Kent and his gang look back on the year that was
With the election period in full swing, University of Regina Students’ Union President Kent Peterson and vice-president of operations and finance Haanim Nur are looking back at their term with a sense of pride.
“We’ve achieved everything we ran on as a platform,” Peterson explained, referring to the platform their slate, Voice of Students, campaigned on during last May’s students’ union election. “We either achieved or started a significant amount on everything we put in our policy document – so either accomplished them, started working on them, or did reports on them to find out some may not be feasible.
“We’ve addressed every single thing in a different way. I feel that the mandate I’ve been given from students based on my platform and our policy document has been achieved, so I feel that at the end of the year, I can say it was an accomplishment.”
“We literally accomplished everything we said we would do,” she said. “Not in our policy document, but on our platform: everything we had up on posters and on leaflets and everything, we accomplished every single one of them.”
The weightiest item on their platform back in 2011 was to advocate for a tuition freeze, which they did during the provincial election in the fall. Both Peterson and Nur attest that URSU’s campaign during that election, called the Future Is Now, was a momentous success.
“We had a very elaborate and successful campaign during the provincial elections where we actually saw provincial parties take our ideas and put them directly in their platforms,” Peterson explained.
Nur also believes the current executive has influenced provincial politics, not only during the election campaigns, but in provincial policies.
“The government that was elected in the provincial election actually started the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship,” she explained. “Every new high school student graduating from the province of Saskatchewan and enrolling into a Saskatchewan post-secondary institution will get $50 every semester until their degree is over. That could be up to $2,000 for every student.”
Although Peterson is really proud of his executive’s influence across the province, he is particularly impressed by some of the changes they made right on campus. He feels the students’ union played an important role in this past term on campus and that, despite their platform or policy document, rose to meet unexpected challenges.
“We’ve done some things I didn’t expect us to do like, for example, when the university decided to increase parking tickets by 333 per cent, we had to act on that and we did,” he said. “For the first time in the University of Regina’s history, the president of the university was forced to hold a public consultation with students about a decision the university had made. That’s historic.”
Peterson also feels URSU passed a “historic” budget this year.
“Up until now, the executive had received free classes on the students’ dime. We said no more. We’re all students; we’re all struggling to pay for our education. Why should we have an advantage over somebody else?” Peterson said.
“We also eliminated discount food and booze for the executive at the students’ union. The Owl sometimes makes money, sometimes doesn’t, and before, they would have got that discount whether the Owl made money or not. Why should we have subsidized burgers? Why should we be drinking beer that has been subsidized out of students’ pockets?”
Peterson had some other hopes for the university this past year that made their way into the Voice of Students policy document, but found them not quite feasible at this time. He had hopes for a co-operative or students’ union grocery store on campus, which would allow residence students to do their grocery shopping right on campus at what he called a “responsible” organization. Peterson also would have loved to see an art installation that would represent diversity at the University of Regina.
“We should have an art installation somewhere on campus that talks about inclusion of LGBTQ people, that represents the inclusion of international students and Aboriginal people,” he said. “Some piece of art that is visual; people will see it when they’re on campus and that reminds them we are an inclusive campus and we have to be very, very aware of language we use and the things we say.
“We looked into it, but we just couldn’t get it done this year. It requires quite a bit of capital to do something like that, but it is still a plan for the future.”
However, Peterson is personally proud of one thing that URSU helped with but didn’t initiate this year, the referendum that added an additional student fee for the UR Pride Centre. Traditionally, the pride centre’s budget came directly out of the URSU budget, making the centre wholly dependent on the students’ union. Now, each student will pay a dedicated $1.50 per semester to UR Pride.
“I personally wanted to make sure that when I left office, that would be stand alone, a student-funded centre, and that their budget does not depend on the board of directors or students’ union; it comes directly from students,” Peterson said. “That’s something I’m most proud of.”
But how Peterson really measures his success is by the feedback from students, including criticisms, which he said are all part of holding office. Recently, URSU has received tremendous criticism for its endorsement of a boycott, divestment, and sanctions motion against companies profiting from Israeli apartheid, an initiative which was passed by students at this February’s annual general meeting.
“Some people agree with that motion, some people don’t agree with that motion, but the fact of the matter is, it started a dialogue, a debate, and a discussion in the hallways of this university and that’s a positive thing,” Peterson said. “I don’t see criticism as a bad thing; I see that criticism plugged back into … debate, dialogue, and discussion.
“When I look back at this year as a students’ union executive, we have engaged our membership and the membership, after this year, is more aware of the operations of this students’ union, knows more about public issues affecting them in terms of their education and at this university level. When I look back, it’s really about engagement, dialogue, discussion, and debate. That’s what I think the legacy of this last year will be.”
Nur agreed, stating that debate on issues is something the students’ union really encourages.
Overall, Peterson feels like URSU had a successful term, with time left to complete a few more things, like Mental Health Awareness week. Peterson claims the students’ union is taking it to a level that it has never been to before. However, because his executive accomplished so much, Peterson is not running for a second term.
“Part of being a student leader, even though you’re a student leader, is knowing when to give someone else a chance, to allow new ideas and a fresh perspective to occupy that office,” he explained.
Though this means Peterson is no longer running for URSU, he’s still seeking involvement with student politics. Peterson is currently running for election to a student seat on the U of R’s Senate.
“I have a role to fill in other places,” Peterson said. “It’s just not on the executive of the student union.”
Nur, meanwhile, is running for Peterson’s current position in this year’s election. She says wants to continue
“I definitely had an open-door policy. If any students came by the front desk, I chatted with them; if any students came with concerns, I helped them out,” she said. “I did what was in my power to help students.
“I felt like I met a lot of students this past term, just by talking about issues we bring to the table.”
Nur also believes URSU created a “well-rounded sense of university community” this term, by not only working on their campaigns, but by attending sporting events and hanging out at the Owl.
“I think I learned a lot,” she said. “It was fun, it was successful, and I think we did what we were mandated to do.”
[Full disclosure: Kent Peterson ran uncontested for the alumni seat on the Carillon’s board of directors, and will be sitting on that board starting in May.]