Female Empowerment and Student Government: An Interview with Maya Koparkar

Meet Maya Koparkar! When she is not watching documentaries on Netflix, Maya does a lot of writing on the side. Maya is undeniably very passionate about social justice and women's issues but what is even greater is the fact that she has decided to channel her passion into working for SSMU: Maya was just recently elected as SSMU's VP Internal Affairs. Keep on reading to find out more about Maya’s goals as the VP Internal, the importance of female empowerment, and why she is exactly what SSMU needs after a turbulent year. 
 
Idil Copur for Her Campus McGill (HC McGill)To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourself? 
Maya Koparkar (MK): I’m originally from just outside of Toronto, but I did spend a few years in Belgium when I was growing up. I’m currently in my third year at McGill. I’m in honours international development and I’m minoring in political science. I’ve been involved in SSMU for the past 2 years. I’ve been a member of the Student Society’s Programming Network (SSPN) which is the committee that organizes all on-campus events for students. This past year, I was the Internal Logistics Coordinator for SSMU so I had a larger role in assisting the VP Internal plan all these events as well as  general assemblies. And I am taking on the role of VP Internal for the next school year. 
 
HC McGill: Congratulations! Could you tell us about what your position includes?
MK: As the VP Internal of SSMU, my main responsibilities under the portfolio would be three big things, which are communications, event planning and general engagement with the student body. Communication includes listservs, Faceboook and social media stuff. Under events planning, I would work to head up the first year council which would be the events planning committee that works with first years both in and out of rez. I’m also working on Frosh this summer. Finally, engagement is more like the bigger picture that combines elements within those two portfolios to make sure that I’m one of the main resources the SSMU has for getting students involved in a lot of our programs. 
 
HC McGill: What is the transition process like?
MK: So for me, I start a little bit earlier than a lot of the other execs because Frosh planning has already started. It’s more like second nature to me at this point because I’ve been in the role of Internal Logistics Coordinator for this past year, so that has helped me get a sense of what the portfolio is actually like. If someone wasn’t coming from that experience, then the transition would be a lot more of a process. I’ve been working with Daniel [Lawrie], and we’re going to have our first frosh meeting tomorrow night to see where we can work together to address any sort of issues with Frosh. As of May, I’m going to be doing a lot of the bulk of my work already. My contract officially starts at June 1st so until then we have a bunch of orientations and things we need to do. It's all part of the process and it’s really fun.
 
HC McGill: What are some of the goals you hope to achieve by the end of next year as the VP internal affairs?
MK: Given the climate on campus at this point, improving the campus relations with SSMU is a general goal that myself and the rest of the execs plan on achieving by rebuilding trust with the student body. It has been a really rough year and I think that this new exec coming in is super diverse - not just in terms of where we’re from but also what we’re studying, with different perspectives. I think that is going to give a really unique insight into what we will do for our different portfolios this year. I think, in general, we want to be more of a present exec, which goes hand-in-hand with building trust with the student body, so being more present at events that other people are engaged in and allowing people to get to know us better is how we’re going to start. For me personally, I think that first year engagement is one of my biggest goals because first year council only came under the portfolio of the VP Internal this past year, and so I really want to work to give it a structure and work to better engage students who don’t live in rez. I’m actually in talks with a couple of different arts senators about that. I also want to diversify the events portfolio - this is something that has been a goal for a lot of the past VP Internals, but given some of the turbulence in the portfolio it hasn’t necessarily been implemented. But given my experience from the past two years, I have a vision of where and when I can fit events in and I want to be able create some sort of structure with room for smaller events in the portfolio.
 
HC McGill: It’s nice seeing someone so passionate about what they want to do! You must be really excited to finally be implementing your ideas. 
MK: Yeah! I'm super excited to be working with this exec this incoming year - as I said it’s a super diverse exec and I think its a good change for the student body, especially coming off of what the exec was like last year. It’s a really exciting time with lots of new experiences and I’m really happy.
 
