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Interview with Larissa Chen

The SFSS presidential candidate sits down with The Peak

Larissa Chen speaks at Wednesday's debate on Burnaby campus. Chen's campaign is focused on continuing her tenure as interim president.
Larissa Chen speaks at Wednesday's debate on Burnaby campus. Chen's campaign is focused on continuing her tenure as interim president.
Image Credits: Max James Hill

With the SFSS byelection this week, The Peak sat down with all the presidential candidates for a more in-depth chat than the timed responses at the debates. To find the other interviews, click here for Darien Lechner and here for Deepak Sharma. 

Nathan Ross: You mentioned on Surrey that one of the reasons you were running was so that students weren’t faced with the same option as they had in the general election. Can you elaborate on why you feel that way?

Larissa Chen: During the spring election, students had two options for president. I am currently running alongside those same individuals during this byelection. Given that I have been serving in the role of interim president from May to October 2016, I have the experience that neither of them possess and that is six months of direct experience in the presidential position. Additionally, I have established strong and respectful relationships with the current board and SFSS staff, that will ensure collaborative and successful outcomes for students.

NR: This was asked at the debate, and has been touched on a lot by Darien, but I’d like to give you the chance to answer it without a time limit or anyone in your face. How come you chose to step down as president of the SFSS after the nominations were announced? Follow-up question: If you had stepped down earlier, could VP student services have been a position on the byelection ballot?

LC: It was a difficult decision to step down as VP student services. The bylaws do not indicate it to be mandatory, but I felt it would be an unfair advantage to run a campaign for the role I have direct resources for. Originally, I was hopeful a diverse range of individuals would put themselves forward for the presidential role. Since this was not the case, I decided not to withdraw my name and handed my resignation after the nominations were announced. I was also unsure of my own readiness to run until the second week of nomination period.

For the VP student services role to be added onto this by-election ballot, the position must undergo transition, be vacated and announced “at least two weeks before the opening of the nomination period” (Bylaw 15). It would be challenging for anyone to vacate their role early October, as this remains amongst the busiest times for the SFSS. I focused on fulfilling my VP student services and interim president duties and I welcome everyone to view our board minutes and my individual work reports for that duration (available on the SFSS website).

NR: How would you convince voters that haven’t been happy with the SFSS in the past few months to elect you as president if they didn’t enjoy the board when you were the interim president?

LC: Contrary to popular belief, the president isn’t the sole individual who decides on the direction of the SFSS. The president is the support for other board members and staff who represent and receive feedback from the students. A leader is only as strong as their team and respectively, I know the strengths of this board better than my fellow candidates. The SFSS Board operates as a whole and sometimes, as an individual voice, I didn’t agree with the direction set by the board. But given my transition, experience, and knowledge built over the past six months, I am ready to lead. I understand the concerns expressed and I am the ideal person to listen and address them.

I was faced with an unprecedented situation: transition into an executive role, as well as demands of the president role. This is not easy for anyone. Simply put, it is professional development and SFSS commitment on acceleration mode. But as I have been faced with obstacles, concerns, and support, I’ve realized the value of maintaining such a challenging role as you support your colleagues amd act as the comprehensive knowledge broker for everyone. I’m hopeful students will vote #Lari4President due to my experience, but also recognize that I can be the strong and empathetic voice for my fellow undergraduates.

NR: You’ve been in the role of president now since June. What are you proudest of what you have accomplished in this time?

LC: Assuming the role of president was definitely unexpected. As I ease into being the most interpersonal VP student services students have ever seen, I suddenly assumed the added responsibilities of president. A lot of my summer days were spent in meetings, reviewing files and researching. The transition period into president is a daunting, complex, and difficult process, especially when one does not see themselves worthy of the role; it’s a very vulnerable and insecure place to be in. Gradually, I shifted my focus from perfection to my very best and good intentions and grew confident and began to speak up, concisely and honestly. I began to set expectations before all else, resulting in constructive conversations and effective problem-solving. I shifted my focus towards the intent, rationale, and outcome of anything I did. Much of this can be seen behind the scenes, but the realization of representing my team, students, and the SFSS, my voice became bolder and stronger than ever.

I’m also proud that I was able to maintain the dual responsibility of VP student services and interim president. I continued to actively participate in meetings about U-Pass, Health and Dental Plan, Food and Beverage Services, Ombuds office, sexual violence policy and support services, mental well-being, accessibility, communications, strategic engagement, governance, bylaws, etc. I didn’t lose sight of my campaign platform and personal values. For this, I am glad.

NR: On that subject: if you could have a do-over on anything, would you take it? Which instance and how come?

LC: This is an interesting question as I’m highly critical of myself and tend to identify areas of improvement all the time. If I had an opportunity to “do-over” anything, it would be to have a stronger voice in the Build SFU stadium outcome. The process, communication, and interactions with students would’ve gone much more smoothly had we done the subsequent first. If elected president, I would have a greater say in Build SFU process than I did as interim president. This comes from the discussions and gradual knowledge gained about the logistics and details, but more importantly, the structural process [and] limitations and interpersonal respect established between SFU and SFSS. As my platform emphasizes, I will be the continuity piece for the SFSS, if elected.

NR: Your platform points to a lot of great work that you have done and will continue to do. But if you had to sum it up without telling people to check out your platform for more information, why should students vote for you over Darien and Deepak?

LC: My platform aims to highlight the continuity role I will play as SFSS president, if elected. However, if I were to summarize the value I can bring to the role and society, it would be that I am ready. I have the experience, relationships, and personality to make an immediate impact on the SFSS and its students. I’ve witnessed the process firsthand and have openly received criticisms as areas for improvement. Furthermore, I want students to realize that the SFSS is theirs and I aim to ensure the organization remains approachable, informed, and receptive to student feedback. I feel I will be successful in promoting this as these align with my own personal characteristics and values.

NR: What is your favourite memory from your time at SFU?

LC: I’m currently in my fourth year at SFU, as a health science student, and that in itself still boggles me. I feel I’ve had quite a diverse range of experiences by spending my entire first year at SFU Surrey, living on Burnaby campus, and hanging out at Harbour Centre for my gerontology courses. However, my favourite memories are always those times when you reach a point in life when you can say “Wow. Good job, past Lari. That was a doozy.” These only happen after the inevitable breaking points in university and the only way through is to pause, look at the bigger picture, reassess priorities, and work towards improvement. It’s OK to not be OK! Life will be overwhelming, but if you have a supportive network (and an occasional beer), facing your challenges will always be the best choice.

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