Kathryn Kettle: The work of a student advocate and the future of the SGA

by Shanleigh Brosseau, Editor in Chief

Kathryn Kettle sat down for an interview with Lambda to discuss her time working with the Student General Association as Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, and the strides this year’s executive team made for a more accountable student association.

Kettle offered insight into being a student leader and advocate, and discussed some of the upcoming changes to student associations, with premier Doug Ford’s caps on mandatory association fees set to take effect in September.

Kettle had been a student at the University of Ottawa before transferring to Laurentian and working with the SGA.

“Something I love about Laurentian’s campus is how small it is and how tight-knit the community is,” Kettle said.

“When I was a student at Ottawa, I think part of the reason I felt so alone was because of how big it is. I was not making meaningful connections with professors or the administration. [At Laurentian] you see the same face in the hallway eight times throughout the day, and you get to know people and they care about you.”

Kettle is on track to graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences. According to Kettle, working with the SGA has opened many opportunities for her and sparked a passion for advocacy and non-profit work.

“While [working at the SGA], I was in an environment where people were advocating for students, and gears started turning in my head, and I realized that it was something I wanted to do.”

“I’m leaning towards doing a master’s program,” Kettle said, on what she has planned next.

“I found this year was a really big turning point in [having this position] with a science degree, and realizing that there is so much more than the healthcare field and lab work, and I really appreciate that.”

Kettle’s role as VP of Policy and Advocacy has primarily been advocating for students and working on policies that support students.

“One of the bigger things we wanted to [accomplish] this year, was to make the SGA more accountable and so we made our board of directors elected for the first time.”

According to Kettle, the SGA conducted various successful projects and plans.

“We hosted a financial literacy week and a sustainability day as part of our campaign, and I was really happy with those, they had a good turn out, and I thought that they went well.”

“We’ve had a lot of relationship building with the administration, with the alumni association, and with different departments of the university,” Kettle said. “I think we’ve made strides.”

Some of Kettle’s most significant accomplishments as VP of Policy and Advocacy have been advocating for students with appeals, developing policies and working alongside OUSA (Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance).

“A big realization for me was the more students we can teach to advocate for themselves, the better,” Kettle said. “[It] makes them more capable of navigating the system.”

According to Kettle, there have been added tasks for her after undertaking the role as current president of the SGA, since the impeachment of previous president Tommi-Lee Gauthier.

“I’m completing a lot more hours on campus than I was before, just to get to all the meetings that I have to go to, I do a lot of committee work with senate committees and the board of governors,” Kettle said. “It’s a short amount of time.”

However, Kettle says that this change has been more manageable since the election. She credits the three incoming executives and the help of the other remaining executive Whitney Simpson, VP of Student Life, with helping her along.

“It is a lot easier to delegate and have them help out,” Kettle said. “The three [incoming executives] have already worked within Laurentian’s governance and the SGA a bit, so they are very well educated on what we do, which is amazing.”

“Next year is going to be a unique year because of the student choice initiative,” Kettle said.

• Atmosphere neither ‘safe or comfortable’ with SGA president, senior staff says

The Ontario government’s student choice initiative gives students the option to opt out of certain incidental fees, including student association fees.

“[Next year’s executive team] will not know what their operating budget will look like until the first round of fees are paid, and people can opt out of what they want to, which is scary,” Kettle said. “I think that the incoming executives and the staff are going to be able to pull through.”

As to what next year’s SGA might look like, Kettle says that there will be a “new vision” for the SGA.

“It will be very academic based and health services based,” Kettle said. “Any events we host are going to have to be more carefully thought out.”

Kettle confirmed that certain mandatory elements of the SGA will remain covered including health plans, U-Pass plans, academic support services, mental health supports, and building plans, including the student centre which continues to remain on track.

“For the next few months, a challenge that the SGA and the incoming executives will have is articulating what they offer to students aside from those mandatory [services] and why they are important.”

“They have to advertise everything else that we offer and show students that there is some value in still opting into them when they have the chance to opt out.”

According to Kettle, for student association and university accountability, student involvement is crucial.

“If you look at the economy of scale, other student unions [naturally] have more students that are engaged and holding people accountable at their union,” Kettle said.

“At Laurentian, we have less students, and it is harder to get them engaged, and we see difficulties time to time because of it.”

“Get involved; I don’t know how many times I can say it. Run for a board position, run for a student job, join V-Crew and help out during our welcome week,” Kettle said.