Tomiris Kaliyeva, president of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA), and Christine Quiah, vice-president of student affairs, hope to demonstrate to students that the UWSA is there to help.
“By the end of our term, I would like to see a positive impact ... between the UWSA and students,” Kaliyeva says.
“A lot of people really don’t know what the UWSA is or they don’t really view us as their friends. That’s one thing we’re desperately trying to change with the departments and the
The new UWSA executive team has a lot of work to do to rebuild those bridges. The last several executives have been riddled with scandal and dysfunction.
On June 5, 2020, outgoing UWSA vice-president external affairs Mahlet Cuff accused the incoming Envision 2020 executive slate of being complicit in a campaign of racist and misogynist harassment carried out against Cuff and their colleagues during the election.
The harassment was allegedly carried out by David Teffaine and Sam Cohn, associates of the Envision slate. Envision and Teffaine quickly released a video denying the allegations and defending Teffaine, but, by June 8, photos of Teffaine in blackface resurfaced on social media.
The video was deleted, an investigation ensued, and president Jibril Hussein and vice-president external affairs Breanna Belisle promptly resigned. Hussein accused the UWSA of being the “most toxic environment” he had ever experienced which “perpetuate(d) the same pervasive racism and prejudice they claim to actively be against.”
In April 2022, then-president Kirt Hayer was the subject of three separate complaints from UWSA executives, candidates and student groups alleging various forms of misconduct. Hayer denied the allegations and was sidelined from his duties during a lengthy investigation.
On Jan. 31, 2023, the UWSA released the results of the investigation, which cleared Hayer of wrongdoing, freeing Hayer to return to his duties. On March 15, he was defeated in the election by Kaliyeva.
Quiah, Kaliyeva and Jonathan Henderson, vice-president external affairs, stepped into their executive roles with a roster of ideas to improve the student experience, and they’ve been working to launch different initiatives for the start of the school year.
Kaliyeva’s excitement is palpable as she describes how they’re already on track to deliver on one of her biggest personal priorities: free menstrual products. The UWSA has approved funding to install and continually stock dispensers in eight washrooms across campus.
“I think that’s something that had to be done a long time ago,” she says, mentioning that accessible period-care products are necessities, since “we don’t have a choice to bleed or not, right?”
The UWSA is also advocating for other campus quality-of-life improvements, including extended library hours during exam periods and expanded weekend hours at the Bill Wedlake Fitness Centre to better accommodate international students’ typical work schedules.
The UWSA also worked with Todd Mondor, U of W president and vice-chancellor, and Ian Vickers, chief operating officer for Diversity Foods, to roll out a “student saver menu” of $6 and $7 items for campus cafeterias on Sept. 5. The menu’s items are light lunch fare: a two-egg omelette, half-sized versions of existing Pangaea’s Kitchen items and two protein- heavy bowls.
Quiah is focused on improving collaboration between the university’s Wellness Centre and the UWSA.
She wants to ensure students are regularly reminded of the centre’s services, including REES (which stands for Respect Educate Empower Survivors), a trauma-informed online reporting tool that the university partnered with as part of its Sexual Violence Prevention Policy and Procedures.
“We want REES and the Wellness Centre in all of our activities or events that UWSA hosts,” Quiah says.
She hopes to improve service accessibility through Wellness Centre booths at campus events and the addition of QR codes linking to REES on promotional materials.
Looking forward, Kaliyeva and Quiah have their sights set on the upcoming provincial election. The pair hope that foregrounding their experiences as international students can help make a lasting impression in meetings with candidates.
“When we talk about housing, we talk about how international students have to compromise food to afford rent,” Kaliyeva says. “I think that really helps in the meetings ... when they really feel (that) emotionally ... that’s what leads people to sometimes make decisions.”
Published in Volume 78, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 7, 2023)