Talking Trent University and student politics with TCSA President-Elect Alaine Spiwak

Photos of Alaine Spiwak by Keila MacPherson
Photos of Alaine Spiwak by Keila MacPherson

Arthur’s outgoing co-editors, Pat Reddick and Matthew Rappolt, caught up with Alaine Spiwak, the newly elected TCSA President, to discuss student politics at Trent and the future of the TCSA in 2015-2016. This interview was conducted on the Arthur Hour radio programme and broadcast through the facilities of 92.7FM Trent Radio on March 28. The interview has been condensed and edited.


First of all, congratulations on your victory. With four individual candidates running it was certainly a well contested election. In fact, I can’t remember there ever being so many students vying for the position of TCSA president.

Thank you so much.

What made you decide to run for the TCSA presidency this year?

That’s a really good question. Honestly, I really love Trent and I have a really strong connection with not only the school and the campus, but with the people I’ve met here.

There is so much you can do as TCSA President in terms of representing the students, doing things positively for the students, and making change on campus, so I guess I see it as a way of giving back and getting more involved.

You were the Ethical Standards Commissioner this past year for the TCSA. How has that position prepared you for the presidency?

Well, it is great to have experience on the TCSA before going into a role such as the presidency. I think it would be a huge jump for any student to just walk off the block and hop right into an executive position. Not that it wouldn’t be possible, but I really think that the experience of being a board member will help me in terms of being an executive member now.

I’ve experienced sitting in meetings and voting, and I’ve built relationships with other members in the organization and the staff, so there are lots of things that I take away from my experience on the board this year.

Let’s talk for a second about the Farmer’s Market Discount Card because it’s a really great initiative you have implemented this year as Ethical Standards Commissioner. Where did you get that idea from?

When I was trying to think about campaigns and events to do in my position as Ethical Standards Commissioner, the Farmer’s Market really jumped to the forefront of my mind. My friend actually introduced me to the downtown summer market this past year and I loved it so much. I started telling my friends about it and their response was always: ‘I can’t afford to go there because it’s too expensive and too far away.’

I began taking the bus there during the school year and I realized how easy it was to get there once you figure out the bus schedules. So I approached the Market with the idea of a discount card for Trent students and they were so welcoming that it was easy to launch the project. Every vendor greeted me with such positivity and excitement, they were all thrilled about the idea.

We’ve now made up these trial discount cards that are available for students in the TCSA office. They are valid until the end of summer and my hope is that the incoming Ethical Standards Commissioner, Alex McKee, will take on this project and that students will be able to take their actual student cards to the Market and receive a discount.

In the end, this initiative isn’t just about having lower prices for students, it’s also about building relationships between the TCSA and organizations in the Peterborough community and supporting local farmers.

Well it certainly is a great project and hopefully it will continue to raise within the student body about the Farmer’s Markets and shopping local. Bringing this conversation back to the recent TCSA elections, what was it like to campaign in an election that was so well contested?

Campaigning was actually so much fun. I am now in my second year at Trent after coming here as a transfer student and I know that the past two presidents of the TCSA were elected uncontested, so I was thrilled to be able to run against other students because I didn’t want to win the presidency by default.

I had a great campaign team and my friends were a really big help and support system for me. I’m not sure if students realize how much work and effort goes into campaigning, it takes a lot out of your day but we had a lot of fun chalking around campus and, while not all of it was serious, I think it reflected my outgoing personality and the fun side of me that students really connected with.

I also went and spoke to classes of students which was received really well and I am grateful for that. It was a whirlwind two weeks: I can’t even remember if I ate of slept during that time but it was all about getting out and connecting with students. I love campaigning and I am really glad that I got to be apart of an actual race for the presidency.

The students gave you a strong mandate as more than 500 votes separated you from your nearest competitor. What aspect of your message do you think really captured the imagination of the student body?

I think I just put myself out there as who I am and the students appreciated the personable approach that I took to the campaign. I was myself and I guess the students liked it, which I really appreciate. I have the best intentions going into this position and maybe that’s what the students saw.

