Benjamin Johnson – Candidate Profile

RUNNING FOR VPEA

Photo Credit: Remy Zanotto

Photo Credit: Remy Zanotto

Candidate Interview:

To the best of your understanding, what is the role and responsibilities of the VPEA?

The role of VP External Affairs is rooted in advocacy: representing the Brock student body to lobby all levels of government and serve as liaison between BUSU and community stakeholders. Lobbying involves the provincial advocacy group, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), the federal advocacy group, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), as well as municipal lobbying. They also oversee the Advocacy team and collaborate with the Director of Government Operations to run various on-campus campaigns through the year, including mental health, sustainability, elections, and #TextbookBroke. Lastly, they maintain and build upon BUSU’s Internal Policy Library. The VPEA is required to be fiscally responsible and transparent to the student body in completing all of these tasks.

Why have you decided to run for the position of VPEA?

Cuts to financial aid, mishandling of sexual violence on campus, social stigmas, obstacles to students with disabilities, and barriers to engagement. These student issues must be confronted. I made my platform not for my own benefit, but for what students truly need. Because of my extensive involvement, I’ve seen how wide these issues are and the need for strong leadership from the students’ union.

I embody genuine passion and commitment to Brock and the Niagara community. When I joined BUSAC as a councillor in my 1st year, I was also elected to 3 committees and contributed extensively to the point where I was awarded BUSAC member of the year by the Board of Directors. I go above and beyond in my role, and I never settle for mediocrity. I also awarded by Brock Student Life & Community Experience (SLCE) for my community volunteerism and highly enthusiastic engagement in my first year. All this experience has given me the inspiration to continue advocating for students.

Why do you believe you should be elected VPEA?

My track record of accomplishment is exceptional when it comes to advocacy and breaking down barriers, which shows my potential for VPEA. I have accomplished more than my fellow candidates, such as pushing for discounts for international students and Dons, as well as updating the SLCE Leadership Program to eliminate cultural and disability-related barriers. I was a BUSU delegate at the Fall OUSA conference, where I met with provincial leaders such as Andrea Horwath, Leader of Ontario NDP. I also made connections with student unions across the province. I’ve already made personal connections with local politicians in the area. On top of that, I have contributed hundreds of volunteer hours in the Niagara community, including mental health programs.

Additionally, I will properly represent the student body because my involvement at Brock is incontestable – from holding 3 on-campus jobs, serving on student council, BUSAC, being Vice President of Brock French Club, freelance writing for The Brock Press, to volunteering for Brock with many initiatives such as Habitat for Humanity for Alternative Reading Week, the Niagara Student Leadership Summit, the Student-Alumni Association, Brock International Services, Athletics, as well as participating in different faculty studies. I can say that I’ve touched it all! Lastly, I’ve been encouraged by BUSU executives to run since my first year because of the passion and competence I demonstrate.

If you needed to summarize your platform into three main issues at Brock that you believe need to be addressed, what would they be? How do you plan to address these issues?

  • Lack of support for indigenous students and Aboriginal Services: This is a small demographic at Brock, which sadly causes insufficient consideration when it comes to funding, programming, and general university culture. My plan involved two main tactics: extensive consultation with Aboriginal Services, and ensuring they are adequately funded. These tactics will ensure progress when it comes to properly supporting indigenous students and hearing their voices and concerns. Brock is currently hiring for a Vice-Provost of Indigenous Engagement, who will be a crucial contact in this task. Lastly, there are additional possibilities from an external affairs perspective to engage with indigenous communities to possibly eliminate barriers for pursuing post-secondary education.
  • Sexual Violence on campus: Although Brock administration has been revamping the sexual violence policies, there remains a horrifying truth that the majority of sexual violence encounters go unreported. Victims bottle it up or are pressured to blame themselves, leading to illnesses such as PTSD. This must be confronted with strategic activism regarding the social factors such as personality which play a role in these disgusting circumstances. My plan is to work with different community resources to increase supports and improve the education & awareness surrounding the issue. Complimentarily, I will work with neuroscience and psychology professors and co-op students who will explore the literature regarding social barriers in sexual violence prevention. This way, we are truly protecting our students.
  • Mental Health: University is stressful, as we all know. However, the generalization of intricate details within mental health has marginalized students with mental illnesses and invisible disabilities (e.g. General Anxiety Disorder or Psychosis). This must be addressed with diligent work by the VPEA and Advocacy Team to ensure all students are cared for and Brock provides the necessary services to keep everyone not only healthy, but achieving their full potential. As a neuroscience major, I plan to keep up to date with research on therapy, treatment, and the social factors which may inhibit one’s ability to access such resources.

If elected what would you do differently from past VPEA’s?

My work in External Affairs will complement the vision of Dr. Fearon, President of Brock, who is driving our university in a direction of increased connection and engagement with the wider St. Catharines and Niagara community. There has not been much work in this area by the past VPEAs. As a lifelong Niagara Resident, I have a far greater advantage than my candidates in municipal advocacy and fostering community relationships. This provides a myriad of opportunities for Brock students, including more student discounts, more community donor bursaries, career-relevant volunteering, more student jobs, and better co-op options.

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