In what would prove to be their last chance to greet the voting public before lockdown, OUSA’s candidates for the 2022 Exec took the stage last week to share their plans for the coming year. All of the forums were held in the Main Common Room.
The Presidential race was uncontested from day one this year. While other roles were hotly contested, candidates dropped like flies in the days leading up to the debates. Critic Te Arohi and Radio 1 took the stage opposite the contenders to pepper them with questions ranging from curly to spaghetti-straight. Contestants responded with levels of spice ranging from “mild butter chicken, no salt” to “spicy, but not, like, super spicy”. Unlike last year, this race featured a distinct lack of WAP-debate, but significantly more Sign Up Club mentions (a total of one). Read on for a summary of your candidates, what they stand for, and what they can offer you.
Forum 1: Monday 16 August
President: Melissa Lama, running unopposed
Melissa Lama is in her final year of an MBA, and is running uncontested for President of OUSA. Despite not having a rival, Melissa has run a campaign of awareness so that potential voters can “judge me by my efforts and by my engagement.”
Melissa had a lot of specific goals set for herself in this leadership role, and is no stranger to its pressures. She is moving into the OUSA space from her time at the Pacific Island Students Association. She said that she wants to highlight “what I’ve been able to do in the Pacific space, what I’ve been able to do among marginalised communities.” Notably, Melissa worked on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch masjidain and the Pacific Young Leadership Forum. She was easily the most relaxed speaker of the day, with a long list of credentials and a oratorial gift. Melissa said that as your president, she would continue to hold the Uni to account (especially regarding students’ mental health and wellbeing), advocate for student parents, and be visible as a daughter of the Pacific.
To wrap up the interview, when asked to describe herself in three words, Melissa self-described as “loud, proud, and brown” and received a hearty response from the audience.
Administrative Vice-President: Maya Polaschek vs. Antonia Richardson
The Admin VP debate was a head-to-head between Maya Polaschek (the current Welfare and Equity Rep) and challenger Antonia Richardson. Antonia may be coming in as more of a “change” candidate, while Maya is one of few incumbents this year to bring experience from 2021. Maya and Antonia agreed that the Exec could be more accessible to students, and wanted to increase that, which was a theme throughout the day. Maya told the crowd that “lots of people don’t realize that they can just go chat with [the Exec].” Both said that they want to be people-focussed.
Antonia has a background as a subwarden, and made it clear that subwarden policy was going to be a big emphasis of hers, if elected. She mentioned increasing subwarden pay for a job that is “harrowing, at times”, but clarified that increasing their pay should not come at the expense of first-year hall residents. Maya leaned into her role as an incumbent, saying she would bring a “wealth of knowledge” with her. Her main plans are to share that knowledge with new members and campaign for sustainability on campus. She described herself as a rapport-builder and a sucker for timelines. The value of experience was something that presidential candidate Mellisa Lama potentially echoed when she said that she would be excited to see Exec members return.
Financial and Strategy Rep: Emily Fau-Goodwin, running unopposed
Emily is running uncontested, but wants to “keep the campaign engaging” by reaching out to let people know she’s running. She sees herself as capable of doing the role, but couldn’t comment on OUSA’s current financial situation without seeing the books. Critic and Radio 1, who were moderating the debate, threw Emily a curly question and asked her if OUSA was a union or a business. Emily acknowledged the curliness of the question and responded promptly, saying that while OUSA had elements of a business, “students must be at the forefront of what it does.” She continued to say that the business side is necessary for the Union, because without a steady income, it cannot provide the services that it is designed to provide.
While she felt confident in her financial abilities, she said the “strategy” side of things would need some brushing up if elected. Overall, she seemed ready for the role and expressed a clear vision of what the job involves.
Academic Rep: Daniel Fitzpatrick vs. Caitlin Hancy
Only one butt took a seat on stage, but two contestants are running for this position. Daniel Fitzpatrick sat next to a chair vacated by Caitlin Hancy, who sent her apologies for having to be out of town.