This year’s voter turnout was remarkably higher than in past years, 22% this year as compared to 16% in 2014, what do you think motivated so many students to get out and vote?

I’m not sure what it was. Obviously Arthur covered the TCSA quite extensively beginning in second semester of this year, so I think there has been more talk around the TCSA this year and that is maybe what got students voting.

It also helps that there were more positions contested so therefore more people were out campaigning, more people were out chalking, more people were in the classrooms. So maybe all of these factors combined for a strong turnout.

What’s the first thing from your platform that you want to implement now that you’re TCSA president?

Well, right now I’m shadowing the current president, so I am just learning about the initiatives on campus and the details of the things that the TCSA is involved with. But the first thing I want to do is look at the TCSA itself and see what has worked this year and what hasn’t and make adjustments if necessary.

One of the biggest things will be to build a strong executive, a strong board, and a strong office environment. I think that’s really important because conflicts can be dealt with more efficiently as a team instead of things spilling outside the office.

This will mean a lot of team-building exercises, training, and especially anti-oppression training. We do have three permanent staff members who experience a new executive every year, so I think it’s going to be really important to build a strong relationship with them in order to become the most efficient association we can be.

Photo of Alaine and her campaign team having fun during her presidential campaign.
Photo of Alaine and her campaign team having fun during her presidential campaign.

One of the key aspects of this year’s TCSA elections was the fact that the presidential candidates had seemingly conflicting visions about organization’s identity.

Some candidates were arguing that the TCSA needs to do more to embrace it’s role as a political union, while others were saying that the TCSA should operate more like a student government. What, in your opinion, is the role of the TCSA within the Trent community?

The TCSA itself is for the students, by the students, and I think that if we keep that in mind then we can really focus on what we are.

We offer a lot to students, not just services, but services are a big part of who we are. People sometimes talk about the TCSA as being just a party planning organization but I don’t think that’s true at all. I think that we are here to serve the students and to be a voice for the students. Students should be able to come to us with any concerns and we should be able to address them and be in partnership with them.

We do offer a lot of amazing services for students and that will always be a part of who we are, but advocacy for the students is also a part of our identity.

You mention that one of your goals is to increase the student voice on campus. How do you plan on doing that next year?

I think we have a really personable executive for next year and from my conversations with Hillary and Pippa, our other executive members, I know we all really want to be out there talking with students outside of the office.

Looking back at past elections I know that there have been a lot candidates who’ve said this but I haven’t seen them follow through so that kind of brings up a red flag for me that maybe there’s a reason why this isn’t possible, but I want to tackle this head on and find a way to make it work.

I’m someone who loves to attend student functions regardless of whether or not I’m being paid for it, so I’m going to be out with the students enjoying the things that Trent has to offer. Hopefully I can meet new students and talk with them about the issues and what’s happening on campus.

A big part of this is getting students to know who we are as individuals, as executive members, and as board members. I want students to feel comfortable coming into the office and bringing issues to us in whatever way they want.

The relationship between the TCSA and the colleges is really interesting since the TCSA was meant in many ways to be a product of the college system. However, in recent years  I’ve noticed that the TCSA has begun to play an increasingly dominant role in student politics, arguably at the expense of the colleges. In many ways, the colleges seem to be on a second level below the TCSA.

Can you speak about the relationship between the colleges and the TCSA and what the union can do to help to get them get re-engaged in Trent’s political landscape?

I came to Trent from the University of Ottawa which is a very different school with a very different environment When I arrived I was an off campus student so I never actually lived in a college. However, I became affiliated with Gzowski College and now it is a huge part of my Trent experience.

I love my college and everyone that I’ve met and the opportunities that have been granted to me because of Gzowski. I was an ISW leader last year which was a fantastic experience for me and it really made me feel like Trent was my home. I think that the college system is incredible and it’s a beautiful thing that we have here.

