Editor’s note: this article is a part of a series of candidate interviews. The Student Life Vice President is responsible for tasks such as societies and orientation week and is the student representative on the Occupation Health and Safety committee at King’s.
Luke Baumgart (he/him) is a first year FYP arts student from Toronto hoping to advocate for student rights as the KSU’s next Student Life Vice President.
Although he doesn’t have any prior experience as an elected member, Baumgart was among the group of first-year students that spearheaded an attempted fee boycott alongside the union earlier this year. This boycott was devised in response to difficulties with the mandatory meal plan that students living in residence paid for over the winter break.
For Baumgart, maintaining this activist energy is essential in order to represent student interests. He says he worries about a lack of student voices in the university’s decision-making.
“The most important problem that we have here is students aren’t able to make decisions about their community, and it is only through beginning to organize a boycott that we were able to have some changes made,” he said.
Baumgart says that the best way to fix this problem is unification. According to him, the creation of a new student group that acts as a liaison between those that live in residence and staff would be an important first step.
“There have been councils in past years – like a residence council – that haven’t taken shape this year. That needs to be started up immediately,” he said. Baumgart says that such councils would give students a more comfortable platform to advocate for themselves.
“We need to make sure that students know that they have control here in this community if they seek to assert that power,” he said.
Ensuring that students can make their perspectives known to the administration is key for Baumgart.
“Students need to be on these decision-making bodies because we’re the people being affected by these decisions, and we’re also paying the bills,” he said.
Breathing new life into the student community is another aspiration of Baumgart’s. He says this year’s reduced energy motivated him to ask upper-year students what usually made student life tick in past years.
“My utmost priority is making sure that things are the way that they were before, and then working with societies to surpass that,” he said. Baumgart says that this kind of collaboration would be key to his approach as Student Life VP.
“I need others to bring their perspectives,” he said, “that’s something that always comes into my decision making.”
Standing up to injustices against students is something Baumgart takes very seriously. “It needs to be made clear to (the administration) that they need to respect us more,” he said, “Diplomacy is very important, being respectful is very important, but at the end of the day, we need someone who can assert the rights of students, and I am that person.”
FYP arts student Kailen Crosson (She/they) is hoping to bridge the gap between staff and student should they be elected as Student Live Vice President in the upcoming KSU elections.
Crosson, who is originally from Quadra Island, B.C., has spent their first year at King’s advocating for student rights as the KSU’s current Residence Representative. The first-year spent a lot of time supporting the recent student-organized boycott against winter break meal plan fees.
“I was responsible for communicating a lot of the complaints and information to residence admin and the KSU,” they said about the situation, “I’m pretty proud of the role I had in helping people get the price cut.”
Working with residence staff has been an important part of Crosson’s time on the KSU thus far.
They say that their bi-weekly meetings with Assistant Dean of Residence Tim Lade will help them work more effectively with King’s administration.
“A good established relationship could lead to a lot more open communication,” they said about the talks with Lade.
On top of their existing relationship with staff, Crosson is hoping to put even more students face-to-face with King’s administrators. When it comes to decision-making, they want to set up opportunities to “involve students more directly, because it is hard, as a single person, to communicate the needs of all these people.”
Crosson also wants to get a stronger impression of what students actually wants from the KSU. “It’d be interesting if I could get a forum or a general opinion from all students,” they said.
More direct interaction between the union and the student body is a priority for Crosson, who wants to “make sure everyone knows about the general meetings, so people know when that’s happening and feel invited into that space. That really is a big part of student’s engagement with the council.”
Making sure the campus’s sense of community survives the COVID-19 pandemic is yet another priority for the Crosson. They say they will work with the Wardroom to organize more student events, and is hoping to “get a couple of societies and clubs going in a way that they can function again” after a year of reduced student engagement.
“A big thing is trying to make sure that King’s culture is able to maintain itself,” they said about the coming year. Crosson says that they will be pushing for a vibrant student community on campus, pandemic or no pandemic.
“I think we’ve figured COVID out now, and we can start to create King’s culture within that.”
FYP Journalism student Kaitlyn MacNeill (She/her) is looking to brighten up student life next year as she makes a bid for the role of Student Life VP on the KSU.
MacNeill is from North Rustico, P.E.I, and has spent her first year at King’s as the KSU’s First-Year representative. She says her long-time involvement with her high school’s student council prepared her for the kind of work done by the union.
MacNeill was also selected for a student program that allowed her to debate in the P.E.I legislature, and was planning to participate in a similar program that took place in the Ottawa parliament building before the pandemic restricted travel.
“That helped me out in council a lot, because the meetings are kind of similar,” she said of her time in the legislature.
As Student Life VP, MacNeill would seek to build a supportive and communicative relationship with students moving into residence next year. “The biggest thing is to make sure that I’m available for people to reach out to me,” she said. MacNeill wants incoming students to know that she is “always here if you need any help.”
MacNeill is also looking to make positive connections with residence administrators in order to find compromises between the interests of students and staff.
“By establishing a good, respectful relationship with both of those groups, I can bridge that gap and hopefully everybody can understand each other a little better,” she said. “It’ll be tough, but I think we can do it.”
Making the KSU more accessible to general members is another priority for MacNeill, who says that creating a more personable and non-judgemental atmosphere will boost student engagement with union proceedings.
“The biggest thing for me is inclusion,” she said. MacNeill hopes to relieve student anxiety about approaching the union through icebreakers for general members joining meetings for the first time, and a less formal approach to addressing the problems they bring forth. “I want to make (the KSU) a more comfortable setting,” she said.
MacNeill also has plans to build stronger communities through shared student experience. She wants to issue surveys to incoming students that assess their interests, and would form groups amongst those who share similar inclinations.
“Groups collaborate a lot better when they share interests, and doing surveys like that would really bring them together, even though they’ve been so far apart this school year,” she said.
For MacNeill, addressing mental health problems endured by King’s students is a must, especially during a year where she says “everybody’s mental health is tanking.” She hopes to create an “online space where people can discuss mental health issues without any fear of judgement, and share tips with each other,” to help mitigate student struggles.
“King’s does have mental health services, but not everybody wants to relay all their problems to a stranger,” she said. For her, a program that connects students with each other “would feel more relatable and a lot more comfortable than talking to someone you don’t really know.”