The first video in the Ask an IAPSS Team Member series premiered on November 27, 2020. The video can be viewed on YouTube here. A transcript is provided below, compliments of Oleksii.

IAPSS USA and Canada Chair Oleksii Zahreba

Justin Patrick: Hi, everyone. Welcome to a new segment where we interview IAPSS team members just to get some information about their experiences and stuff. I’m Justin Patrick, IAPSS’s president. I’m here with Oleksii Zahreba, IAPSS USA and Canada Chair. How’s everything going today, Oleksii?

Oleksii Zahreba: Everything is going pretty well. Thank you, Justin.

Justin: All right. That’s great to hear. To start off, would you maybe be able to tell us some information about yourself? Your academic background, the history of your involvement in IAPSS. Anything else you’d like to share with us here.

Oleksii: I’m based in Canada, in the province of Alberta. I’m originally from Ukraine. I’ve been living here for more than five years, and I am currently studying at Burman University. It’s a small university located between two major cities in Alberta — Calgary and Edmonton. I’m studying in the International Studies programб focusing on political science, government, and world cultures. I am currently in my third year of studies. I have been involved in IAPSS for just about a year. A year ago, I applied for a position in the World Congress Team. World Congress 2020 was supposed to occur in Vienna and gather all IAPSS members from around the world. I worked as a speaker’s coordinator assistant.

It was a lot of fun and overall a great experience. I connected with people from different countries, and we had a great team. Then the pandemic started, and unfortunately, we had to cancel the World Congress. But a new opportunity came along to develop this region of the United States and Canada within IAPSS. This region has a lot of potential, but unfortunately, it didn’t have significant human resources up to this point. I live here, and I saw that I can help IAPSS develop its presence in North America. I think political science students in our region deserve much more in terms of opportunities and connections. Political science students deserve to have a community. That’s why I took responsibility to be leading this region.

Justin: All right. I guess it’s important for viewers to know that your position is an elected one. Right?

Oleksii: Correct.

Justin: You’re elected by political science students in the USA and Canada to represent their interests, as we do lots of advocacy at the international level. Being from Canada myself, I can definitely relate to the fact that political science students in Canada and the US really need more opportunities to make their voices heard at the international level, especially because I know there isn’t necessarily a lot of engagement at that level. It’s more localized.

In the US, especially, we saw the United States Student Association’s collapse a few years ago, which has greatly hindered student’s ability down there to make their voice heard and unite on a national level. They have student movements and stuff, but without that democratic student government, it’s a bit more of a challenge. It’s not as reliable. It’s sporadic. With this being said, how has your term as IAPSS USA and Canada Chair been so far? Are there any particular accomplishments that you’re proud of that you may be like to highlight?

Oleksii: The term has been going for five months now. Considering that we started from scratch, a lot has been accomplished, but still, so much work is ahead. The more I work every day, the more I realize how much more work is to be done to make this region successful and prosperous within IAPSS. I’m happy that I was able to hire amazing team members. We have people in charge of events, media, liaison, and we are always looking for more awesome students who are willing to contribute their time to developing the political science community in the US and Canada.

One accomplishment is building a team and creating a long-term plan for the 2020-2021 term, a long-term vision for our region. We have signed partnership agreements with various non-governmental organizations. So far we hosted at least one virtual event every month. We tried to be consistent with our events and always have something for political science students to attend, whether it’s a lecture or a panel on various topics. We also hosted a UN75 consultation a couple of months ago. We’re also growing our social media following and trying to spread awareness about this region.

Often, political science students just don’t know that there are more opportunities than they’re not aware of. They don’t know that there’s a community that they can join. One of our goals is to make ourselves known. Make IAPSS a household name in the US and Canada within the political science sphere. So when people mention IAPSS, it’s like, “Oh, of course, I know IAPSS. It’s an amazing organization run by students and for students.” 

There’s much more to be done. I’m looking to increase individual student membership, sign partnership agreements with universities and more non-governmental organizations, and host big conferences. In the time of Covid-19, it might be more challenging, but we’re always looking for opportunities to host something online. The moment we are back to normal, we want to gather in person. That would mark new beginnings for our region.

