Having officially begun their terms on May 1, 2020, the new Student Union Presidents of STU and UNB, Sarah Kohut and Sean Mackenzie respectively, have had a bit of time to settle into their posts and begin to unpack some of the issues facing students in what may be one of the most unique situations faced by university students this century.
Sarah Kohut is a fourth-year student pursuing an honours degree in Criminology with a major in Psychology and a minor in Human Rights. Although COVID-19 restrictions posed many challenges this year, Kohut was VP Student Life for the 2019/20 session, and that helped her ease into her position as President.
“I think that no transition could have prepared me for the year that we’ve been faced with, considering how this year is unlike any other. Although, with the transition information from my predecessor, and coming from being a member of the STUSU’s executive team, I believe I had a strong transition,” she explained.
This year, Kohut thinks her biggest project will be ensuring students are adjusting and faring well with online learning. However, once the year progresses, she hopes more opportunities will come up for large projects.
As for how she feels she has taken up the mantle from her predecessors, Kohut said she has, “reflected a lot on this question during my time as president, and I will continue to reflect on this question until my term is finished, as there have been a lot of spectacular STUSU Presidents that have come before me. Due to the uniqueness of this year, I believe it’s relatively impossible to compare the student leaders of this year to those of years prior – there is absolutely no precedent to what we’re faced with this year. However, I would like to believe that I’m living up to the legacy of my predecessors in the sense that I’m continuing to make an impact on student life. Ultimately, each STUSU President has left a unique legacy that cannot be replicated, and I believe the same can be said for this year.”
Sean MacKenzie, president of UNB’s Student Union, is a fourth-year Computer Science student minoring in History.
“[It was] certainly different than I had anticipated. It was much different from what I had expected when I ran for the position, but I still love it,” MacKenzie said of assuming the position. “The previous team did a great job of helping the current team get going, as is done every year. However, there is no precedent for how to operate the SU during a pandemic, so we had to set our own. I feel that everyone in the SU did a great job adapting to all the quick changes we faced.”
Balancing classes and work can be quite difficult, MacKenzie said.
"My calendar is my best friend. I make sure that I arrive between 7:30 and 8:00 every morning to finalize any remaining business from the day before. Making sure I get assignments submitted is also extremely helpful. I make sure that I have a couple hours every night to focus on my academics. I don’t want my role to be impacted by school and I don’t want school to be impacted by my role.”
Mackenzie feels that being the first president to start their term in a pandemic is a big part of his legacy.
“Ensuring that we will be able to still effectively advocate for students, offer them services, and that they have a meaningful voice at the table during a pandemic are key priorities for me,” he explained. He emphasized that being an advocate for fellow students is something he finds vital to his presidency.
“I find that in the past, many of my predecessors have focused on the short term, which is not necessarily a bad thing, rather than planning for how we can be better for students five or ten years down the road. My goal this year is to focus on the long term advancement of the Union and seeing how we can grow to be better and offer more to our students".
As for projects this year, Mackenzie already has something in the works.
"My priorities have obviously shifted since I ran in the election, given the drastic changes we have seen in the world. My number one goal right now is to ensure we remain successful throughout the year, which I feel we have been to date. In terms of large projects that will have an impact, there is one that we have begun work on,” he said. He discussed impending projects with executive members of ALPS (Adult Learners, Part-Time Students) and members of the university, to begin to better represent that group with the UNBSU, and give them access to student union services and benefits.
Both presidents have come into their positions in a time of change and transition, and it will be interesting to see how they use their positions to better advocate for students.