By Donna Nadeem

McMaster University recently hired their first associate vice president (Equity and Inclusion). Arig al Shaibah, a vice-provost from Dalhousie University, will be starting her term on April 1.

Al Shaibah plans on engaging with the campus, local and historically underrepresented or underserved communities to insure that she is hearing all voices to understand and learn of the challenges and opportunities. She wants to ensure that she is aware of the various perspectives of the diverse communities in order to build strong ideas and strategies to advance the equity and inclusion goals at McMaster.

“McMaster is clear in its commitments, has invested in programs to support equity and inclusion and has been active in making sure the systems, structures and symbols are in place that are necessary for institutional change,” said al Shaibah.

“I have always been personally passionate about advancing equity and inclusion, perhaps in large part given my own lived experiences.”

Arig al Shaibah, Incoming associate vice president (Equity and Inclusion)

“My first task is to meet members of the campus and local communities — to listen and to develop our relationships as a foundation for working together moving forward. Trust and transparency are critical to doing this work ethically and effectively,” she added.

Currently, al Shaibah is the vice-provost and acting executive director at Dalhousie, and has also spent many years at Queen’s University, where she achieved a PhD in Cultural and Policy Studies. Her dissertation was about educational equity in higher education. At Queen’s, al Shaibah worked as the assistant dean of student affairs (student life and learning), where she focused on residence life, student transition and academic success.

At Dalhousie, al Shaibah worked as the vice-provost (Student Affairs) and acting executive directors (Human Rights & Equity Services). Al Shaibah also taught courses in feminist pedagogy and critical race studies during her time as a professor.

She also spent around a decade working for non-profit community organizations which support and advocate for diverse populations and for the past 15 years has worked in the university setting, helping advance equity and inclusion goals.

“I have always been personally passionate about advancing equity and inclusion, perhaps in large part given my own lived experiences. As I became more knowledgeable about inequities locally and globally, I began to feel a great sense of responsibility to use my agency personally and professionally to make a difference,” said al Shaibah.

Shaibah’s passion and experience about equity and inclusion through her own lived experiences made her become even more committed to supporting those who face inequities both locally and globally.

“Although the work can be emotional and challenging, I find it extremely empowering and rewarding to see efforts resulting in change,” she explained.

McMaster has put in efforts to support equity and inclusion programs, through their Equity and Inclusion Office that ensures that students, staff and faculty are all treated respectfully in all areas of campus life. Arig al Shaibah hopes to improve and clarify issues with inequities and inclusion.

“McMaster has expressed a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion and there are obvious signs of this commitment across the institution. It will be important to consider where McMaster has been, where we want to go and how to get there together.”

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With the announcement of the new President-elect, the MSU also revealed the results of the VP electoral referendum. During this election period, students not only had the chance to vote for their choice candidate for president, but to also vote for or against (or abstain) initiating an election process for MSU Vice-Presidents.

The referendum resulted in 66.4 percent of the votes in favour of the process, with 4,590 students saying “yes” to VP at-large elections. While this number is impressive, it wasn’t enough for the referendum to pass. A constitutional referendum requires two-thirds of the votes to pass, or in other words, 66.67% “yes” votes. Had it received 20 more votes, or roughly 0.27% more support, McMaster would currently be moving towards an at-large VP electoral system.

“We were angry and disappointed in ourselves. We could have made just one more class talk, or ask more people to vote in order for it to pass,” said Esra Bengizi, one of the managers of the pro-VP reform campaign, in an interview with a Silhouette reporter.

The pro-referendum campaign group formed in early November after the Student Mobilization Syndicate presented a petition with over 800 signatures to the Student Representative Assembly requesting the right for students to vote for their VPs (Education, Administration and Finance) — a task that is currently done exclusively by the SRA. The SRA addressed the petition at their Nov. 1 meeting and decided that the vote would go to referendum as opposed to becoming a constitutional amendment.

Had the referendum passed, McMaster wouldn’t be the first school to switch to an at-large VP electoral system. Western University currently runs on a system that allows students to vote for two of their five VPs. The system has proven successful — as they have managed to continually elect a candidate for each position — but over the years voter turnout has decreased, and voter fatigue is assumed to play a role in this.