Justin: Yes. Another notable thing is bringing the Canadian Political Science Association back because it seemed to be having a bit of a rough time and helping with its revival. Is there anything that you’d like to maybe share about that?

Oleksii: Yes. We got in touch with the president of the Canadian Student Political Association (CPSSA). The president, Patricia Kumbakisaka, now joined our team as a representative of CPSSA to IAPSS. Again, our focus is on students. She will be helping to develop her association, and first of all, to revive it. We’re happy to support them in any way possible. We created a web page on the IAPSS website for CPSSA. Patricia will be connecting with Canadian universities and Canadian students and just making IAPSS and CPSSA known in Canada.

Meanwhile, the rest of our team will be focusing on the United States. Mutual cooperation helps to achieve big goals when many people work together. I hope that having many people in different directions and different geographical areas will help us be more widespread and known across the entire continent. So, bringing CPSSA into IAPSS is definitely an achievement. It’s the foundation of big things.

Justin: Absolutely. With this being said, our mandate started on June 1st. We’re almost at the halfway point. At this point, what are your plans for the rest of the mandate? Is there anything you would like viewers watching this to be aware of, whether it’s upcoming events and things or other projects that you’re working on?

Oleksii: We are launching a massive campaign to bring IAPSS to as many campuses as possible. If you are watching this and you’re a university student, you can contact us through the online form on our web page. Just go to iapss.org, find regions, US and Canada, and click on the page “partner with us.” You can fill out a form and bring IAPSS to your university. We’ll contact you and schedule an online info session for your university club or a political science association. If you’re representing a student union, we will be happy to partner with you as well.

We’ll be trying to reach out to as many campuses as possible and present them with opportunities and partnership agreements, and really develop meaningful relationships with political science departments in both countries. The core of the idea is to make IAPSS as much available as it’s possible for students. Every political science student should know about the existence of IAPSS, and it shouldn’t be difficult for them to join. It should be affordable, and it should be easy. So that’s one of our goals – to make IAPSS accessible. We’re also planning to continue hosting events at the current pace of at least one event a month. You can follow our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts to stay up-to-date. There are more interesting projects on our minds, so just follow our pages and see what will be happening very soon.

Justin: All right. That’s great to hear. That leads us to our next question, which is a bit more conceptual. What is your vision for the future of IAPSS? These could be long-term goals, maybe things that you’d hope to see after for future generations of IAPSS students and student representatives? I guess the sky’s the limit on this question here.

Oleksii: Definitely, but don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon. There’s so much more than IAPSS can do because, first of all, IAPSS is the only democratic student government representing political science students at the global level recognized by the United Nations. The potential is truly unlimited. IAPSS is not an organization run by somebody in an ivory tower, just pretending to be for students. IAPSS is run by students. This is why I’m here. Because it is governed by students, it’s possible to get involved in various research roles, or student leadership, or student activism.

I see IAPSS not as a business that sells tickets to conferences and organizes trips. It’s not just a publisher. It’s much more than that. It’s a community, a group of people who support each other and help each other, maybe career-wise or academically. For me personally, it’s a community of friends from around the world. Ultimately, our goal is to create a global political science community. It means to be a community where anyone can get involved, anyone can get help, anyone can raise attention to the issues they care about.

They can do it through IAPSS because IAPSS is represented on all inhabited continents. There’s a big reach, hundreds of thousands of students who follow IAPSS. You can raise a voice to the issues that matter to you. Here is it all about the journey, not the destination. The goal is to maintain IAPSS, keep it going and expand it, and help students become who they want to become. Whether they want to work for the government, and make a change on that level, work for the United Nations, work for small nonprofits. Whether they really want to get involved in the field on the ground and be there and help people, or maybe someone wants to become a politician, lawmaker, researcher, scholar. IAPSS is a great springboard for students to start up their careers, start-up their search for connections and knowledge. This is, I think, the mission of IAPSS that keeps me going every day.

