The nominations period for the York Federation of Students (YFS) elections closed on March 5. On Monday, March 8, campaigning week began and candidates have begun officially declaring themselves.
Notably, the majority of positions have already been declared as “acclaimed”, meaning that these candidates appear to be uncontested. All of the executive positions are acclaimed, as well as all of the faculty director positions except the Schulich School of Business. All of the college director positions are also acclaimed with the exception of Bethune College and Winters College.
According to the YFS website, elections will be taking place online this year via Zoom. Students who wish to vote will be required to attend virtual polling stations on Zoom one at a time. They are required to have their cameras on and present a piece of photo ID, and their identity will be verified by elections officials or poll clerks via Zoom.
“Voting and campaigning will be entirely virtual this year, and details on these processes will be posted on the YFS website,” YFS Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Rebekah Terpstra told Excalibur on March 4.
The decision to run elections via Zoom video conferencing with required on-camera presence and photo ID comes a few weeks after York’s Senate made the decision to cease the use of technology-enabled invigilation — including proctoring software or video proctoring.
At the time, the current YFS VP of Equity told Excalibur that the photo ID verification process used during online proctoring created difficulties for students with disabilities or medical conditions, and posed an issue for trans and gender non-conforming students.
The acclaimed candidates, including the executives, have identified themselves as belonging to a party called Empower YU.
The acclaimed executive positions are as follows: Riaz Nandan as acclaimed president, Jaskarn Duhra as acclaimed vice-president (VP) of operations, Adaeze Mbalaja as acclaimed VP of campaigns and advocacy, Alexus Nikkita Marticorena as acclaimed VP of equity, and Ashley D’Souza as acclaimed VP of campus life.
Nandan had the role of VP of operations, and Duhra served as VP of campus life during the current school year.
In the race for Schulich faculty director, Jaspreet Kaur Grewal is running against Sara Reza, who is also a member of Empower YU. The Empower YU candidates for Bethune College, Valentina Acosta-Serrano, and Winters College, Emma Pressello, are unacclaimed.
Along with Grewal, the other candidates for the three contested positions are Sarah Ayoub, running for Winters College Director, and Remie Taza for Bethune College Director.
Grewal spoke with Excalibur about her current campaign, mentioning that it is the most recent step in ten years of student involvement. Grewal says when she started out at Schulich, she hadn’t planned to run on behalf of the faculty. However, she says now she’s working to dismantle the view of Schulich students as a monolith.
“Despite our student population being so diverse in character and heritage it always seemed like we were all just grouped into one identity. It’s through that realization I saw the need to amplify minority voices and recognize the different intersectional identities that make up our landscape of students at Schulich,” she says.
“I also started to see the barriers still very present for women who look to pursue careers in the business field. Stereotypes and biases are still present within our community, limiting and underestimating the ability of Schulich women.”
“There are many existing issues that we aim to continue working on, including: the burden of student debt, access to mental health resources, academic advocacy services, professional and development opportunities, and food insecurity,” says Nandan.
“In addition, addressing the inequities that exist at our university through campaigns geared at raising awareness and mobilizing support for students who face additional barriers at this institution.”
Nandan listed the fight for free and accessible education-for-all, online and after-hour counselling, zero per cent interest on student balances, and an increase in financial support and opportunities as four elements of Empower YU’s platform. He also mentioned lobbying York to improve eClass software as a final priority.
“While this is the team platform, each individual team member additionally has their own specific goals they aim to achieve within the Colleges or Faculties they represent. The common goal is to promote student wellbeing, which includes academic, financial, social, and mental wellbeing, through an anti-oppressive lens,” he says.
For Grewal, the turning point for the decision to run were the recent farmers’ protests taking place in India. Grewal worked alongside York’s Punjabi Association on this cause, hoping to get “York University’s Office of the President to acknowledge the effects this protest is having on students. We were met with silence. It was after that I really started acknowledging and realizing how limited support is often offered for minority students many of which may be struggling alone.”
The voting period begins Tuesday, March 16 at 9 a.m. and ends Friday, March 18 at 4 p.m.
Empower YU was not available for a comment to follow up questions about how their party was formed.