Daniel comes in as a bit of a populist candidate, describing himself not as a “political mogul”, but “just a dude who wants to make some change.” He reminded listeners that he is the only candidate endorsed by the recently-silent Sign Up Club. Daniel has also been the most digitally-visible candidate, spending ⅓ of his campaign budget on Facebook ads (a wise decision given the situation we currently find ourselves in). They cost him 0.4 cents per ad, and zero trees per view when compared to paper, he said. His big policy was about the accessibility of tutorials, a system that he sees as “not great”, and repairing the “broken” class rep system. When asked about how he would represent a diverse range of students, the Ski Club member said that he would “open the channels of communication.”
“My role is representing not my agenda, but the collective interest of students,” he said. He was the only day one candidate to open with a “gidday”.
Welfare & Equity Rep: Lily Marsh vs. Anna Piebenga
This race pitted law students Lily Marsh and Anna Piebenga against each other. Anna began with a flying start, giving a slick and polished one-minute intro in which she highlighted two very relevant skills for the role: “I love people and I love helping people.” She particularly wanted to focus on mental health and disability support services, pointing to her lived experience as someone with a disability. She would try to make sure disabled students have a louder voice on campus.
Lily pointed out that “there are lots of good resources out there, but as a rep you’ve got to make sure it all ties in together.” She criticised current support services as often being focused on “target-hitting,” and highlighted an anecdote in which a doctor’s note from Emergency Psychiatric Services wasn’t accepted as proof for special consideration. She also emphasised trying to encourage better Māori and Pasifika representation, saying that they can give unique perspectives on “things we would have no idea about.”
Both candidates agreed current resources weren’t appropriately dealing with student problems — with Anna observing that Student Health “doesn’t have the resources to deal with our problems” (surprise surprise). When pressed for more “concrete” goals to aim for, Anna said she wanted to boost welfare promotion on campus, to ensure students are aware of the services available to them. Lily, meanwhile, wanted to focus on better triaging of patients and more early intervention services as ways to make an impact.
Forum 2: Tuesday 17 August
Clubs & Societies Rep: Tulsi Raman vs. Elena Cruz
An international geopolitical smackdown, this debate saw the President of the Indian Students’ Association, Tulsi Raman, square up for the role against Filipino Students’ Association President, Elena Cruz.
To kick things off, both candidates were asked about what other clubs they were involved in: Tulsi geeked out about crocheting workshops with the Art Club, while Elena made her case to be Miss Worldwide, name-dropping her associations with both the Korean and Hong Kong Students Associations.
Tulsi had the clearest vision for change among the candidates, with her headline policy being to shift club affiliation from the end of the year, during exam period, to the start of the year, so “they’re all set for O-week.” She was also keen to encourage clubs to set up more online/hybrid events to enhance inclusion, something which may be a stroke of brilliance following lockdown’s announcement later that evening. Meanwhile, Elena saw her priorities as making training for club execs better, as well as being a hands-on presence who is “personally there” for clubs.
Asked about how to encourage older students to get stuck into clubs dominated by first-years (a question which this long-lapsed DebSoc member can empathise with), Elena advocated for clubs to build more connections between younger and older members. Tulsi, on the other hand, was keen to promote the idea that “clubs are not just for first years” — especially by encouraging older students to get stuck into leadership roles.
Residential Rep: Patrice Le Sueur vs. Rebekah Amitrano vs. Tat Mutingwende
The three-way ruckus for the role involved two law students — Patrice Le Sueur and Rebekah Amitrano — and oral health student Tat Mutingwende.
Patrice came in swinging, pitching his experience delivering flatting talks to halls, as well as his work training RAs and in conflict resolution. He also had the clearest headline policy — encouraging students to push flat hunts back to semester two — and the clearest plan of action, aiming to shine the media spotlight onto Dunedin’s housing situation to put the pressure on. Best of luck trying to get freshers to do anything.
