Ramz Aziz, the new president of the DSU, has taken office. With Dal’s growth in recent years and the province facing uncertain economic times, he’s already making plans for next year and the years to come.
“It’s a very critical time for the union,” says Aziz, who began his term in May. “Not only when it comes to our advocacy, but also when it comes to the way we function.” He believes his experience as DSU vice-president internal over the past year has given him the skills and insight needed to move the union in the right direction, and to focus on providing students a voice at a time when Dalhousie — and post-secondary education more generally — undergoes a number of changes.
“If you are building new buildings and forecasting a growing student population,” Aziz says, sitting in his new office in the DSU and motioning to the wall behind him where the LeMarchant Mixed-Use Building is set to house more than 300 new students in September, “you need to make sure that growth is sustainable — that the quality of education and Dalhousie’s strong student development approach doesn’t get compromised by being a larger-scale university.”
“I came to Dal in 2011,” he explains. “I came for the neuroscience program, I had aspirations for neurosurgery and med school… The relationships that I had with researchers, and the kind of experience and opportunities that I was lucky enough to receive, I don’t know if those will still exist in a climate where there is a dependency on increasing enrolment and tuition revenue to compensate for budgetary shortfalls.”
A focus on outreach
That’s why Aziz feels it’s as important as ever to keep student groups in touch with the DSU and each other. When he came to Dal, he says he was exposed to many different ideas. “That’s the beauty of university,” he proclaims. “It’s supposed to be a forum for new ideas, differing opinions, ideologies and philosophies to interact.”
“I have the privilege as president to represent these students,” he says. “I’m really excited to be that change agent that gets those conversations and discussions going, and that brings people together to the table.”
Aziz says the way the union currently runs is not flexible enough for all the different student constituents at Dalhousie. “The union is facing a lot of challenges with communicating with stakeholders, engaging with them and getting feedback from them,” he says. “We need an effective feedback and communication model, so we can actually make reforms to the union that we have."
Citing low election turnout over the past few years, Aziz says this is a long-term problem facing the DSU. One solution may be in addressing students who have traditionally had little contact with the DSU.
“For me, this is the year for groups that have been underrepresented in the union," he says. "This is the year of professional students. This is the year of graduate students. This is the year of Sexton students. There are long-term issues with our governance: how our elections are run, how our council meetings are run and how our relationships with constituencies including Law, Medicine and other professional students are maintained. Tackling these issues starts with us and how we are built.”
A student leader developing student leaders
One of Aziz’s favorite things about Dalhousie is its “breadth of experiential learning opportunities,” he says. “I value academics and experiential learning. I value helping students get involved and gaining a sense of responsibility. The earlier people start doing things on their own and have flexibility to do what they want, the more benefit they’ll get in the long-run.
“With a number of positions and leadership roles around campus and in the community there are a lot of opportunities for students to gain a lot of skills. You don’t really appreciate them until you actually start learning and growing, and realizing how much value they’re adding to your life.”
So what is Aziz’s advice for becoming a leader? “Always have an open mind,” he says, “It all comes from putting yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m always up for trying new things at least once.”
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