Zoe: Who are you as a student at OCAD? Tell us your year, program and what are your interests.
Kais: My name is Kais, and I’m a third year Drawing and Painting student at OCAD. I’ve always been interested in traditional painting and drawing techniques from old masters. My interests have naturally grown. I’m also into Impressionism and abstract painting. My hobbies have always been reading, traveling and medical research.
Roshan: My name is Roshan. I’m in Drawing and Painting. My interests, at the moment, are everything that the school has to offer. So, it could be something in an Integrated Media program, non-specific really. Which I want to learn at the time.
Hanin: What are your positions in the Student Union? How did you join? How long have you been a part of it, and what exactly do you do for it?
Kais: My first interaction with the Student Union was in the year 2017. I was the Faculty of Art Representative. I really wanted to get involved because students in the Drawing and Painting department are never being taught how to sell their art and how the art market interacts with museums and galleries. For me, it was a passion project. I managed to get three gallery directors that managed galleries for up and coming artists and designers. One of them was Francisco Alvarez who works at our Onsite gallery and two others from the Allison Milne gallery. They were very kind enough to come into our school and give talks on social media, marketing your work, what do gallery directors look for. I’ve been in the Student Union ever since and now I am the Director of Academic Affairs. My role is primarily dealing with advocacy. I mainly sit on internal committees with the administration, the Senate Committee, which is responsible for all the academic processes of the school, and I sit on the Teaching and Learning Committee as well. I also sit on the Student Appeals Committee. That is for students who have been accused of academic misconduct and who are facing either suspension or expulsion. I run the communications committee that is responsible for running all the affairs within the Student Union. We are currently advertising our service for all OCAD U students and events that are happening around OCAD.
Roshan: I’ve been involved with the Student Union since November 28th, 2018. By the end of second year I wanted to get more involved with the student related problems that we face on campus. The idea for me was if there was anything I could do to help. Initially, I ran to be elected as the Undergraduate Representative for the OCAD U Board of Governors. I then saw the Student Union posting for Executive Director of Operations. I had a bit of experience running The Grind since early this summer and I thought it would be fitting, so I joined. Since the time that I’ve joined, my role has involved handling the Hiring Committee for the staff for Hot Lunch, and event planners. I review payroll every two weeks. Mostly internal operations.
Zoe: In your opinion, what is the Student Union?
Kais: In my personal opinion, the Student Union has always been a body of students that allows students to come together and then to build on these tangible skills that teach how committees work. It is gaining actual jobs and skills. But actually, it’s a really good platform for students to learn and to receive really good feedback from professionals and colleagues. It’s a safer space to make to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s just an organization that is meant to support students in any way possible. For example, our Hot Lunch program. It’s an opportunity for students to get more involved with each other and be more aware how and their education is being run and by whom.
Roshan: It’s the organization that can speak on behalf of student voice to the school itself, or anything that expands beyond that. So far, the Student Union has been doing a very good job at it. There are a lot of student services that provide just that. It is very student-centered. Hot Lunch, for example, is based on how students are fed, and what can be done about it. It is an organization that is mostly run for students by students. That is why we have this election process to select who will be running it.
Hanin: How were your campaigns done when you wanted to run?
Kais: There definitely was engagement. Most of the students who I spoke to were the ones that attended the “How to Survive the Art World” podcast that I managed to create. Students were engaged, and they were happy to hear why I should be in the Student Union. The only thing that I didn’t like about the campaign was seeing my face everywhere on campus. It’s weird. You stand on elevators and it’s like, “Yup, that’s me”.
Roshan: I got a lot of engagement mainly because before the Student Union elections, I did run for the undergraduate position. Before I ran for the Student Union I spoke to students that I consider a bit more experienced and I asked them for advice. Based on their advice, that was how I made my decision in the first place. I didn’t really put up posters because I didn’t need to. I prefer the personal one on one engagement because it is more real. I wanted whoever was voting for me to see me that way.