Rebekah highlighted her credentials as a current Knox subwarden (or, as they insist on calling it, “submaster”, an oxymoron straight out of a Fifty Shades novel), and had the most compelling motivation for the job — because, as a subbie, she was “annoyed at how some things happen,” with such little engagement with students. The main problem, as she sees it, is that while lots of resources are available, “a lot of people don’t know where to go or who to go to.”
Tat brought the most interesting background to this debate — as well as being a student and subwarden, she also used to be a landlord and property manager (her parents still are). Her goal was to use that experience to “build relationships” with landlords and keep rents down. In a wholesome and polite twist, she answered every question by first thanking the questioner.
Political Rep: Te Āwhina, running unopposed
Te Āwhina, currently the Āpiha Mātauranga Māori at Te Roopū Māori, is the only candidate left in the Political Rep race, after the two other candidates withdrew.
Buzzing with excitement, she said that she was eager to “learn on the go,” and to bring “passion, drive, and cultural values” to the role. She mentioned that she was “a very political person naturally,” and that “it’s natural for our wāhine Māori to be political,” but she (probably sensibly) sidestepped a question as to what her political leanings were, instead saying that “she can relate to both sides of the spectrum.”
She highlighted climate change and sustainability as being the biggest political issue she wanted to raise awareness of, and thought that OUSA and Otago Uni should be a lot more vocal on the climate crisis, as well as on other local and international issues. “There is so much that’s going on,” she said, “but so little that Otago is saying.” Te Āwhina also brought up student poverty, student loans, and student housing as key issues to focus on.
Unlike probably 99% of the population of Aotearoa, she said she was “excited” for local body elections in 2022. In particular, she wanted to improve awareness and engagement with the elections among the student population, to “let students know that their voices matter, because Dunedin is a student city.”
Postgraduate Rep: Bible Sung Kyong Lee vs. Ravneel Chand
Originally, Postgrad Rep was the most contested position, with four candidates running. But after two withdrawals and one no-show, Bible Sung Kyong Lee was the only one at the forum. She told us her name was given to her by her teachers after they couldn’t pronounce her given Korean name, Sung Kyong, and she sounded pretty on the ball when quizzed by our hosts. Bible maintained a consistent message throughout the debate, stressing that people knew about postgraduate study and knew that postgraduate students exist. Their representation in the greater student body was a chief concern.
She also raised the issue of postgraduates being relatively unable to get extensions, and would look to change that should she be elected. Bible also explained that she wants to have more events available to students interested in postgraduate programmes. As far as she could tell, the only events on offer did not give interested students a good opportunity to interact with current postgrads to see what their courses are like. Further opportunities to meet current postgrads and supervisors would be a priority for Bible, should she be elected.
International Representative: Sean Teow vs. Kyra Butt
This race saw a very international selection, composed of two Malaysians — Sean Teow, President of the Otago Malaysian Students’ Association, and Kyra Butt, who Zoomed in from the US. Even with the limitations of not being there in person, including being unable to hear pretty much every question that was asked, Kyra still delivered an impressively slick performance. Her key policy is to institute an international students’ census, to get an idea of what the needs are in that community, and to make it something which can continue down to her successors in the role.
Sean told the audience his main goal was “create safe spaces for our diverse faces” (points for sick flow). A self described “pretty chill guy,” he was slightly less polished in presentation but brought emotion to the fore, particularly when talking about the main problems international students are facing. Talking about homesickness, in particular, he seemed to get quite emotional — as you probably would if you hadn’t met your family in two years.
Given the Virus situation, both candidates had a strong focus on how to support international students stuck overseas, especially seeing as Kyra was one of them. In particular, Kyra wanted to push clubs to encourage more online, hybrid events as a way of allowing students the “same right to the full university experience”. Sean, meanwhile, cited his experience supporting 40 students stuck offshore as OMSA President, and suggested establishing a dedicated “Offshore Students Officer” for international students who “pay full fees, but only get partial support”.