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Mohamed Tharwat and Youssef Elwi: No More Closed Rooms in a Union For All

By Mohamed Kouta

Youssef Elwi, an Economics and Political Science Junior, and the Associate Chairperson for Funding in the SU shares a vision of change with Mohamed Tharwat, a Mechanical Engineering and Physics Senior, and currently Chair of External Affairs in the Student Senate.

The two agree that the direction the Union is moving in should be redirected, and as candidates for president and vice-president respectively in tomorrow’s SU election, they believe they hold the winning ticket for reform.

Friends since they first met in their freshman year, Elwi and Tharwat believe that student representation is at the heart of what the Union does.

“It is there to “represent, serve and entertain” but people fail to remember the order. Represent comes first. We both share this vision. And that on its own was the drive for us to run together,” Elwi said.

During a one-hour interview with The Caravan, Elwi and Tharwat shed light on the challenges faced by the SU, and their roadmap to reform.

How has your previous work in the Union influenced your vision for the year? 

T: This is only my first term in the Senate, but based on my experience, the problem was that it was always just “senate meetings.” Senators would only attend when we were voting on the budget or confirming SU Chairs. It was just for show. I haven’t seen the Senate come together to discuss a problem that the student body is facing as the students’ decision-making body. It’s kind of a play.

We’ve based our system of governance here on the American system, which has its own flaws, but the point is checks and balances.

The point is that there are these checks and balances between the Union, Senate and Court but that doesn’t exist with the administration, especially when they implement totalitarian policies.

And how do you plan to address these issues as the SU leadership? 

E: I think the first step is to be more active toward the student body, so that they truly feel that the SU is always present – not just during concerts. The SU should always be there when it comes to core issues, be it academic or political representation.

The way we intend to do this is through a new committee called Public Opinion. The Representation Committee always bears the double burden of communicating with both the students and the administration.

As such, in this case, the first burden is shared with this committee so that the Representation Committee can more effectively communicate with the administration.

T: The Communication Committee deals with student entities, the Representation Committee deals with the administration. This leaves a gap, which are the students on the plaza – no committee exclusively deals with them.

We felt that the biggest problem wasn’t that the student body isn’t concerned, but that everyone has this idea of “I do care, but no one else does.” The problem is that there is no platform for students to voice these concerns. Public Opinion will step in here by surveying the student body, directly informing them on a regular basis and releasing its own publication.

In your campaign, you spoke a lot about the gap between student government and university governance. If policies keep being implemented in this way, how would you respond? 

T: First, we would negotiate with the administration while Public Opinion informs and surveys the student body. And what I think we don’t capitalize enough on are other affected stakeholders.

It’s not just students who are concerned, but for example, the faculty have been told that the Faculty Handbook isn’t binding. They’re being told they’re just employees and the general direction this University is taking is to commodify our education. We need to have the faculty on our side.

If we are going to move effectively then we need the student body to take the SU seriously and want to be part of a boycott or stand.

We are not organizing ourselves in a manner that shows our number. If we have something against the administration, it’s our numbers. In the Fall 2016 Strike, it was the number of students in front of Administration Building that put pressure. And suddenly, an Emergency Grant was there.

E: We’re not just protesting for the sake of protesting, but we need to propose solutions or alternatives, which came from the student body and student government. The very fact that we will be reaching out to all these students will mobilize them.

And how will you deal with policies that have already been implemented? 

T: So, for the smoking policy, I think it’s very easy for us to show how many students are against it by collecting petitions. There are several ways we can mobilize against it, such as by boycotting food vendors, which was very effective in Fall 2016.

The problem is that we get to a point where we have to ask ourselves: are we negotiating? Does the administration feel like they can reach a compromise to begin with? If not, then we need to take more direct action, like boycotts, like the strike.

Our concern is the way the policy was implemented. This is not an academic policy, or a security-related policy. But now that it’s a given reality, what we can offer is to demand for more designated areas, including the roofs, and cancelling the final phase.

E: The Campus Access Policy is obviously also a huge problem.

T: Calling it a “Campus Access Policy” is sugar-coating it. This is a policy we very much want to work on. I feel like it’s disrespectful to students on campus, and it makes the campus as a whole a space that’s less inclusive.

Nothing happened to merit this. Selling us fear, with the cameras, the niqab ban … that’s a playing card that we need to address. There are students convinced with this, but we need to reassure them.

And what other policies on campus are a concern to you? 

T: For example, the Food Policy, which was implemented in 2016 after the SU brought in Cook Door to provide to students, now says that we can’t “compete” with vendors. So, we basically create a pricing system that students can’t protest against.

E: There are very flawed arguments in many of the policies. Our first and foremost priority is to communicate with the student body. And the second point is that the concept of “closed rooms.”

We’re not here to represent the camps that are involved in these decision-making processes. We’re here to represent all students.

When the Union wants to take a stand and they talk with the various camps and then come out and say that they’re going to do this or that…That’s not representative.

The majority of students don’t have a platform to voice their concerns, and the administration plays on this point.

T: The administration likes to say that it doesn’t make concessions, but they do, like they did with the niqab ban. Students aren’t aware of this.

Wouldn’t you say the reason students aren’t as involved is because they think student government is a camps’ club? 

T: This is a problem that we don’t talk about enough. Students think the camps are an exclusive circle. It has a “culty” feeling to it. Public Opinion will reach out to the students themselves; we will talk to students every week.

My affiliation to camps will always be there in how people perceive me, but am I going to gear the Union to favor people from one camp or bend toward what one camp wants, definitely not.

E: The entire student body needs to be involved in student politics. If we win this election, it won’t be a Union for camps. It will be a Union for all people.

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