Politics, Leadership and Governance, Social Commentary

My Two Cents: Access Granted, Hope denied #GuildElections2017

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In what was arguably one of the most exciting, contentious, controversial and participative election periods at the UWI Mona Guild, Mr. Oshane Grant, the current Games Committee Chairman and presidential candidate, was GRANTED ACCESS to lead the Guild of students for the 2017-2018 academic year. Grant, a member of the Chancellor Hall fraternity clinched the win with 1234 votes to Jerome Palmer’s 1166 votes, Jerahmeel James’s 540 votes, Dontae Drummond’s 339 votes and Joshua Hayles’s 211 votes. A total of  3,490 students voted this year, representative of approximately 19.3% of the Guild of Students. Still not the ideal turnout we would have hoped for in a democratic process like this, but indicative of a slight rise in voter participation which in and of itself is an win for the system

This was an election filled with excitement, contention and controversy and victory would only be promised to the smartest candidate in the pack. The Grant camp in my estimation ran the most effective campaign for the consistency of their message, the concision in their campaign promises and most importantly their ability to mobilize a strong election machinery every day of the season leading up to election day.

Grant’s win is symbolic of the campus’s position to remain Pro-Guild against Anti-Guild candidates like Joshua Hayles and Dontae Drummond. It also symbolizes a return to a status quo of male-led leadership, which has been challenged in recent years by former Guild President Davianne Tucker and outgoing Guild President Mikiela Gonzales. These results would suggest that after two consecutive years of female-led leadership, the campus has signaled a need to resort back to “traditional ways”.

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Grant’s vision for 2017-2018 is premised on a seven point plan to improve the overall welfare of ALL students at the UWI Mona. His first point speaks to the pricing of hall accommodation and housing on campus to improve outdated mechanisms to safeguard value for money. His second point addresses the need for greater inclusion of the UWI Western Jamaica Campus (WJC) in the annual sponsorship agreements the Guild brokers with Corporate Jamaica. His third point addresses the lack of opportunities availed to college students to garner valuable work experience which he hopes to change by advocating for internship components to the tertiary curriculum. His fourth point addresses the welfare of the commuting students cohort and the need for greater financial support to be allocated to the guild of students representative as well as the Commuting Students office. His fifth point touches on student entrepreneurship and lobbying the UWI administration to create more avenues for students to engage in business legally on campus. His sixth point speaks to the establishment of a President’s Advisory Council which he wants to offer as a platform to students all across the campus to have an opportunity to actively participate in the decision making processes of the Guild. His final point speaks to the strengthening of alumni relations, especially in providing financial assistance to needy UWI students through an initiative called “Project 5k”. 

Overall, I found Mr. Grant’s portfolio of campaign promises to be very practical, relevant, inclusive and achievable. I was disappointed however in the lack of mention about Campus Security and Guild accountability, which I think were some of the major issues this year on campus. But let’s hope he finds a way to weave those critical issues into his master plan for 2017-2018

Hope Denied

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Etel Williams, the current Guild Treasurer and ex-presidential candidate, offered a message of Hope in his presidential campaign that was consequently denied by the UWI administration. Mr. Williams was disqualified from the presidential race this year for soliciting the help of a non-UWI personnel in his campaign. The UWI defines a non-UWI personnel as anyone who is not registered to study at the UWI Mona in the semester in question. It was reported that Mr. Williams’s campaign manager was not a registered student for this semester and this was in clear violation of the election rules that govern the period each year. Following reports from students, an investigation was launched by the Returning Officer for this year’s election Mr. Athol Hamilton to ascertain whether there is any truth to these claims. After the investigation, Mr. Williams was found guilty and subsequently disqualified.

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His disqualification evoked a very emotional response from students within and outside his camp, as the circumstances under which he was disqualified were considered questionable. Students are of the view that it was unfair to single out Mr. Williams for prosecution because other presidential candidates would have broken some election rules, but those reports were somehow overlooked. Some are calling the disqualification a part of a conspiracy by the UWI administration to get Mr. Williams away from the presidency, for reasons unknown. This conspiracy theory, they’ve based primarily on a series of events that led into  the election day. Particularly, the printing of ballots and timing between Mr. Williams’s official disqualification and removal of his name from the ballot sheets.

