C/O Travis Nguyen
A closer look at the elected first-year representatives for the MES and their hopes for the future
By: Kirsten Espe, Contributor
On Sept. 27, 2021, the results for the 2021-2022 McMaster Engineering Society elections were announced. After a year and a half of online learning, all candidates, especially the first-year representatives, were excited and optimistic about an in-person university experience.
Following a week-long campaign, six first-year Engineering students were elected by their peers to represent the biotechnology, computer science, engineering 1 and integrated biomedical engineering and health sciences programs.
Halima Banuso, one of the three level one engineering representatives, spoke about her early interest in becoming involved at McMaster.
“[The] MES were basically the ones who ran the Red Suits for Welcome Week . . . I just really loved all the activities and the Red Suits are super cool. I remember me and my friend asked ‘Oh, how do you become a Red Suit because I wanna do that [in my] second year too’,” said Banuso.
Aside from the excitement of returning to a somewhat in-person experience, Banuso was also enthusiastic to get back to doing something that she loved.
“I was that person who just really liked going to every event and planning every event and I was on my high school student council . . . Obviously school’s important, but that’s not necessarily what you’re going to remember and in a few years you’re going to remember the memories, the friends you made, the cool events you got to go to, so I really like being a part of that stuff,” said Banuso.
The first-year integrated biomedical engineering and health sciences representative, Dhanya Koshti, said that one of his main motivators in applying to the position was his desire for community.
“Everyone knows what they’re doing but they are way more for working towards collaboration over competition,” said Koshti.
Koshti made an astute connection between the distinctiveness of his program and the McMaster “Fireball Family” by comparing the bridge of engineering and health sciences.
“We’re sort of that hybrid in-between . . . We have this really unique relationship dynamic with each other and I really wanted to build on that connection,” explained Koshti.
Hetanshu Pandya, the first-year computer science representative, also spoke about the importance of his position in relation to the community at McMaster.
“[Students] can share their thoughts, their experiences, their opinions, whether it be negative or positive . . . and you can share it [with] me and I can communicate that with the council,” said Pandya.
Pandya said his main goal is to represent first-year computer science students fairly and effectively, with hopes of exceeding both his and his fellow peers’ expectations for the year.
Due to the partial online environment currently established at McMaster University, candidates found themselves honing their technological skills to campaign, particularly through social media.
Matthew Arias, the biotechnology first-year representative, commented on his campaign that was done on Instagram.
“[The] first thing I did was make an Instagram account because everybody’s on Instagram and it’s kind of the easiest way to reach out. I’d make Instagram posts on another website with graphic designing and I posted on there,” explained Arias.
Arias also highlighted that some of his fellow students would repost his posts without him ever asking, further driving home the sense of community the other representatives spoke about.
All four engineering representatives echoed similar sentiments to their fellow first-year students of the MES prior to the start of their official term.
“To the same extent that you all supported me, I really want to be there to help you guys. That is what this position, really, is all about,” said Koshti.
“Whether things are virtual, or in-person, someone’s on-residence, or off-residence, [I hope that] we can all come together and really feel a part of the McMaster engineering community,” said Banuso.
Despite the different circumstances students may be in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these four representatives look forward to building a strong community for first-year engineering students.
Following allegations that surfaced late January, McMaster University has prepared an action plan to respond to the issue, following the results of an external investigation.
McMaster Daily News reports that the investigation was focused in two areas: behaviour surrounding songs and songbook materials, and unsanctioned events that may put students at risk. The report can be found here, and the second report, prepared by Associate Vice-President and Dean of Students Sean Van Koughnett as an outline for University action, can be found here.
"The findings in the investigator's report are disturbing," said Provost and Vice-President Academic David Wilkinson in an Daily News interview. "The behaviour is unacceptable and while the McMaster Engineering Society had indicated in a document from some time ago that its culture needed to change, it is clear that the pace of change is not sufficient. The University will be implementing all of the recommendations in the dean of Students' report."
The external report included several findings of misconduct, including but not limited to:
The second report outlined several actions the University will take to address these findings:
The MSU has released a statement clarifying that this scandal is not indicative of the kind of behaviour present in other student-led societies, nor will it be an enormous constraint on organizational autonomy. "We are an organization that is ideally situated to define the leadership orientation and training programs alluded to in the recommendations," said MSU President Teddy Saull. "Autonomous student leadership is the cornerstone of student life. The MSU will work with all faculty societies to ensure responsible student government continues to thrive for the benefit of the undergraduate students of McMaster University."
The University has learned of a Redsuit songbook containing "sexist, violent and degrading material" and has taken action by formally suspending the large student group.
“The material is highly repugnant,” said provost and vice-president, Academic David Wilkinson. “The University has clear expectations that everyone on campus show respect for each other. The engineering songbook that we have learned about is highly disturbing and is the exact opposite to everything for which the University stands."
Effective immediately, the Redsuits are barred from organizing or participating in any campus events or activities. They will also not be allowed to organize any Welcome Week 2014 activities, which is the time of year when the Redsuits are traditionally most active on campus.
"Sadly, the small number of students within the organization and the redsuits they wear have now become symbols of intolerance and a sexist mindset that has no place at the University or in our society," said Ishwar Puri, dean of engineering.
The University is launching an external investigation into the matter and has vowed "rigorous scrutiny" for any forthcoming McMaster Engineering Society events. MES is the parent organization of the Redsuits, who are known for wearing red jumpsuits around campus.
More to come