The Dalhousie Student Union is holding its general election this month. Voting will take place on March 14 to 15.
The most important position on the DSU executive is president. This year, students have three options to choose from: Aparna Mohan (previously the vice-president (academic and external) of the DSU and student representative on the board of governors), Mazen Brisha (currently the vice-president (student life) of the DSU) and James Gavin. Who will win is up to you.
The DSU president is the main spokesperson of the union. They sit on the board of governors and, in general, represent student interests to government officials and administrators at Dalhousie.
Below, learn about these candidates and make an informed decision on March 14. Find interviews with candidates for all positions on www.dalgazette.com.
All quotations have been edited for length and style.
The Dalhousie Gazette: Why are you the right candidate for DSU president?
Aparna Mohan: The DSU has done a lot of work this year to strengthen the relationship between itself and the Sexton campus, I had been a really strong part of that and have tremendous community-building experience, and bring experience from various different parts of the university.
This year, I served as the vice president of advocacy for a national engineering organization representing the interests of over 80,000 engineering students across Canada. I have spent four years in residence life where I have been able to counsel residents, help resolve interpersonal conflict, plan programs, and intervene and support mental health challenges.
I’ve seen and supported community building on a micro and macro level within the engineering community and the broader university community. As someone who’s from a campus that’s traditionally neglected, I have a very unique perspective in terms of improving the DSU and making sure that its services are ones that everyone can benefit from, and that they’re equitable, accessible and effective.
What are some of the key points in your campaign?
The DSU should empower more students at the grassroots level, and reduce the gatekeeping that can be characteristic of a student government.
I want to change and strengthen the “fight the fees” campaign. One thing I’d like to do with that campaign is decentralize it a little bit … there’s been tremendous work done in the past couple years to build credibility and maintain a strong relationship between the DSU and the administration. But realistically, the best movements are ones that are decentralized. And that looks like empowering communities at the grassroots level to understand what tuition advocacy entails.
I want to create more programming and services that actually educate our students on advocacy experience. We used to have a skills conference; I think the last one that I saw records for when I was in the executive was 2015. At a skills conference, students were taught how to create a campaign, how to advocate on an issue, how to interact with the media, how to, how to participate in meetings effectively, and how to navigate Robert’s Rules [Robert’s Rules of Order is a manual of parliamentary procedure used by the DSU and many organizations]. Those core technical skills are missing a lot of the time from the people who come on to support our campaigns. We need to have better structure in place to actually fill in those gaps.
What is your favourite way to engage with the student body on campus?
I really love visiting the T-Room. It’s the campus bar on Sexton. It’s somewhere that I really love to go to and just soak up the energy and excitement of being together and being in a community. There’s usually really great programming like trivia night. And always a different set of people to run into and talk to. That’s one of my favourite ways to engage with the community. Just go in and sit and then let people talk to you and go up to different people and see what’s going on. I love that.
Why are you the right candidate for DSU president?
Mazen Brisha: I’m extremely passionate about student engagement and creating better university culture for students. I have experiences over my past four years at Dalhousie advocating for civil rights and taking steps to enhance the university positively.
I think overall, I’ve learned so much over the past four years that enable me to ensure that I can use what I’ve learned in practice, in terms of creating better student culture on campus and more inclusive and diverse student culture that protect student safety, and well-being above all.
I’ve always sort of possessed a confrontational ability in terms of being able to stand up to the university. I really think my sense of leadership has been able to flourish over the past the past few years of student involvement, whether it’s international student capacity, and other facets, which really enabled me to be the perfect presidential candidate for the union.
What are some of the key points of your campaign?
One of the main things I really want to get done over the next year is put some motion forward for our call for a tuition freeze. I think with a board of governors seat, with a voice at that podium, we’ll be able to impact more tangible changes in terms of the tuition freeze, or at least ensuring that there’s no tuition increase next year.
I’d also want to reach out to the province or other politicians; I remember having very good conversations with Andy Fillmore before his re-election in September about how we can make education more accessible to students at Dalhousie.
I’d also like to improve food security on campus. I still feel like there’s a lot more work that needs to be done to ensure that each student does not suffer from nutritional insufficiency.
I’d also want to improve student engagement with the DSU because I personally think it’s probably the biggest issue that the DSU itself faces – how few people actually know about the DSU. Last year’s election turnout was about 10 to 11 per cent, which is frankly unrepresentative of the student population. So, something that I hopefully want to achieve this year as vice-president (student life) is to get it to 15 per cent. And if I’m elected as president, I hopefully want to get that to 20 to 25 per cent.
What is your favourite way to engage with the student body?
I really like DSU events. I love an opportunity for outreach. In my first year at Dalhousie, I had anxiety meeting new people. Having events and activities acts as an icebreaker melts away any anxiety. I think it’s one of the easiest ways to get to know students and one of the easiest ways for students to be themselves and actually embrace what it’s like to be in a welcoming student community. I also love sporting events and tournaments.