A look at Sami Pritchard’s work as LUSU’s VP Orillia
By Gregory McGrath-Goudie, Orillia Bureau Chief
After two years of tenure, Sami Pritchard’s stint as LUSU’s VP Orillia is coming to an end. With the help of the student union and the rest of the student body, she has worked diligently in creating an accommodating Lakehead Orillia campus and in vouching for its students’ wants and needs. Alas, students do graduate, and Sami will be one of those students come the end of this semester. Throughout her time as VP Orillia, Sami has helped execute everything and anything from gender neutral washrooms to old fashioned country throwdowns. Regarding her experiences as VP Orillia, The Argus had an opportunity to ask her a few questions and learn about the intricacies of representing the student body of an entire campus.
Q: Looking back on the last two years, what would you say are your biggest accomplishments as VP Orillia? What has changed in the Lakehead Orillia community?
A: It is hard to suggest my own biggest accomplishments – but more than anything I would say my team. I take great pride in the amazing students and staff that I get to work with day in and day out in order to create some really amazing successes. Over my two year working with different teams, we have brought the first ever Consent Culture Week to campus, the first Black History Month, the first ever Mental Health Outreach Week and Team to campus. Through the Canadian Federation of Students we have worked united with students across the country to lobby our government and fights the fees – with Lakehead Orillia having a huge presence at a 2016 rally at Queens Park. We have encouraged and excited students to vote in municipal, provincial and federal elections throughout the Generation Vote campaign. We’ve hosted new, exciting events that students on this campus never anticipated happening such as the Annual Country Throwdown concert, pool hall nights, and open mic nights. We’ve lobbied the University to make progressive changes to enhance student experience, such as universal (gender neutral) washrooms and creating space for Indigenous students. The biggest change in the Lakehead Orillia community, through my eyes is increased student engagement, participation and passion – and it has been amazing to watch unfold. We have seen the diversity of our campus come to life with the creation of new clubs, and programming that are more inclusive to all.
Q: What about challenges? What are some of the difficulties faced by someone in your position?
A: I’ll say this as though I’m talking to the incoming VP, as a means not to scare them, but to be real with them. Elected position are not easy. These jobs are not just 9-5pm jobs: we take this work home with us, literally and figuratively. I cannot say that I regret a single late night spent preparing for an academic appeal with a student, or hearing the stories of student survivors, or being there for student battling with their mental health – but I would say that, that is one of the hardest parts – seeing students struggle. In the same breath, it is fulfilling to see a student overcome battles and barriers that they face.
Working to represent students, while also holding administration accountable can also be a challenge. It isn’t easy to put yourself on the line for students’ best interest when the eyes are only on you—to administration, you become the bad guy. I pride myself in my ability to maintain a really good, open and effective line of communication and relationship with the staff and administration on the Orillia campus, and I definitely feel as though this has aided me in my ability be proactive rather than reactive.
Q: Why did you decide to get into student politics? Do you have any words of advice for anyone looking to get involved?
A: I don’t know that I decided to get into student politics, rather I just kind of fell into it. Planning events that bring people together has always been something I enjoyed, so I quickly got involved with LUSU’s events commission, from there I learned how events intersected with campaigns and I quickly realized the passions I never knew I had, such as combating rape culture and fighting stigmas associated with mental health. Those passions drove me to want to do more, to make tangible change in a way that made students’ lives and university experiences easier, safer and more fulfilling in a way that resonated with them and met their needs. I loved the concept of “for students, by students”; the statement alone suggested I would have an opportunity to both do (take action) and give back. The skills and life experiences you will learn through student politics are like nothing you will get anywhere else.
My words of advice are to simply get involved. Getting involved doesn’t always mean becoming an Orientation Leader, or becoming a student union representative that speaks to a room full of people. Getting involved can mean contributing in class, it can mean joining a club, but it can also mean just participating in the different events or campaigns that go on, on and off campus. When LUSU or LU hosts that bowling night, the country concert or the rally – go to it, you can sit at home with your friends doing nothing any night. Go make a memory. I promise, 5 years from now, it’s not going to be those nights or days that you stayed in that you remember, it’s going to be those times that you actually took a chance to try something new. By getting involved you can meet some of your very best friends, people you never thought existed.
Q: What are your plans from here?
A: In January I was elected by my peers across the province to be the next National Executive Representative for the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, so I will be beginning that job as of June 1st and I couldn’t be more excited to continue with the student movement and represent not only Lakehead, but students across our province.
Q: Finally, what would you say is your proudest memory or moment as VP Orillia?
A: It’s funny you ask this, because my last few weeks have been spent reflecting with my team on our successes and I think my answer is similar to what I’ve already stated:
Seeing survivors of sexual violence to continue to fight for their say in the Lakehead University Sexual Violence Policy, despite having to overcome several hurdles to be heard; hosting sold out events with my team – such as the Country Throwdown Concert. Filling three buses with students to attend the Fight the Fees rally at Queens Park, with students across the province after months of preparation and build up. Successfully lobbying the university to create more inclusive and accessible spaces for students on the Orillia campus.
On May 1st, Sami will be passing the torch on to her successor, Jessica Kearney. As evidenced above, Sami has done her due diligence in making Lakehead Orillia an accessible, equitable, and generally fun campus to attend—no small feat in a university community that numbers well below 2000 students. Although there have undoubtedly been struggles in her role as VP Orillia, Sami has somehow smiled her way through everything, and The Argus wishes her well in all her future endeavours.