Arguably, the President is considered one of the most integral parts of the Students’ Union Okanagan (SUO). Apart from being the primary face and spokesperson of the Students’ Union, the President also has numerous responsibilities such as “overseeing the human resources of the SUO, ensuring planning of the strategic direction and development of the SUO,” and much more.

This year, there are three strong candidates for President, all of whom have unique and powerful platforms and ideas, and share the goal of making positive contributions to the university. The candidates for presidency include Pierre Frigon, Tashia Kootenayoo, and Jonathan Itamah. The candidates have kindly answered some questions posed by The Phoenix about their platforms and future plans if elected.

Pierre Frigon

The Phoenix: Tell us about yourself, and what qualities make you fit for this position?

Frigon: My name is Pierre Frigon and I’m running for SUO President. I believe my qualities for the position involve my ability to build communities, it is definitely one of my best skills and it is something I believe the SUO sorely needs, especially next year. I am very experienced with leadership having been an RA and worked as an executive member for 5 different clubs/organizations on campus last year. I understand what the clubs need to do better and I understand that leadership necessitates having an open mind to hear people out, especially when you think you know best.

TP: What tangible changes do you plan on making?

Frigon: I want to make a Club Committee to initiate more conversations with clubs to ensure they are given the attention and support they deserve, and coordinate better ways to grow each individual community.

Also, I want to decrease the amount of plastic bottles used on campus by at least 20% to be reasonable. Plastic is way less recyclable than many people realize and the fact that every drink sold from campus stores, other than like The Well, are fully plastic.

TP: How are you going to create a greater online presence?

Frigon: While running the E-sports Association I have learned that Discord is by far the best way to build community online and gives a very direct route for students to keep in touch with the Board of Directors and also clubs. Also, the media outlets such as Heatwave Radio (who I work for currently) and The Phoenix (who I worked with last year) are extremely underutilized. Especially when online, the media can be used as a very effective way to keep students informed and feel involved with what’s going on for the school. The SUO has neglected legitimate support for the media division and for the past 5 years I’ve seen the media platforms slowly diminish. Heatwave is no longer even part of the media fund, which is convenient for the SUO as the media functioned as the best way to keep the SUO accountable. I would change that.

Tashia Kootenayoo

TP: Tell us about yourself, and what qualities make you fit for this position?

Kootenayoo: The students at UBC Okanagan come from all over BC, Canada, and the world looking for not only high-quality education, but also for community, friendships, and the whole university experience. My goal is to make the university experience as positive as possible for all students at UBCO.

I am a fourth-year English major, and in my time at UBCO I have found many ways to be engaged with the campus community and university structures. I got involved in the Debate club when I first got here and through that my eyes were opened to many other opportunities. Since then I have been involved in the resource centers, student life initiatives, and I’m currently in my second year being elected with the SUO. I’ve also been involved in university structures like the sexual violence committee and established the open education resources (free textbooks) committee, where through meeting with the Provost , I got the university to commit money to producing OERs which means students are going to save thousands of dollars and be provided an enhanced learning experience.

As an Indigenous, queer-identifying student I have experienced some barriers and challenges in my time at UBCO. It is because of these challenges that I’m so passionate about educating, advocating, and making change to help all students be lifted up.

The role of the SUO President is to help lead the SUO board of directors, and to support the VPs and all directors in the work they are doing. My experience on the SUO board as well as leadership roles in other campus spaces makes me well suited to not only be successful as President, but to help others be successful as well.

TP: What tangible changes do you plan on making?

Kootenayoo: There are many initiatives I am excited to take on in the coming year. Two examples of these initiatives are Better Back to Campus and more support for students.

Better Back to Campus will focus on ways we can celebrate being together again, and help to rebuild connections that have been strained because of the pandemic. I want to establish a network for clubs and course unions to be connected to important campus and community partners that will allow them to improve sponsorship, advocacy, and event opportunities. Additionally, I want the events the SUO provides to speak to the interests of students such as prominent speaker events with figures such as George Lee, and highlighting student artists on our campus.  

Second, I also want to focus on removing barriers for students and improving resources that are available. This includes completing the initiatives I’ve begun in my current term to increase the mental health coverage for students to be over $900 combined with promotion of registered counsellors in our community; it also includes the repurposing of SUO space in the UNC and Commons buildings to provide physical dedicated spaces for BIPOC students to help them feel safe on our campus.

TP: How are you going to create a greater online presence?

Kootenayoo: This year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with other executives on an initiative centered on creating an SUO presence on canvas. I’d love to continue those efforts as they aim to solve the issue of barriers to online engagement we’ve been facing.

Students are being overtaxed with emails and too many additional platforms, but we’re already on canvas daily which makes it the perfect space for our student associations and organization. We want to limit the barriers of engagement in these virtual times.

Further, I am excited to continue the work I’ve been assisting with to overhaul the SUO website and launch it in the coming year. The website will be more user friendly and offer improved accessibility with a simplified format that will help students find information faster and more effectively.

TP: What motivated you to re-apply for a position at the SUO?

