Mid-Summer Updates: Sitting Down with Bardia Jalayer
While thousands of students enjoying the four-month summer break, there is a member of the Western University community who has been hard at work over the past couple months, fulfilling a new role.
With one of the most important academic years to date approaching in September, new USC President, Bardia Jalayer, has had his nose to the grindstone his first couple of months in the new position. I had the chance to sit down with El Presidente now that he’s a couple of months into his tenure, and had him provide some updates on important issues, explain how the USC got one of the biggest artists in the world to come to Western, and also get to know him as a person.
“It’s been a lot of fun. We had the transition sessions we finished up with Mitchell in May. Our entire executive had their transitions with their outgoing. So, we finished that, we took over on June first, and we’ve been working to start getting a feel for the landscape… it’s a completely new year,” said Jalayer, who was voted into office alongside vice-president Catherine Dunne in February.
Presidential Musical Chairs
This summer has been like no other for everyone at Western University. Along with the drastic changes to the student experience, the school has made a leadership change, with Amit Chakma’s tenure as President and Vice-Chancellor ending on June 30th, and Alan Shepard taking over on July 1st.
With all that’s gone on, it’s been a unique experience for Jalayer and the student’s council: “a change in leadership anywhere will obviously have an effect,” he says, “Amit [Chakma] did a fantastic job here at the university and we’re sad to see him go, but we’re really excited to have Dr. Shepard here with us. There’s a lot of changes going on everywhere, and we’re excited to see what the changes will bring.”
While President Chakma’s focus was on building a global brand, Alan Shepard’s is more on community building and student engagement, something that will be valuable for the USC: “The number one group you have to be focused on at any time is the students.... I think right now it’s a time where students are feeling uncertain with their futures in post-secondary. Students don’t know what their student experience is going to be like, they don’t know what their financial situation is going to be like and I think prioritizing students should always be the number one thing we focus on, especially right now.”
In January, the Ontario PC Government made an announcement to cut tuition fees for post-secondary students, making financial assistance more difficult for many, and making some fees optional for students. The USC has just completed this year’s fee bill and what it will entail for students when they pay their tuition: “essentially, the mandate from the MTCU (Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities) is that non-essential fees become optional. So we followed the mandate to the letter and we’ve created a fee bill now,” Jalayer explains. “So, there’s going to be a portal the students will essentially be able to go in and choose which fees to opt out of and if they opt out then they’re risking losing parts of their student experience both directly as a membership...and you risk the chance of missing out on those or not having a peer experience them and that’s a big thing we want to convey to students.”
Optional fees for students will include club fees, which allow the USC to have so many different student groups, gym memberships, marching band, and campus media like the Gazette, Western TV and Radio Western. All of these entities are reliant on student fees for their operating costs, and while Bardia hopes that the opt-in rate will be high, it’s unclear how many people will actually follow through on it. This makes the student experience for the 2019-20 school year incredibly unpredictable, and could be drastically different from what has been enjoyed in past years.
The ‘Rocky’ Road to Purple Fest
One of the biggest announcements of the summer so far - rivalling the magnitude of changing leadership and optional fees - is the lineup for the second edition of Purple Fest. Superstar rapper A$AP Rocky was announced as the headliner for the September festival, which will fall on the same day as the “FOCO” street party.
“You saw what happened last year [at Purple Fest], how could he say no?” joked Jalayer. “We have a great team behind us, we’re working with a lot of great people and it’s pretty exciting.” Bardia says that the USC has been working on planning 2019 Purple Fest since last fall after the conclusion of its inaugural show. There may be a question mark surrounding Rocky’s performance due to his recent arrest in Sweden making travel potentially difficult for him. In an interview with the Western Gazette, Jalayer said that they are monitoring the situation closely and will provide updates when they are available.
The goal of Purple Fest stems beyond just giving the students a good show to kick off the year, it is also an attempt to keep people off the streets of Broughdale avenue for FOCO - which has only grown since its first bout in 2016. “I’m a big fan of letting students celebrate their purple pride. I don’t think anyone has seen me as anything different,” Jalayer explained. “The Broughdale issue is a safety issue and I noticed that last year. It’s not fun anymore. It’s too many people on the street, and if it is an issue then it’s not possible to resolve it. So what we’re trying to do is create this safe environment that students can come and celebrate their purple pride. Everything you want to do on Broughdale, you can do at Purple Fest.”
