DSU vice-president (student life) candidate: Mazen Brisha

Dalhousie Student Union 2021 elections

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for length and clarity 

Why are you running for this position? 

The main reason I’m running is I am really passionate about making a positive change in my community. As an international student, the main reason I came to Dalhousie University was because I fell in love with the city. I really want students to have that sense of home with the university.  

The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) is the main uniting factor between all of us. We all come from completely different backgrounds, different interests, different everything. The one thing we all have in common is the student union. There’s something very empowering in that. I think there is a lot of wasted potential at the DSU, which I’d really like to change. So, the main reason why I’m running is I really want to utilize the DSU’s resources to make a positive impact in my community.  

What do you think the biggest issue is on campus right now?  

If you asked me a few days ago, I definitely would have said discrimination. There’s been a lot of discrimination going on over the past year, whether it’s towards international students with the whole hotel quarantine, or incidents of gender-based or racial-based discrimination. I know a lot of people that encountered discrimination and I have myself.  

But currently, I think the biggest issue students are facing without a doubt has to be food insecurity and financial insecurity. Because at the end of the day, we fail as a union, we fail Dalhousie society if there are students that can’t afford to eat. In terms of severity, that is without a doubt the most important issue we’re facing today. But I think it’s very important to note that a very pertinent issue right now is Dalhousie trying to raise tuition prices again. There’s a very dangerous pattern that’s developing here, which is the university clearly does not care about its students. With the financial insecurity and food insecurity people have been suffering from, it’s ludicrous to see Dalhousie be so inconsiderate.  

You have advocacy experience working as a United Nations (UN) youth leader. What skills did you learn that could translate to being a DSU leader? 

The main thing I have noticed in every single campaign I’ve handled is each person from a different background has something unique to offer. The fact that we’re all so different, whether it’s as a university, as a union, or as a UN committee, exponentially increases the amount of positive impact we can make in our community. So, the main thing I really want to implement is making sure each student’s inherent differences are utilized correctly, in a way that’s empowering. Empowerment happens when each part of who you are, each part of your identity is fully utilized.  

Mental health is a big part of your platform. What kind of plans do you have around mental health supports?  

One of the more most important things I really want to see is a proper mental health committee, one that is properly represented with all minorities, and also very importantly each campus. Because at the end of the day, we’ve been ignoring the Sexton and Truro campuses for way too long. Incorporating these campuses into this committee will enable us to make sure that across all camps and across all faculties mental health is a priority.  

Culturally and linguistically diverse mental health support is also something I strongly believe in. I remember the first therapy session I had at the university, over half the session was spent trying to explain to them how it’s different where I come from. . . It didn’t feel like they were prepared to help me, which is no fault of their own. But if we want to be an inclusive union, we have to make sure mental health is prioritized and customizable. Mental health is different for each and every one of us. We all have different needs, so making sure we account for those needs and cater to them is vital. 

Increasing student engagement is also central to your platform. The DSU has struggled with this issue for a while. For example, annual general meetings (AGM) haven’t been able to meet quorum in years. If elected, what would you do to try and meet quorum at the AGM?  

Student engagement has been something everyone talks about every single year and we never see change because every single plan that’s put forward is always short-term. For us to tackle student engagement, the most important thing is to figure out why our students are not engaged. Why are students paying a union fee, but they don’t care at all about this union? They don’t even know it exists. That’s the central issue here. The central issue is a divide between students and the union leadership. 

I think there’s a lot of bureaucracy that goes on with how the DSU is operating that isn’t necessary. We should be able to have a lot more transparency in these sorts of things. We want to take all steps towards making sure that students know we exist and know what we offer.  

For example, social media is something that’s been, in my opinion, very underutilized for the past few years. I really want to utilize the YouTube channel the DSU has, but never really uses. Due to COVID-19, we might not be able to hold as many in-person programming events. So, we need to have a different way for students to engage with the DSU, such as starting a DSU podcast. Want to know what’s going on at the DSU? Join the podcast, I’ll tell you transparently. I won’t just post something on Instagram or release statements all the time. Who has time to read statements?  

Is there an issue you think the DSU handled poorly this year? If so, how would you handle it differently? 

One specific issue they should have dealt with better would have been the whole fiasco with international students. I think international students did feel a little bit left out. I know they created bursaries, the mental health bursary for example. They tried to support foreign students financially where they could and I appreciate that. But at the end of the day, what international students such as myself were really looking for was to feel heard. To be very honest, we didn’t.  

I saw Halifax media publishing stuffnewspapers publishing stuff. The Dalhousie Gazette wrote about it multiple times. But [the] DSU itself seemed very silent. It didn’t feel like they were lobbying for us. We lobbied, a group of students and I, lobbied Dal. We told them that this is ludicrous. 

The DSU failed to represent a large part of the student body this year with the international student fiasco. I want to emphasize though that, the situation was not their fault. It was the university’s fault, but the DSU could have done a lot more around that. 

Is there any positive thing you think the DSU did this year for students? 

I think they did a great job with the academic part of the year especially with the pass/fail option. That was revolutionary for students’ mental health and their year academically. Without that, I would have lost my scholarship. I know other people that would have lost their scholarship[s]. I know people that would have been on academic dismissal. It was a lifesaver in many ways. That was honestly one of the few moments in my three years as a Dalhousie student where I felt like the DSU actually had my back. 

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

I don’t know if it counts because it wasn’t my computer screen, but my friends and I got our friend a new computer for their birthday. We pranked them by painting over their old computer screen to make it look broken before giving them the new one. 

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Lane Harrison

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