Autumn LaRose-Smith will be moving from her position as vice-president of student affairs to USSU president on May 1, 2020. (Photo: Submitted)

New USSU president focused on student experience

After narrowly defeating her opponents, Autumn LaRose-Smith has become the first Indigenous woman to be elected president of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU).

By Olivia Lenferna

No stranger to university politics, LaRose-Smith will be moving from her position as vice-president of student affairs to USSU president on May 1 after a close race for president ended on March 26, becoming not only the first Indigenous woman to serve as president of the USSU, but also the first female president in more than 10 years.

“When I found out that I was elected, I was speechless. We made history!” LaRose-Smith said after the election came down to a nine-vote difference between her and runner-up Akinwande Akingbehin. “It was a very close race and all the candidates who ran are amazing leaders on and off campus, and the results of the election prove that.”

“I hope my win signifies a much-needed change. I am very honoured to have this title, although I wish that it did not have to take this long,” LaRose-Smith added. “I find comfort in knowing I will not be the last (female Indigenous USSU president).”

This win comes after a modified election format, during the shift to online classes following USask’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the decision to close the campus, the USSU had to cancel events such as election forums, and campaigning had to take place differently than in previous years.

“It was very difficult to not be able to have the face-to-face connection with voters, as that relationship changes when it is online,” LaRose-Smith said, when asked how the changes affected her campaign. “I only hope that voters could see the sincerity of my goals and values, through reading them on screen instead of in person.”

Another drawback of the online campaign for LaRose-Smith was the lack of connection with students.

“I would have loved to be able to hear more students’ concerns and listen to the student body, but I will work harder than ever to do this in person, once we are able to do so safely.”

LaRose-Smith was disappointed about not being able to communicate more with other students, particularly since her platform during the campaign was focused on student-centred learning and on improving the student experience.

“My platform was based around my slogan; ‘Combining student-centred decision-making with social economic, and environmental responsibility,’” LaRose-Smith said. “I focused around four major points, using the importance of community-building and success as a support for all of them.”

LaRose-Smith’s plans for her upcoming term as president also reflect her desire to focus on student experience.

“My goals for the next year are to strengthen and create meaningful, transparent and accountable methods of consultation with the student body, university and government,” she said. “I also hope to strengthen and create meaningful relationships with on- and off-campus communities while working to advocate for a better, holistic student experience.”

LaRose-Smith’s involvement on campus is not limited to only university politics, as she works to better lives of others both on and off campus. A student of the College of Education in the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teachers Education Program (SUNTEP), she is involved in multiple student groups including 5 Days for the Homeless, Student Teachers Anti-Racism Society, SUNTEP Student Council and the International Women’s Movement.

Off campus, LaRose-Smith volunteers on the Ness Creek Cultural and Recreational Society Board, is the volunteer co-ordinator for the City Centre Food Cooperative, and has participated in numerous volunteer roles for events, festivals and non-profit organizations.

LaRose-Smith thinks her experiences working with the community will help her in her role as USSU president.

“I want to use my involvement within the community to grow and create connections with the community outside of campus to better the student experience.”


President: Autumn LaRose-Smith
VP Operations and Finance: Jamie Bell
VP Academic Affairs: Kiefer Roberts
VP Student Affairs: Jory McKay