The street party happening just outside the confines of campus has grown significantly every year, jumping from roughly 5000 people in its first year, to 20,000 in 2018. As its reputation grows, more people from out of town, or at least outside the campus, want to be a part of it. It strains emergency services, and posts a huge safety risk because the streets are flooded. London Mayor Ed Holder made a public call on Western administration to sort out the issue, which resulted in the school modifying its Student Protocol to include conduct outside the campus walls.
The Real Bardia Jalayer
Many people know Bardia from his and Cat Dunne’s aggressive campaign, where posters of their faces were all over campus for the election period. Since their win, people may simply think of Bardia as the President (or, more playfully: Prezi, or El Presidente. Let’s make it a thing, okay?).
What may be forgotten in the glitz and glam of the university spotlight, is who Bardia Jalayer is as a person, and, more importantly, who he was as a student. Luckily, I dedicated a portion of my interview with him drilling him with the questions we all want to know:
Q: What’s your go-to Spoke bagel?
A: “Cucumber dill on mushroom swiss.” (There was no hesitation). “That’s if it’s in the morning. In the afternoon I’ll get a BLT on jalapeno cheddar.”
Q: What do you take in your coffee?
A: “I usually try not to drink coffee because I know when I’m up late I don’t want to have to drink four to get up. But if I have a coffee, I’ll usually have two sugars and two milk. A double-double.”
You’re going to have to get used to drinking coffee, Bardia, it’s essentially a job requirement.
Q: What about the Spoke kitchen?
A: “I try to have everything. Usually I’ll just go for the buff wrap (buffalo chicken). Sometimes I like to dabble with the smoked meat or nacho fries.”
There isn’t a wrong answer to that question.
Q: What’s your go-to beverage after a long day?
A: “If it’s at a bar I’ll usually go for just a lager. If it’s at home I’ll just have a bourbon… one ice every time.”
Q: What were your exam rituals as a student?
A: “I’d always study to the same playlist and it was a mix of Avicii and Kygo… I would usually stay up late the night before studying for an exam - I would never feel like I was prepped enough. And then I would always go to the exam with an empty backpack, and I’d always have two pencils in my pocket. Then before every exam I’d make a joke to the prof.”
The empty backpack is simply because it’s weird walking around campus without a bag. Don’t believe it? Try it and tell me you don’t feel exposed.
Q: Are you a morning person or a night person?
A: “Night. I don’t need much sleep but it’s an issue getting me out of bed. I can get 12 hours or I could get two hours, it’s the getting out of bed part. Once I’m out of bed, I’m fine.”
Q: When in the day is your peak time for productivity?
A: “Usually between two and seven. Usually I’ll come into the office in the morning, talk to everyone, be the distraction everyone needs… then when I get back from lunch I’ll usually hit the grind really hard and I’ll be in the office until around eight or nine.”
Q: What’s your go-to place downtown?
A: “I’ll usually go between Frog or Ceeps. During the school year it’s tough because the line starts at like, 6pm. I don’t discriminate though, everywhere has their night. Jack’s Thursday for wings, 19 cent wings, you can’t beat that.”
He warns not to get caught up in the bargain because you’ll eat four pounds of wings without noticing and regret it for a while after.
Q: Advice to avoid a goose attack on campus?
A: “Don’t look them in the eye. I’m pretty bad for walking near geese… You come down UC Hill and they own that place. Keep to yourself, don’t look them in the eye, if they look at you just keep walking, if they attack you, run faster than the person next to you.”
As if any of that will stop those bloodthirsty animals.
Q: Anything you want to say to those listening?
A: “This is going to be an interesting year I think for everyone. There’s a lot of changes coming down across all sectors. As a University Student’s Council we just want to make sure we’re doing our best to represent the students here at Western, make sure their student experience remains the best that we can and we want to make sure we’re also representing their voices. So please reach out, we’re always open to getting feedback, we’re always open to ideas, you can contact me literally any way. If you message me on Facebook, DM me on Instagram, email me, call me, text me - anything. I’m always open to that.”
This will be an interesting year for sure, and Bardia Jalayer is looking forward to it.