Although this recent loss is a blow to the efforts of pro-referendum campaign group, this may not be the end of the group’s campaigning. The VP Referendum is not the first to fail on a ballot, and this year doesn’t have to be the end of its campaigning. The Health Care Referenda, which constituted of three different questions related to the student health plan, failed the first run during the elections for the 2014-15 MSU President. The referenda were added to the ballot again the following year, and after increased promotions and education, all three referenda passed.

“With a team of only ten people we were able to get 4,590 voters to say yes,” Bengizi said. “Imagine if we had more. I was shocked to see such a success, and seeing this makes me even more ambitious to try again… we will not give up, we are going to continue to fight”.

*Files from Shalom Joseph

Photo Credit: Michael Gallagher/ Production Editor

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This is an argument independent of the opinions of the Presidential candidates.

But when it comes to the referendum on VPs at-large, it's clear that it's unfashionable to be against an at-large vote.

To catch anyone up: until now, the Student Representative Assembly has internally elected the McMaster Students Union’s three vice presidents. The three VPs, along with the President, make up the Board of Directors that deal with the daily concerns of the MSU on a full-time basis.

However, after a push from students that began last year, the student body will be voting in a referendum on whether or not they want VP elections to be open to the general student body.

YES, for VP elections to move to an open vote.

NO, for VP elections to remain decided by the SRA.

So on one hand, it's understandable why it's unpopular to be against VP elections at-large. By saying no, are you against the opinions of the students? Are you against what democracy stands for? Are you saying that students can't decide for themselves what is right?

But this is a perversion of what a "no" argument entails: that a body of evidence indicates a host of issues with moving to an at-large system for VPs.

Sure, correlation does not equal causation, but voter turnout has steadily declined at Western University by 50 percent after moving away from internally elected VPs.

And by running a slate model (where candidates must run in teams) at-large, Queen's University has had its Board-equivalent acclaimed for the past two years.

Anecdotally speaking, this fatigue shouldn't come as a surprise if students are asked to make an informed vote on their MSU President, their Vice-Presidents, their SRA members and the various positions on their faculty societies, usually within the span of a month.

I have zero allegiance to the SRA, and if I felt that there was real, tangible evidence on why moving at-large is healthy for the democratic process, I would support it.

And yet there is none.

sra

I am not defending the SRA's right to decide our VPs. I am defending our right to hold the SRA accountable.

Because if we argue that the SRA is unable to make appropriate decisions on our behalf, then we are arguing about a much larger problem; that our student representatives no longer represent our opinions.

If the SRA is biased or unrepresentative, what about the other decisions they make on our behalf? Should the introduction of every MSU service be decided by a public vote? Each new service involves the hiring of a paid, Part-Time Manager, and the impact of a service arguably lasts far longer than the one-year term of a VP.

I am glad that a service like WGEN was voted in unanimously by the SRA, instead of held to an open, at-large vote where toxic and sexist comments might have been made in ignorance.

And while I'm voting no, I want to clarify my stance, as I still want to see two major changes to the VP elections process.

The first change is for the VP elections to be decided by an open ballot, where the votes of each SRA member are transparent to the body of students they represent.

My representatives should not be afraid to explain their choices if they claim to represent my interests, and they should be accountable for the decisions they make on my behalf.

And the second change I want implemented is for the VP candidates to begin their internal campaigns at the same time that SRA positions open up.

Why does this matter, if the general student population isn't voting for our VPs?

Primarily because it forces individuals running for the SRA to be informed and accountable about our VP candidates.

Even if I invest my time to learn about each of the VP candidates, I'm not concerned if I prefer VP candidate X, while my prospective SRA representative prefers VP candidate Y. What I care about is that the people who claim to represent my interests have put in the time to have an informed opinion, and it's an opportunity for someone to prove just how serious they are.

This is not telling you that voting YES is wrong. If you're frustrated with the SRA, that's more than fair. I am still irritated by the SRA’s decision to remain neutral and it makes me wonder how that could possibly be helpful to the student body.

You should expect more from your SRA, and you should want to hold them accountable. Moving VP elections to an at-large system is ignoring a problem rather than fixing one.

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