Hanin: In the other group that we interviewed, they mentioned that it was hard to get students engaged. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know that elections were running until there is an email being sent out saying “This is the last day.”
Zoe: What would you like students to know about the Student Union? Do you feel like there are things that you guys aren’t advertising as clear as you’d want them to be?
Kais: Something that I wish students knew is that we are doing things, we aren’t just sitting there. Communication can be hard because that has been one of our biggest problems. Right now, we are strategizing on how we can communicate more clearly, not only on social media but also having more in-person interaction with students. Class schedules and personal obligations often get in the way. I also wish students knew some of the other resources we have. For example, most students don’t know that we have a lawyer. I have talked to students who have been in a really tough predicaments who were lucky enough to resolve them, but it would have been easier for them if they knew we had a lawyer. It all ties back into communication. These are crucial things for students to know. It’s their rights, their education. Every student should be made fully aware of who is running the show, where is their money being allocated to, and then gaining those skills to then advocate on behalf of themselves and their peers.
Zoe: I had no idea we had a lawyer. And how does one go about contacting our lawyer? Kais: The lawyer can be contacted through our student advocate. The email is email@example.com and the lawyer is present every Friday for appointments.
Roshan: I want to specify that most of the services that we do have are on our website. These are things that we run on a day-to-day basis. With that work load, it is sometimes difficult to communicate with the student body. I really try my best to come down for Hot Lunch. It is something that we’re working on right now. If anything, I would say the easiest way for a student to get to know the Student Union is to simply walk into our office on the 6th floor of 230 Richmond. If you walk in, it would give you a great overview of what our resources are. Just simply come in and ask at any time. It’s also your space. Kais: You can also contact us through email at any time. Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org or you can also reach me through Facebook. I try to make myself as accessible as possible.
Hanin: So, what kinds of issues would students present to you? We all have issues that students don’t really know that the Student Union can help us with. We may not fully understand or be aware of what can be done. So, if students were to have a discussion with you somewhere…
Kais: Email is best, because it allows students to touch base with us quickly instead of coming down to the office. For instance, my office hours are every Friday from 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM, but I’m usually in the office almost every other day. Because my role is academic affairs, students will usually e-mail me for any academic affair issues that they are having with professors, if professors aren’t accommodating their CSDs, anything academic-related.
Roshan: I operate slightly differently. If it’s something specific to my role at SU, then yes, I do prefer e-mail. But other than that, I want to keep myself as open as possible. So, it could be through Facebook or somebody that I know or that might know me through a friend. It could be any avenue, but if there is a problem that you are facing and just wondering if the SU can help you with that, I would still say to just contact and at least ask. That way we could figure out how we’d handle it or who could help, or what resources we could direct you to, rather than having you guys go through the guesswork.
Kais: If we do not have the resources, what we can do is to create a solution plan, and work according to the students, and see them throughout the entire process. Even if we do not have the capacity to operate on that level, we’d still see the students all the way through to make sure it is solved.
Hanin: What does the Student Union need to improve on?
Roshan: Easily, I would say communication, connection and engagement with the student body. It’s something that we’ve been working on since the moment we started. Trying to see and envision different avenues on how we can communicate and be more engaged, what events we can have, and how we can better improve those events.
Kais: Especially services, and what ways we can improve them within the parameters of our budget.
Roshan: There’s also a bit of a learning curve every time there is a turnover, because it is not so that a student gets elected and they’re in the Student Union for five, six years. It is not as continuous, and so every time a new student comes in, it’s a bit of a learning curve to fully understand what the Student Union is, and what it has to offer, and then they can go into the process of integrating what they’ve learnt into the student body and engaging with it.
Hanin: I heard there was training that new members get when they start in the Student Union. What are your opinions on that?
