Stephen Kassim: Don’t Sleep Until You Succeed (Part 1)

Stephen Kassim, 5th year Politics and Governance

Journalists and politicians have both received their fair shares of a bad reputation for deceit in the past, and neither really have the friendliest relationship with each other. Yet, my interview with Stephen Kassim, this year’s one of three student members on the Board of Governors last week was one of the most honest and genuine interviews I’ve ever done.

Maybe it was a connection between introverts, or our mutual Ryerson pride, or just his good old politician’s charm, but our 30-minute interview effortlessly turned into a three hour conversation about the love/hate relationship between politicians and journalists and how both struggle between telling the truth and saying things that sell; Socrates, his gadfly ways, and his symbolic death; and his strategic planning of the Ryerson Orientation Crew this year, by partnering males with females from different faculties and mixing up the veteran with the new volunteers, “It was a risk, but it was the best decision. I knew they’d hate me for it, but I had a feeling their passion for O-week was stronger.”

So, what exactly is the Board of Governors?

The university has a bi-cameral government system, there is a division of powers between two entities, just like our system, we have the federal and the provincial government. Most people think we have three levels of government, that the federal is the highest authority, and provincial is lower and municipal is ever lower. That’s not true. There’s only two levels of government – provincial and federal.

The same way, the university has two bodies in charge of all the policies within the university, one is called the Senate, they handle all the academic issues on campus, so if you want to create a new program, that’s like one of the biggest things they do.

Board of Governors (BoG) handles everything related to non-academic policy. So infrastructure, the budget, things like Maple Leaf Gardens, they make that decision. In terms of programs, let’s say we want to create a new physics PhD. Senate will decide if we want to create that new program, BoG will decide if they want to fund it.  Are we going to get staff for this?  Are we going to get facilities? They’re responsible for the operating costs of the university.

What made you want to go for the board?

I had a lot of mentors who helped me while I was a student leader, they were on the board as well. I don’t remember which one sent me a message, it was like Congratulations now find your successor, like the day after I got elected, this was like in March. My term doesn’t even start till Sept officially and he’s telling me to find my successor already. Because it’s my job, it’s my job to find future student leaders to continue to get students engaged on campus to give back to the community life. It’s part of my job.

What made you want to join the board?

It’s interesting that you say what made me want to ‘join’ the board. It was a lot harder than that….

Sorry! I mean, tell me about the process of being elected.

In my first year, I didn’t do anything in school, I thought maybe I should take first year just to get adjusted to university. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made. I should have gotten involved earlier.

In my second year, I started meeting other student leaders, one of the earliest ones was Darius. Darius is one of my best friends now. But at the time, I was just like, awed by him. I was like, ‘wow, look at this guy, he’s doing all these cool things’. And my mentality was, you realize all the celebrities hang out with each other and all the rich people hang out together, all the smart people hang out with each other, all the scientists hang out together, so I thought if I want to be a certain type of person, I should hang around people who are like that. I saw Darius doing big things on campus. He was just a prominent student leader, he was in RSU, he was on the orientation team, back in those days, so I started hanging around him… because I wanted to be like him… hahaha. I wanted to do the things he was doing, I guess I slowly made a number of student leader friends and I ran in some elections that year, I ran for senate, which I lost.

Was it heart wrenching when you lost?

No, not that one. Because I didn’t really understand what Senate was. I literally got an email, like every student got, like ‘run for senate elections!’ and I was like okay I’ll do it. I had two other candidates against me. The winner had 84 votes, the other person had 72 votes, and I had 70.

Now, I was the only person who ran independently, the winner ran on a slate with RSU. They ran as a team with the RSU, the second also ran with a slate. I ran independently because I didn’t know what I was doing! I was just doing it for the first time, so I think back, considering that, I did pretty well. I got a lot of votes considering I was by myself, I made my own posters, so after that, I lost that. It wasn’t a big deal for me, it made me learn a lot about politics though, and I mean I learn politics in school, because it’s my major. But learning about politics, learning about political theories and then running in an election are completely different.

What did you learn?

First thing is that, campus elections, and I think this is true of all elections, campus elections are very toxic. Now, back when I ran, it was much more toxic than it was now. I’m not sure if you’re aware of the political dichotomies on campus. Oblivious to most students on campus, there are some factions on campus with different ideologies they don’t necessarily see eye to eye and competition can get intense, nowadays, it’s kind of dying down, but it’s not gone. It’s dying down because a lot of people  in the past who were trying to get their agendas across have left, but it’s going to build back up again, it’s inevitable, it comes and goes in waves.