Following the judgement, Mr Williams sought to appeal through the Office of the Director of Student Services and Development Mr. Jason McKenzie. Reports are that this appeal was launched on Friday March 17, 2017 and was officially rejected on Tuesday March 21, 2017. Election day was Wednesday March 22, 2017 and Mr. Williams was on none of the ballots students voted on. The timing between his appeal being officially rejected and the ballots being printed for election day is where the controversy rests; because students are in disbelief that the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) and the UWI’s International partner from Canada was able to make a change so swiftly in time for election day, especially since the ballots are customarily printed and shipped from Canada. Nevertheless, assurance has been given from the Guild and Returning Officer that due process was followed and these claims of conspiracy are falsified, so we are only left to believe what we know and can prove.

The Way forward

It is unfortunate what has happened to Mr Williams, because of the expenses and efforts that would have already been invested prior to his disqualification. But we must not allow his downfall to disqualify our commendations to Mr. Oshane Grant for a hard fought victory. The Guild of students at present is in a state of disrepute and to grow from this and become stronger the president elect will need YOUR support; whether you were for or against him in the election period. The mandate for 2017-2018 cannot be cosmetic as before, but must focus on strengthening the failing systems of transparency, accountability and efficiency to restore some legitimacy again to the Guild of Students. Congratulations to Mr. Oshane Grant, and the Council elect and best of luck for the upcoming tenure.

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Social Commentary

What Now UWI?

 

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On the 12th of February 2015, a day when the stakeholders of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona planned to celebrate their Pelican Pride in the annual staging of the Homecoming Parade and Flag Raising ceremony, was interrupted by a silent protest in front of the Mary Sealcole Hall which captivated the UWI Mona community. The protest, which eventually lead to a march, was organized by the young men and women of the Taylor Hall, the Mary Sealcole Hall and the Chancellor Hall and was intended to bring awareness to the issue of Gender based violence on the campus; which since recently gained much attention due to the altercation that erupted on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 between a young woman from Taylor hall and a young man from Chancellor hall.

It’s alleged, that the two had a verbal misunderstanding which then led to a physical brawl that resulted in the young woman suffering a serious injury to her forehead. There are many accounts of the incident from the eye witnesses to support either party, but the most prevalent idea is that this was a regular act of violence against women gone wrong. Given the current 7:1 ratio of women to men on the Mona Campus, this interpretation of what happened caught fire within the UWI community, which then prompted them to stage a silent protest.

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Being a student of the UWI Mona for well over 2 years now, I’ve always complained that the students are too passive and quiet. For a group of people who are supposedly critical thinkers and future leaders of Jamaica, we’ve allowed a lot of things to slide without retribution; and this worries me. It worries me because Jamaica isn’t a perfect society, and chances are it’s going to get worse if certain people aren’t at the helm of the ship that will stop certain things from sliding. I know a lot of people might see yesterday’s demonstration as unnecessary, ridiculous and a complete waste of time and resources, but I beg to disagree. I think yesterday’s happenings was one of the most beautiful situations the UWI community has ever gotten themselves into. For the first in years the students stood in solidarity, for a young woman’s tragedy and an even bigger issue that transcends into the wider society.

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It’s only a shame that we had to wait until something happened, before waking up to the reality of things and it makes me wonder if that is a formula for our students to speak up. I hope not. I hope yesterday’s demonstration sparks a campus-wide conversation on not just Gender Based Violence, but Rape, Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and all the other issues that plague our community but are conveniently brushed under the rug. I hope finally the victims of these issues will come forward and give their stories, so we can start a process towards finding solutions.

I hope the Administration maintains their promise to not only increase security on campus as a result of this incident, but also make our issues their priority and create a space comfortable for the students to want to confide in them. I hope the Guild Council also understands their role in this movement going forward and will try harder to become the bridge between the students and the administration that will help in the pursuit of finding the solutions to these problems.

Finally, I hope these emotions and all this enthusiasm about Gender Based violence lasts further than a week and will spark a new wave of student activism and constructive leadership within the UWI Community.

 

Sincerely,

-G.B

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