With election nominations open until January 17th, executives and student leaders at the University Students’ Council have set up an interactive art installation in the UCC Atrium to encourage students from marginalized and underrepresented communities to run in the upcoming USC Election.
The #HERETOLEAD Campaign is led by Cecilia Liu, Student Programs Officer, Camellia Wong, Associate Communications, and Samira Adus, Associate Peer Programs. As historically underrepresented student leaders on campus, Adus highlighted the many conversations between the trio regarding the barriers to entry that students face in the Western community and their overall experience as women of colour on campus, with special attention paid to their personal experiences intersecting with their work at the USC. In hopes of enacting impactful change on campus, these discussions sparked the inspiration for this campaign.
Adus stands by the importance of encouraging and supporting underrepresented students in leadership roles to ensure a variety of voices and perspectives are heard.
“We looked around and decided we wanted this to improve. We wanted to encourage people who maybe, because of the fact that they are a part of a marginalized community, feel imposter syndrome. This can be amplified when you’re a female, and further amplified when you’re a female of color, for example. There are so many layers that can hinder someone’s confidence and their ability to feel like they can pursue a leadership position on campus, or run to be President of the USC one day. So, we wanted to start this campaign to inspire people so they feel more comfortable, supported, and encouraged to take that leap and hopefully promote more diverse student leadership on campus,” Adus explained.
Part of the goal of the program, she continued, is to ensure that Western’s elected student leaders are representative of the campus’ changing student population. While the campaign in no way attempts to influence which candidates students ultimately choose to select on their ballot, it is intended to diversify the candidate pool by encouraging historically underrepresented groups to consider putting their name forward for nomination. The USC and its student leaders are neutral in student elections, but do aid the Elections Committee in promoting the overall campaign.
As such, ahead of election nominations concluding on January 17th, the art installation exhibit in the UCC Atrium provides students with the opportunity to read about thoughts and questions someone who is seeking election may ask themselves in times of doubt. Students are invited to share motivating words on postcards at the end of the exhibit, which were designed by Zoe Sihota, a 4th-year Western student.
When navigating through the art installation, passersby will notice banners featuring quotes such as, “Should I apply for that leadership role?”, “What if they don’t like my ideas?”, “What if I’m not a good leader?”, and “I don’t think I have as much experience as he does…”.
Adus noted the purposeful set-up of the installation, which she noted is “really interesting because of the artwork in which you have to push through the interactive elements, which is almost a metaphor for someone pushing through and overcoming the barriers in front of them to get to that position as a leader on campus. There are a lot of prompting questions that people can ask themselves.”
“We wanted to make sure it was as interactive as possible to help spark a conversation in our student community. We could have set up a booth and simply told people ‘it’s okay to have doubts,’ but to actually have this message emphasized through artwork is really powerful,” she said.
Nathan Szierer, Chief Returning Officer was available to chat with students and other community members during the campaign’s art installation’s first viewing day on Monday, January 13th.
Szierer is responsible for overseeing the student elections within the USC, including those of the USC President, faculty presidents, and faculty councillors. Additionally, they are tasked with the promotion and marketing of the elections as well as handling elections procedures, including enforcing election bylaws and ensuring the election is administered fairly.
“I’ve noticed a change this year with a broader movement toward inclusivity and acknowledgment that we need to talk more about diversity on campus. It’s been really nice to see Cecilia Liu (Student Programs Officer) furthering this work. I’m really happy to see the executive take these steps and I’m hopeful that this initiative will inspire students across campus who don’t traditionally run in elections and encourage them to put their name forward,” said Szierer.
Szierer emphasized the postcards, speaking of the impact they had on himself: “One of the postcards someone posted today was truly inspiring, with the words: ‘Embrace the unknown and believe in yourself. Your ideas are valid and you running may mean more than you think it will.’ There’s no real forum for people to be sharing messages like this, so, for someone to read that and have it get them thinking about running is so meaningful. Having non-traditional students up for nomination and a part of the USC Elections is a great thing for Western.”
The #HERETOLEAD Campaign art installation is available to be viewed and experienced until Thursday, January 16th in the UCC Atrium. USC Election nominations are open until Friday, January 17th and the official campaign period begins on Monday, January 20th. For more information, head to westernvotes.com or westernusc.ca.