Kais: There is an overlap of executives who are exiting and entering. They are presented with a “transition report”, which is a physical copy of everything the executive has done, from the board reports to the trainings they’ve been involved in, but it’s just an in-person/face to face conversation that says ‘here is what we did, this is what we worked on, and what worked out. Professionally and personally I advise you to do this or not do that… “You also have different trainings around Anti-Oppression, AODA, and so on. Right now, we’re strategizing ways in which we can make these trainings available to the
student body themselves. Not only to be kept internally to board members, but to open that capacity where the audience of OCAD would be able to participate.
Roshan: Even after we go through this training process, there are a lot of details we need to go over and cover to find out where the overlap is, and what the previous directors and staff have been doing. There is a lot of detail to familiarize ourselves with, and that’s really what I meant by the learning curve itself. It’s not so much on how well the training is, even if it is well thought out and you go through all the processes, there is still a lot to learn before we can actually start implementing.
Kais: Then you have to debrief all that content into the work that we do, and then input all that content into the unit as a whole.
Zoe: How different would your life have been at OCAD if you weren’t involved with the Student Union?
Kais: I think I would have still been very quiet and introverted yet despite that I’d probably still be somewhat involved with the school to some capacity, either with faculty or behind the scenes. If I wasn’t in the Student Union I would do a semi-autonomous thing on my own.
Roshan: I don’t think I could have gotten through OCAD without stepping through the Student Union at some point. I don’t see OCAD just as this institution providing programs that you graduate from. In any given circumstance I would look for any levers in the institution and try to figure out if it is benefiting the community or not. If the Student Union is one of those levers, then I would have eventually run into it. On a day-to-day basis I would have more time. I would sleep a lot more.
Zoe: Are you guys full time students?
Kais: For me it’s time management, and there are only so many hours in a day. So, don’t take my word for it because there are times where I may go to bed at 2 or 3, and I wake up at 6 everyday whether I want to or not, it’s just how my body works. It’s really tiring and stressful but at the end of the day it’s worth it. I’m a really caring person. I always want to know what is happening. I want to communicate where my money and where the student body’s money is going because not all of us have the opportunity to attend Post-Secondary school. I feel like I have this personal obligation to use all of the resources that I have on behalf of those who do not have that opportunity to go to school.
Roshan: Before I came to OCAD I studied Computer Science at York University for two years. I got a feel of what university would feel like. I feel like in my first and second year at OCAD, I haven’t really been able to push myself to my fullest potential. And now, I always want to keep pushing, I’ll always find a way.
Hanin: What are the achievements you’ve done so far in the Student Union that you are most proud of?
Kais: For me it was the “How to Survive the Art World” podcast that I created made me the most proud. Being in this position, I’m also very proud of our “O-Days” orientation for our new-coming students here at OCAD. This year’s Student Union was a lot more involved with this year’s orientation.
Roshan: My success is being that person that can provide information about what is happening within the community around us. Being in the Student Union allows me to keep my ear to the ground and know
what’s happening with the changes in government and tuition. In first and second year there were a lot of times when I wanted to help students out, but I didn’t really have the answer for their questions. Being a part of the Student Union, I am now able to answer questions, and give suggestions for problems. That is my biggest success.
Kais: There have been times where we have struggled with communication. Most of us are full time. For me, I would feel frustrated when we couldn’t have meetings when we wanted to, or we’d have to push back a deadline. But again, it’s just understanding that there are other factors other than school in our lives, so we must be aware of everyone else’s limits and also our own. We must not take it too personally. And doing what you can, at the end of the day, doing your part, and knowing that what you did, is enough.
Roshan: For me, I struggled with being a full-time student and part time in the Student Union, but trying to work full time in the Student Union. It pushes you to a point where you have to constantly keep prioritizing. There are hundreds of lists for the things that we must do that we will make plans for, but sometimes we are not able to complete them. It’s a disappointment.
Zoe: We experience the same thing with our magazine.
Kais: Coming back from that failure is also very crucial in itself. I have not been setting boundaries for myself, and I’ve been letting this take over my school work. I want to learn how to respect my limits.
Interview by Zoe Roiati