Katie Cohen hopes to maintain a positive relationship with the Dean’s Office where the voices of students are heard and treated fairly. They will also work to connect students with programs offered by the Dean’s Office that often remain unattended, due to the lack of coverage by student fees. Cohen is running on a platform to reevaluate and discuss alternative options for events. A major part of this will be reintroducing a mass calendar for student clubs/levies/groups so that information is streamlined. Also, Cohen hopes to bring in niche clubs and give underrepresented groups a voice and platform for events within VUSAC. The Strand spoke with her in depth about her platform, and the state of student politics at Vic.
The Strand: You are running for VPE – what do you bring to the role and what qualifies you to fill it?
Katie Cohen: Through being building president this year, being AD of VCDS, and WinterFest co-Chair, I have experienced being on the receiving end of what the VPE position is supposed to be. Steve has come to building council meetings, and has helped with WinterFest stuff, and has supported many of my various endeavours. I knew I wanted to run for VUSAC to change up what I’ve been doing and have a more leadership-type role, and the VPE role made sense because I have experience in so many of the different ways that the VPE interacts with the Vic community. I haven’t been on VUSAC before formally and it is kind of a jump to go right into judiciary, but I do think that based on my experiences I have seen a lot of room for improvement and a lot of ways the VPE can be used that I don’t think it is being used to the best effect–that’s why I decided to run for VPE.
TS: A thing that people say about VUSAC is that the mandate has expanded in the past few years, and so some of the positions are becoming too much for people to hold as students. I’m curious about what you want to do in the role, and are there certain parts you plan to cut back on. Basically, what is your platform?
KC: My platform really has different sections. The main part of being VPE is being the liaison between VUSAC and the Dean’s office. I have a lot of things that I think we should be changing. Those aren’t things that will take up a lot of my time but are things that I want to hold the Dean’s office responsible for.
One of the main things I think that they should implement is specific Vic targeted upper-year programming. They have one person whose dedicated role is residence life at Vic, so someone else’s job description should also have to cover upper-year attention. It’s something that comes up all the time at Vic;we don’t have many upper-years on campus and that’s why upper-years don’t come back to Vic. They don’t vote in elections, and I think that a lot of it is that a lot of programming isn’t offered to them. The things I’ve been thinking of are LSAT and GRE prep and other grad school things—not necessarily just courses but setting aside a room and saying that “Wymilwood Lounge will be available for people studying for the LSAT together, and there will be free coffee.” It’s simple and I think it would bring upper-years back and help them to interact with Vic more.
I think that a lot of problems with the Dean’s office are that they are paternalistic. Things like making sure they sign off on all posters that clubs or levies or VUSAC has. I think the judiciary at VUSAC should be able to do that. I also think the judiciary should be able to sign off on non-alcohol related risk-assessments, because we are responsible for students, and we’re not asking for a crazy amount of things. So a lot of it is just talking to the Dean’s office and having them change some of their practices.
[The Dean’s office] hosts all these seminars, like the mindfulness seminars, which are great in theory, but are very poorly attended. We often have people from the Dean’s office coming around to the different officessaying, “Heym there’s someone in Wymilwood right now, go talk to them!” That’s someone whose being paid to be there—that money can be going to different resources. So I think that they need to re-evaluate programming that isn’t successful and hasn’t been successful, and not just keep it because it looks good to be having it.
Communication is a big part of my platform. I think communication between VUSAC and clubs and levies is hard and hasn’t been very good recently. I know when we set up events, and you later discover that another club or levy has an event on the same day, and there’s no way you could have knew until you got invited to their Facebook event. I want to re-implement the mass calendar that was started two years ago but not fully implemented, and really hold clubs, levies, and VUSAC accountable for constantly updating it. That way, it would be easier for The Strand to see that VCDS has a show coming up on Thursday, so you guys can find someone to cover it.
I also want to re-implement accountability café’s. A lot of complaints are about VUSAC being inaccessible and being a clique, and that it’s really hard to go into the VUSAC office, which is totally fair because it is intimidating if you don’t know people there. To have interactions with VUSAC be much more casual and often, say in the Cat’s Eye with coffee and donuts, will help people talk to us about their various ideas.
Having an online complaint and idea system, where it’s just a Google form that’s attached to the VUSAC website where you could say, “Hey, I saw this person talk, it would be great if they came to Vic and did a seminar,” or “I think this a problem with VUSAC” which could be anonymous. I think improved communication would improve a lot of the areas that people have complaints about VUSAC. People even this year said they didn’t know about elections and so forthbecause a great deal of VUSAC’s advertising is targeted at the bubble— we’re relying on systems that have been in place that clearly have not been effective.
I want better Vic merch, because the sweaters that are sold are so ugly. It’s something simple and material but if we had really nice Vic merch, it would be so nice to see someone on campus in a Vic sweater. Even like really nice Vic stickers to put on your laptop. I had one and so many people complimented me on it. It’s so nice to be able to represent Vic in a subtle, non-expensive way that I think builds community by being able to physically recognize people outside of Vic.
I want VPE to be used as a platform for people to come to me with events they want to see happen and ask how to do it so I can connect them. Being the external person is about connecting people to resources and different opportunities and different clubs. This would be especially good for equity purposes, I think.
TS: The past two years at least, the “bubble” has been a hot topic and it seems to have gotten worse, considering every position this year is uncontested. Does it boil down to communication for you, making the VUSAC office and VUSAC more accessible, or how do you hope to see VUSAC change from the inside?
KC: I think the major problem is that people don’t understand what VUSAC does for them and think VUSAC might not fit their needs, VUSAC doesn’t do much that people can point to and say, “VUSAC did that for me” other than maybe printing, which often isn’t even the case. As I said, VUSAC relies on systems that have often stopped working. Like in this election, everyone is running uncontested, and there is no one in first year currently running. At this point, VUSAC will entirely be made up of third and fourth years, which is totally ridiculous. That’s a targeted way where we can say this is where we failed last year; how can we do better and stronger outreach to first years? It’s unfortunate that it happened this year, but I hope that we’ll take from that and learn from it and be able to make substantial steps towards contacting first years next year, and also, contacting what will be second years next year that clearly got lost in the mix.
I think relying on systems that are already in place and events that we’re expected to hold—a lot of the mandate, like in Arts & Culture for example, you have to host a certain number of open mic nights, which is great, but you can’t just do what’s in your mandate. You should also be trying new things. VCDS did a lot of new, weird shows this year and expanded our season, and this is why I think we had such a successful season. I think that in doing the unexpected and trying something new, the downside is that it might fail and that would totally suck, but if attendance sucks across all events anyway, then we may as well try different things and target different groups. Instead of doing general events, trying to target smaller groups I think is better:just really trying to improve VUSAC, making sure we’re doing things for more people, and people actually knowing what VUSAC does, and trying to change and innovate VUSAC to cater to more Vic students’ needs is very important.