 
HC McGillAs you just mentioned, SSMU has had a particularly tough year with some of the candidates. What do you think of the way SSMU deals with these kinds of situations? And what can be done in the future to prevent this?
MK: It’s definitely something that myself and the rest of the exec are hyper aware of, and we’ve all been in talks about this. This has been a very pressing issue and something we’ve all been asked about in our campaign periods so it's something we all know we need to address. I think, first of all, building trust amongst ourselves within the exec is a good first step. I know that a lot of us have also talked about what the things that happened this year mean for how we are going to implement more proactive policies this year going forward. I think that’s something we do want to look at this summer. It’s unfortunate that these things have happened, but the fact that they did means that we need to look at ourselves and how we can rework our actions if this were to happen ever again, and hopefully they won't. 
 
HC McGillI remember in last year’s elections there was only one female student who decided to run for a position in SSMU. Now looking at this year’s results, it's great to see that so many amazing young women decided to run. What was the reason you decided to run in the first place? 
MK: When I was a first year, I had no idea what SSMU was. When I was in my second year, I was looking to get involved in more projects and I saw that the SSPN was a part of the SSMU so I applied to it on a whim and I ended up getting in. It was a bit of a rough year for the VP Internal portfolio at the time and so it really helped me to actually figure out what the SSMU was all about. I was super interested in the portfolio and, over the summer, I thought about it and decided that it would be a good experience. So I applied to the position of the Internal Logistics Coordinator and when I found out that I had been hired for it, that was when my plans became solidified. I spent a year working closely with Daniel, learning more about it, and it has been an amazing process. I’m just really excited to take my knowledge from the past two years and put it to use. I think it all just comes from a passion that I have for trying to make the student experience more meaningful in different ways that I can. For me, it is all super rewarding - having memories from different events that I participated in, and being able to look back on it and say “this is what made my uni experience really great."
 
HC McGillIs there anything you think we should do as a community to encourage more women to take initiative to run for administrative positions?
MK: Oh yeah. I’m all for female empowerment. I definitely think that this was a great encouragement to a lot of people, seeing that six out of seven exec are now women. I think just leading by example and making sure that you’re taking the initiative as a woman and running for these positions is a good start. You may or may not win, and that is fine, but I think that the bigger achievement is that you’ve been able to put yourself out there and you have been able to learn a lot from these experiences, which is something that should be looked on favourablly as a stepping stone for women to take in these positions. It is all just about seeing where you fit in in terms of leadership in your respective communities. One thing I learned coming to McGill is that there is something for everyone - you’ll always be able to find different activities and interests you can take a lead on, so it all comes down to just stepping into those roles in whichever way you can. If you’re passionate about it, it should be able to come naturally to you as well. You can’t aspire to be something if you can’t see it. 
 
HC McGillWhat else do you do outside of classes and SSMU? What keeps you motivated?
MK: I do a lot of writing on the side. I’m really passionate about social justice issues especially women's issues. I enjoy going to comedy shows and just shows in general. That’s what keeps me motivated, and surrounding myself with other people who are interested in the same things also helps. 
 
HC McGill: What can you say you’ve learned from these past experiences that will help you to succeed as a young woman going into the work force in a couple of years?
MK: When I was five or six, I always had these aspirations of being someone very important. I remember when I was five, we had to write an autobiography, and I wrote “I want to be the president of the world.” I still really don't know that means, but I remember that it was something that was not necessarily taken seriously by a lot of people. I did grow up in these gendered roles that sort of said what I could and couldn’t do, and that’s something I never found myself subscribing to. Consciously knowing people will treat me in different ways in different leadership positions as a female is something I seek to overcome, and it has been a huge learning process for me. Probably five or six years ago, I was never someone who would call herself a feminist, but I have done more research into it and I have learned more about why it's important. I think, being a woman in a leadership position, there's no real way you can define what your experience is going to be because its going to be different for a lot of people. I think that on a large scale, there are still so many instances where women are held back, but there’s also a lot of room for progress and growth. I guess knowing that I am a woman and I am in these roles is power in itself, and it brings a perspective to a lot of these roles that they might not have had previously. 
 
 
Images provided by the interviewee.