Knowing that, I believe that building and maintaining the strong relationship between the TCSA and the colleges is really important. We have multiple representatives from the colleges sit in our meetings that they are actually a part of our board.

I wouldn’t say the colleges are on a second level when it comes to student politics, rather they are on a different level. The college cabinets serve a different function than the TCSA, but that’s just my opinion. The colleges are maybe specifically for those students who are part of them and those who are living in them.

I think it’s reasonable that students focus more on the TCSA because it is a larger organization in terms of size and the different types of people that we have inside the organization. We’re just a bigger organization and so it’s understandable that students and even Arthur would focus more on us.

One of the controversies that arose this past semester had to do with former president Braden Freer’s plan for restructuring the administrative and governance makeup of the TCSA. The plan was scheduled to be presented at this year’s Annual General Meeting but was stricken from the agenda and never adopted.

Now, Mr. Freer is on record stating that he will pass the plan on to your executive team and recommend that it be presented again next year. Given his statement, do you support the plan and do you plan on re-introducing it next year?

I am actually not familiar with the plan whatsoever. I understand that it was opposed by a lot of students and that a lot of students opposed the way in which it was brought up.

The only point that I had students talk to me about was the fact that would have changed the name of the Anti-Racism Commissioner position to something different and I can understand why that was an issue for students.

Unfortunately racism continues to exist on Trent’s campus and on campuses all across Canada. It is still something that we need to be very aware of and active against. So for me personally, I can understand the discomfort students had with the renaming of that position but that’s as far as my knowledge goes on the actual restructuring plan itself.

I believe that it is in a folder on my computer and I am willing to look at everything that has been done and then decide with my executive whether or not that is something that we want to go forward with.

With regards to the merger of the Part Time Student Association (TPSA) and the TCSA that was ratified during the election period, what is the significance of this merger and, going forward, how will it impact part time and full time students here at Trent?

I remember when I first came to Trent I spoke with some friends who were part time students and they said that they could not take the Trent Express because they didn’t have a bus pass. That was my first experience realizing that part time students were not a part of the TCSA.

I think the merger is great. Now we can say that we include almost all students across campus and I am excited to see where it’s going to go in the future.

I don’t think it’s going to change the way we do things that much, we already had a part time student position, but now part time students can run for any position within the TCSA. So I just see this merger as a way of unifying students which I think is wonderful.

The way the merger was presented, part time students will not be required to pay the same number of levies as full time students.

While I understand that there are good reasons for this, Arthur published an editorial this year arguing that the TCSA should find an agreeable way to harmonize all levies to avoid creating two tiers of TCSA membership. What is your perspective on this issue?

That’s actually something I’ve never thought about but it is something that we can look at.

I, myself, am not a part time student so it’s hard to see things from their perspective in terms of paying that money, but we’d have to look at whether those levies are ones that they use often or gain from often.

I think we would have to get a perspective from the TPSA right now as it’s still technically running through the summer. We’ll have to look at what this merger is going to look like solidly in September when we become officially one association.

Finally, what do you think some of the most important issues facing Trent students and the TCSA next year will be?

I don’t think it’s really up to me to decide. I think students should be bringing their issues to us and it should be the student voice that determines the important things on campus.

Personally, I am a big fan of inclusivity and making sure that we have a safe and welcoming campus for everyone. Not that we haven’t taken steps to accomplish this, but it’s still something we need to work towards and make sure that it’s at the forefront of everything that we do.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

Thank you so much for having me and I’m excited for next year.

About Matthew Rappolt 68 Articles
Matthew is a Lady Eaton College alumni, graduating in 2014 with a degree in Canadian Studies and an Emphasis in Law and Policy. Before being elected co-editor of Arthur for Volume 49, he was a campus news reporter keeping an eye on the TCSA, the colleges, and university administration. Outside of Arthur, Matthew enjoys reading, craft beer, sports, and civic pride. His aspiration is to one day open a tiny little brewery in a tiny little town.