Jaron Rykiss, a third-year philosophy and political studies student, currently serves as an arts faculty representative on UMSU’s board of directors. He has also been vice-chair of the union’s judicial board.
Rykiss said he hopes this, along with his experience in numerous student groups prior to post-secondary education, will give him the skills to learn on the job to “become the best president [he] can be.”
As president, Rykiss said he would work to restore the sense of community on campus that has been lost with COVID-19 and remote learning.
He describes himself as a “huge advocate for mental health,” highlighting this and increasing transparency regarding UMSU finances as some of his key priorities.
“I have [these] ideas for a mental health support portal, so it should be as easy as accessing coursework on UM Learn for students to receive mental health support from student accessibility services,” he said.
Rykiss said students could use this portal to meet over video call or text chat with a counsellor or access notes from a previous session for reflection.
He also argued UMSU “could be doing more” to keep students informed of how money from the fees they pay to the union is being spent.
“We could be posting monthly updates on our finances, we could be running audits as regularly as possible and making sure that students know exactly where our funds are going but we haven’t historically been doing that,” he said.
Rykiss also hopes to help students financially by providing more UMSU jobs for students, using UMSU funds to partially pay for the costs of internships for students and an app that could connect students with people looking for help with odd jobs for cash.
With in-person activities at the university gradually resuming, Rykiss said it would be important to help students get readjusted to campus. He supports “in-person learning with accessibility help” such as pre-recorded lectures for students absent due to COVID-19 and advocated that the university work to meet the needs of students who would not be able to return to campus due to health challenges.
He also said the university should offer counselling resources to those feeling anxious about returning to campus.
“Let’s be honest here — I’m a little bit nervous,” he said. “We’re all a little bit nervous about going back onto campus and my promise to students is that I’ll be there with them.”
Savannah Szocs is a fifth-year student studying biological sciences and political studies and has served for nearly two years as UMSU’s vice-president student life. She has also worked with the Science Students’ Association for two years and is currently a representative on the youth advisory board of Respect, Educate, Empower Survivors (REES), an organization that provides online reporting for survivors of sexual violence.
“I’ve worked extremely hard over the past several years to gather experience that has fully prepared me to take on the role as president and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to run for this position as a result,” she said.
“I want to run for this position because I’m extremely passionate about creating a better campus community for all students,” she said.
One issue Szocs highlighted was accountability for UMSU executives and said she would implement “strict policy” to reflect that.
“I’ve been an UMSU executive for two years now and I’ve seen the ins and outs and how executives work and what is expected of them,” she said.
“I think that there’s a tremendous amount of room to grow with what we hold executives accountable for.”
If elected, Szocs also hopes to restructure the university’s process for in-person reporting of sexual violence and advocate free legal representation for students throughout that process.
“Anyone who knows me well knows how passionate I am about supporting the survivor community and with projects I’ve been working on over the past couple years, we were able to bring [REES’s] online sexual violence reporting tool to campus,” she said.
Szocs said it is “heartbreaking” that some students in their third year at U of M still haven’t stepped foot on campus and hopes to re-engage students in campus life once in-person classes fully resume by promoting student clubs and associations and encouraging new students to get involved.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had as a student on campus as a result of being involved with these clubs and associations […] and I want students to be able to take full advantage of every opportunity available to them,” she said.
Szocs acknowledged that students, particularly those from marginalized communities, are struggling financially due to the pandemic. She argued UMSU should provide supports — such as using community-initiative funding, in which communities are allocated funding for student support and programming — to support students with scholarships and resources, and increasing hardship funding.
Szocs said she is “ready to be the leader that students need.”
“On March 31 and April 1, cast your vote for me, a leader who will represent students in ways that are equitable, reliable and inclusive.”