It really is toxic you get your name gets dragged thru the mud, I didn’t sign up for that, I never expected that.

Did you run for anything else?

I ran for course union director. It was a stupid platform, I decided that I was tired of politicians, I’m just going to be myself, I can’t promise anything that I can’t promise, I’m not going to make up bullshit, I’m just going to be honest. And the honest truth is that I can’t promise anything other than the fact that I’m going to work my hardest if I get elected to this position. And the reason that I should be elected is because I really care about the school and I want to make it a better place.

Why is that stupid?

Because that’s not how you get elected haha. I lost that one as well, and that one really hurt. It made me learn more about politics, too. I realized that my platform was my heart, so when I lost… it hurts that much more because you make it something very personal.

So that was another learning experience, when I lost that one I just went into a stairwell and sat there, all upset. Because it was difficult! My friends would call me, wouldn’t answer my phone. Eventually I answered, my friend Andrew, and his girlfriend, they’re both student leaders too. They took me to Red Lobster because they knew crab always cheers me up. We got a huge crab dinner, it made me feel a lot better.

What happened afterwards?

So after that, I’m like ‘screw this! I’m not doing any more university wide elections’. I ran for course union, I became deputy prime minister of Politics then I became prime minister the year after. But I guess at that point I became involved with other things across campus, I worked in Athletics for four years now, I was there for a while. So I started working in other positions on campus, I worked in Faculty of Arts for one summer, this year I worked with O-Team.

Tell me about your role in Athletics.

Okay, athletics. That was an interesting story because most people don’t know this about me. But I almost went into Photography. In high school, I was very involved in photography, I was editor of the yearbook, I started the school group called the Photography Graphic Design Guild. We had 180 members, people loved it. So everyone thought I was going into Photography, I used to walk around with a camera backpack with a big tripod strapped to the back.

My photography teachers wanted me to go into photography, even my parents wanted me to go into photography. I liked photography, but there was pressure on me to go into it. I applied both OCAD and Ryerson, I accepted OCAD right away because it came first, but as soon as I accepted, I felt in my gut that it was the wrong decision. I don’t know, I just didn’t want to be a photographer as a job, I don’t want to be told what to photograph. I felt like if your work’s good enough, you don’t need a degree in it.

So I switched to criminal justice at Ryerson, I randomly applied to that because I thought there would be leadership, there was no leadership program. Second semester, I switched over to Politics because I felt it was a better fit.

I still felt out of place though, so I applied for graphic design position with Athletics. My boss looked at my photos and said, “what would you say if I offered you a photography position instead?” I was like, “yeah okay sure!”

The first year I worked there, there were two photographers, I did the headshots and events and games, the other photographer did strictly games. I got very involved in athletics I made it my goal to take khotos of every single team and some were far off, our figure skating team our fencing team which was never really done before I went up to RMC, Kingston. I guess I earners a reputation of being a hard worker. We have publications made these booklets, those RAC guides we get them outsourced we hired a design company and I told my boss we have the ability to do this ourselves, this was end of my 2nd year working for them. I had the opportunity to make an athletic banquet booklet that year to prove I could do it. I had two weeks to do it. So we had articles photos put together in a magazine format in two weeks. Looking back, it was shit but we proved a point. That summer we hired a graphic design person a publication person and now all our work is in house. All our videos, our photos, all the content is Ryerson students

Did your job in Athletics help you with your campaign?

It helped during elections because I needed photo equipment I needed lights. I recruited a lot of student leaders to endorse us for our campaign. Because I ran with Angelo and Gerald – who are both business students and I’m a politics student –we only represent two faculties. Three programs out of over 60.  I was thinking why would a fashion student vote for us? Where’s the connection so I contacted student leaders across campus. Athletics lent me the gym, I think they even had to get a team to leave the gym, for me to take that photo, we had a banner with a bunch of leaders just to show we represent more than just business and politics. It was called UR vision.

Stay tuned for part two of Stephen’s interview! Read about how he gave up sleep to succeed.

Credits to Justine Chiu for the picture in the blog post. Check out her Facebook page for more shots here!