DSU vice-president (student life) candidate: RJ Roggeveen

Dalhousie Student Union 2021 elections

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

Why are you running for this position? 

I am running because I’ve always wanted to be involved with the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) in a more in-depth role. I also really believe in vice-president (student life) [VSPL] being a position where you can impact how students experience their academic career at Dalhousie University. That’s something that I’m really passionate about, bringing forward student issues and reaching student goals. Really addressing those student issues through events that we can place at Dal. Through initiatives, and this is the role where I see that happening the most because you get to connect with students of all years, from their first day to even their last year of study. 

What do you think is the biggest issue the VPSL would be dealing with on campuses? 

I think right now the biggest issue that they’ll be dealing with is student engagement through our online platforms. Because everyone is feeling online fatigue, you don’t want to sit in front of a computer and do activities. You want to be out there doing things. So, I think right now looking at ways to engage students, but from their homes making it not fully sitting at a screen.  

I think that’s one of the biggest issues that is going to affect the role of the vice-president (student life) and what they intend to do. With that, also meeting student issues in this new digital world. So really finding ways to meet the student issues such as our mental health access. Finding ways that our students can actually access resources, but from a distance. 

What are your plans to create enjoyable online experiences when people are pretty Zoom fatigued? 

Something that I would like to do is create events that students can do online. So maybe we are doing a few things where you are at a screen. But more so doing events that students can do with their friends or with their bubble, not on the screen. Maybe we’re doing events like: an amazing race type thing where you’re with your bubble; you’re doing like a photo scavenger hunt sort of deal; then you’re competing against other bubbles at Dal. Really putting resources in place so that you can do events with the people you’re around and still feel connected through the community that we have at this school, but without being with each other.  

What’s one positive thing you think the DSU did this year for students? 

My favourite thing was actually the thing I most recently saw. I had a couple of favourite things before that, but the most recent one was seeing them put out that mental health bursary because of how accessible it was and applicable to all students. That was the one initiative where I was so excited to see them be able to put that out there, really at a key point where students are struggling financially and they need a resource that is going to meet their needs. Especially through mental health, everyone I’ve spoken to is struggling in some capacity with their mental health and could benefit from even a little bit of a bursary. So, that was one of my favourite things I saw very recently.  

But I also do want to highlight that seeing how they ran O-Week, how the vice-president (student life) this past year ran O-Week, I was really impressed. I saw great initiatives and activities be put in place for students that were distanced. They took time to use the space at Dal to make it distanced and still fun. They did movie nights; they were able to put on a really awesome concert. The dreaming in colour initiative was really placed at the forefront of part of their O-Week, which was amazing to see. So, there were some great things that they did, that I think we can keep doing going into this next year.  

Because we know that we’re going to be in this COVID-19 time, but it’s possible that we might get a transition back to campus. So, we might get to use a lot of those resources that they’ve put in place this past year, and just add on to them and keep them going. 

Is there any issue you think the DSU could have dealt with better? If so, how would you have dealt with it? 

I’ve talked to a couple of students actually specifically about this issue recently: mental health support access for international students. Dal did not really show up for them in the way that they needed this past year. I don’t think our DSU really had that as a focus. I don’t think that’s really on them too much because this is stuff we’re learning now. It’s possible that they actually didn’t know that was what was needed and that Dal was lacking in offering those. 

But knowing that now, that our international students are struggling the most with accessing mental health resources with not being in the country, that is something that I would like to make a focus and talk to them about, to see what they need. Talk to international students about, do you need more events and connectedness to help you feel like you’re not alone? Or do you need more one-on-one professional support that we can help with creating resources and access to? So really looking at these options for international students. I’d like to start that really in the fall. So that students know that those resources are there, that they are supported and that they really matter. 

At the DSU candidates debate you spoke about how you’ve already been helping students with advocacy around tuition hikes and speaking to them about what they can do. Could you talk about what you’ve been doing and how you would build on that in the executive role? 

Yeah, something that I was really happy I was able to do. So, we get funding for our campaigns. Some students know this. This year, they gave us funding to run ads on social media. I was really happy that they gave us that. The ad that I chose to run on my social media was the tuition hikes one. As much as it didn’t focus on my platform as some of the other posts could have. I really wanted that one to reach as many Dal students as it could because we need them to advocate and email bac@dal.ca [The Dalhousie Budget Advisory Committee]. We need them to join this group of students and learn what they can do. That was something I was actually really happy I got the chance to do, even just during the campaign. Because if I don’t get in, I still want to make that difference.  

The other thing is, I have been so honoured to get to talk to students online about these tuition hikes because the tuition hikes affect international students the most. I’m personally not an international student. I don’t have that first-hand experience. I’ve had multiple international students reach out to me, and express how they feel and what advocacy can look like. So, that’s how I learned about this tuition hike Facebook group that was running. I was so honoured to get to hear from them and to have them share their stories. Then I got to use my platform to really help with that. So that’s just stuff I’ve been doing already, but I’d like to keep it going. I want to keep bringing student voices in front of the eyes of the university and make sure that students have that chance to be heard. 

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

I’ve had a lot of fun getting to do different games with my bubble when we weren’t a bubble. We found different games online that you can play where it tells you things to do in your house, but you’re separated. So, it was really strange at first, but we kind of loved it. That was probably the most fun. That was at the start of all the quarantine stuff. There’s a really great one called Space Team that I absolutely love to play with people.  

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Lane Harrison

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