me. Because I don’t just want it for another tick on a resume. I’ve been a student leader before that even mattered because it’s something that really speaks to my heart.
Cover photo: Dalhousie Student Union