Pushing through the pandemic
Executive members of this year’s Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) were freshly elected and appointed to their new roles just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March 2020, forcing the closure of campus and the move to online education and services. With their terms beginning on May 1, they prepared to take on roles much different and more challenging at the University and in the community than they anticipated.
Jonathan Ferguson, a fifth-year honours international relations student from Halifax, NS, was elected President. His platform was “Greener. Bolder. Focused on you,” with a concentration on communication and the environment. Ferguson is a second-generation Allisonian whose (late) grandfather, Laing, was head of the geology department and a professor emeritus, geology. His grandmother, Joyce, still lives in Sackville and continues to be engaged with the Mount Allison community.
“I decided to run because I felt that communication was key and wanted to experiment with new ways of hearing from students directly,” says Ferguson. “I wanted to make sure that communication between the MASU and the students we represent is as good as it can be. As challenging as COVID has been, it has led to new and creative ways to do that.”
Sydney Thorburn, a fourth-year honours international relations student from Ottawa, ON, was elected vice-president, external for the MASU. Thorburn ran on the same platform focus as Ferguson.
“Having not being involved with the Students’ Union before, I thought I would jump into the deep end,” says Thorburn. “I figured I could bring a fresh perspective and share new ideas and initiatives. I really wanted to be able to support students on campus.”
The pandemic brought new challenges to the MASU executive, which also includes vice-president, academic affairs, Charlie Burke; vice-president, student life, Venna Penney; vice-president, finance and operations, Michael Nolan; and vice-president, communications, Micci Davy. In the face of these challenges, new programming was created and the importance of existing programs came into focus.
The MASU assisted with self-isolation programming for students arriving to residence in August and also worked to adapt the popular Shinerama Campaign and Orientation to meet Public Health guidelines, along with Shinerama Chair Emma Jacobson and Orientation Chair Kristie Earles.
“It has been a lot of rolling with the punches,” says Ferguson.
A few of the programs at the forefront this year have been the Food Box and grocery gift cards to address food security and the Bike Co-op to keep students active and outside.
As part of her role, Thorburn has also been highly involved with the Tantramar COVID-19 Task Force — a group of volunteers who are addressing pandemic-related needs and issues in the region. (Find out more about the Task Force in Mount Allison, community development, and the pandemic in this issue).
“It was really cool to see this group come together,” says Thorburn. “It was an interesting experience and it felt really rewarding because a big part of my role is University and Town relations.”
Thorburn says this position has shown her that she has the ability to adapt and respond to challenges and new situations.
“I now know that I deserve a seat at the table, whatever table that may be,” she says.
With many months of responding to the pandemic, Ferguson is ready to move the group into a new phase of leadership, entering into longer-term projects. He recently hosted a Re-centering Session for the team in order to organize priorities moving forward. These priorities will include planning for safe in-person events on campus; a virtual Pride Week; Burnout Prevention Sessions for residence teams; delivering online MCAT and LSAT prep; working on new ways to keep students engaged outdoors during the winter season, such as a snowshoe co-op; and compiling a new “who to talk to on campus” online resource guide. The team is also working on a new website, set to launch in December 2020.
During these unusual times, Ferguson says there is still lots about which to be positive.
“A lot has happened quickly because of COVID and I think that the highlight is that students have seen us respond to challenges that have come up,” says Ferguson. “Despite all the negative things going on, students are engaged with what we are doing more than ever and I hope that continues.”