Kootenayoo: The coming year is going to be exciting and different, with students coming back to campus and classes being in person again. This provides amazing opportunities to recreate campus life and reconnect with friends and classmates.

The SUO can help facilitate so much of these opportunities, and I am excited to be a part of it. As an experienced member of the SUO, I am ready to take on the responsibility of leading the team. Over the past few years I have worked hard for students at UBCO, and as part of a dedicated team we have made changes to campus policies, and to the structures of the SUO itself to become more transparent and accountable to students. We have done a lot, but there is more to do, and I am ready and committed to continuing this important work.

Jonathan Itamah

TP: Tell us about yourself, and what qualities make you fit for this position?

Itamah: I am from Nigeria. I lived there for a while and came back to Canada and I got to live in a lot of places including Russia, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, and Canada. I got to experience a lot of different school systems, and in each of those places I did something education related for a significant amount of the time. I think that is something that gives me a lot of insight into how schools are, could be, and the effects it has on students.

Another thing is, I have a hard working mindset. In my first two years here, I started a business on campus called Free Bike Kelowna to help with the hill from campus to Academy Hill and Quail Ridge. It was an electric bike bike share where you can take the bike at any time. I have always wanted to solve problems, hence me taking business; as well education is something I have always been passionate about. Especially with leaving from Nigeria to Hong Kong, I saw how big of a difference it made and have always been passionate about it. So even if I do not get this presidential election now, it is still something I would work on these ideas and making the system better in general.

What makes me fit is I like to work with a lot of people. I feel like getting to be in so many places has helped me relate to people better, and that includes people I am working with and the students here on campus. As well as being an artist, I feel like the main job of an artist is to connect with others. So that is something that I have intuitively been practicing for a while, so I feel this is something I bring to the table where I can connect with students and really find out their needs. For example, it's as simple as going out to talk to students instead of just focusing on myself and what I can do, it's important to focus on what the students want and need which is what i have been doing and what I plan on doing.

TP: What tangible changes do you plan on making?

Itamah: One is going to be a mentorship program where people in the working fields can assist on a personal level those who are here on campus and have graduated. My thinking in life is if you want something and there is someone that has it, just listen to them and follow them step by step. I think if the students can maintain relationships with those already there, then it will be so helpful, much more helpful than our current system. Like I said, I am studying business and a lot of what I learnt is from a mentor, one who is already successful at business. Much more than school, it was much more practical and even some things in school I have learnt but they never stuck because my focus was on passing the exam and it was so much vague information about so many different things. But I felt like having a mentor streamlined the process: this is what you are doing; this is what you want to get to; this is what you need to do; these are the steps you need to take; these are the things you need to learn. It was a lot, but way more efficient, in my opinion, than the current method of just learning everything in school.

Second tangible thing is, quite simply put, a website. Hopefully an attachment of the SSC, but I want to be able to test the way students learn as well test the way professors teach and then pair the two. There are some teachers that like you to do things at your own time, there are some teachers who need you to be there in class, there are some students who prefer one of the two. But that is it in its most basic form. My thinking for this is, the most successful businesses like Facebook, Google, are really good at collecting data about the users and giving them what they need. Of course, this business has a lot more difficult questions around it, but I think in this case it could be something that's very beneficial. We are in the information age, we are a data driven world currently and data rules everything, and that in itself makes us smart, makes us know everything and I think we can leverage that to make a perfect system for school.

Something I really want to do is cover the textbook model to a Netflix model. So, instead of it being like blockbuster where you pay to use it and you don't use it after a while, I thinking more like Netflix where you have a subscription to a platform that has all the textbooks that you need for that term and that year and even for your time here, given that you are doing a certain major. That would take discussions with professors, but I think that would be feasible.”

TP: How are you going to create a greater online presence?

Itamah: When it comes to creating a greater online presence the focus would be on adding value. The biggest thing is to incentivize people to join things that are happening through value. I know before there were a lot of guest speakers that would come in and talk, and the SUO can be like ‘hey, this person is giving an online speech you should come on;’ you know that in itself is adding value. When you add value, you can draw people in and that can make them feel heard and it allows people to become a part of that community discussion posts and things like that would help. Although, I admit things like that would probably be very challenging given that people are kind of tired of being online with spending the whole days behind their laptops. I think if we can just add value, it would help.

TP: What motivated you to re-apply for a position at the SUO?

Itamah: I think there were two major factors in reapplying. Like I said, I have always been passionate about education, I just felt like it gave a better platform to make the changes that I want to. A lot of the things I want to do are outside of the scope of the SUO, and I think just being in that position would help because I think everything comes down to decision makers. Decision makers, you can have a conversation with them and explain why certain things need to be changed and if they are able to understand it, they are able to make good decisions. So, that's the mindset I have. So, I guess the first reason is that I have a passion for wanting to make change.

The President of the SUO has the ability to make very important decisions relating to student life on campus. For this reason, it is important to make an informed decision about electing a president that would represent student needs the best in the coming 2021-2022 term.

The voting period for these elections opens March 1 at 8 a.m. (PST) and closes on March 3 at 11.59 p.m. (PST).