Justin: I agree. There is definitely a lot of potential. I wonder, even a few years ago, with the creation of the continental IAPSS regions, if the student leaders then could have foreseen what they might become today. I’m sure they would be very proud, anyway. This brings us to one other segment here in terms of a new initiative that we’re doing in collaboration with other student governments worldwide, largely in response to what we’ve observed in several countries where student representation appears to be in retrenchment. We see instances in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, students from there have told us that student unions in their countries are outright banned.

Also, we mentioned the collapse of the United States Student Association a few years ago. Then, in countries like India and Canada, we have multiple student unions who compete for control instead of one unified national student government to provide students’ one voice to affect policy change. We’ve been working with many other organizations like ours to form a global student government to represent all students and help fill the void left by the collapse of the International Union of Students about 20 years ago, which was created after World War II.

Based on the documents that we’ve been able to find, the major causes of its downfall appear to be a lack of a funding model that worked and a lack of grassroots student engagement. Without the students, it’s difficult for a student government to be legitimate. I know you’re very interested in this initiative, and you’ve been involved with it so far. What are your thoughts on this?

Oleksii: I think global student government is exactly what students need at this time. It’s interesting how we live in the current world. As a youth, we just follow the news around us, we follow the national news, global news, and we’re told it’s a time of uncertainty. It’s unprecedented. It’s not just Covid-19. Even before Covid-19, the liberal international order was being challenged, and it is being challenged right now. The post-World War II order characterized by international cooperation and leadership of the United States is being eroded. We see fragmentation and deglobalization, and different regions of the world start locking up and becoming more, not to say independent, but more self-sufficient.

Again, it’s a time of uncertainty. You cannot make big plans for the future when you don’t know what will happen next year, what decisions other nation-states will make. And it influences student politics. We can see how it just reflects in various student governments around the world.There are a lot of student unions within one country that compete with each other. I think the big problem is the lack of grassroots engagement starting from students. Students don’t feel connected to the organization that represents them. 

Now, the global student government, I think, is an amazing idea. We have to do everything to make it work. Start it and develop it to big heights because, first of all, it should represent all students worldwide. It should represent as many student associations and unions as possible. It should be run by students and for students. As we search for student associations and unions who are willing to join the initiative, we want to make students the organization’s core.

Whenever there’s a decision being made, students should be a crucial part of decision-making. It’s not people in some higher-up positions or a few people who make all the decisions, no. It should be democratic. The global student government should have different institutions within the organization like a general assembly or maybe some structure that would allow everyone to voice. Where students feel connected, and they’re the ones who run it. Global student government officials should also be elected directly by students.

We should make outreach advocacy the core of the organization. Because, again, if there’s a small group that runs the whole thing for many years, what happens is that small group starts promoting its own views and forcing its views first of all on members of the organization. This shouldn’t happen. We should ensure a comprehensive reach to all students. We should include national and regional representation bodies and organizations representing students of a particular sector and field of study. There are various associations around the world. There are national student unions in different countries, but there are also unions for student-biologists, students studying psychology, political science, etc. We should include those thematic based organizations as facets of global student government. Students represented from all fields of studies can use global student government as a platform to advocate for their views on global issues in their fields. 

I think the global student government is something the world needs at the moment. There are disruptive technologies, the unpredictable behavior of nation-states, the national politics in which leaders act to totally change global politics. All of it influences students, and we should create something stable, something that would stand firmly and promote students’ views no matter what happens in the world. It should not be partisan. It should not be influenced by some political force. The power should be exercised through democratic means, through the elected executive committees. The elected officials should be consistently changing to ensure a variety of perspectives.

We should also ensure that global student governments’ core values are always upheld throughout many years as it will continue to expand and grow. I’m very excited about the initiative, and I can’t wait to see how far we’ll advance it.

Justin:  I think what is also important is the student autonomy thing that you mentioned is vital because I think many of the problems that student governments face is when there’s interference by actors who aren’t students or not elected. That ranges for everything from high school student councils where teachers, administrators, or other education stakeholder groups infringe on the student government or even larger student unions where they have barriers faced by corporatization. They’re stuck within a corporate structure that might not necessitate a democracy. The bare minimum might be an autocratic structure, so there are not as many safeguards in place.

I had a meeting a few months ago with an NGO in the US. I mention this because at the meeting there was a former student leader from the United States Student Association. They mentioned that it’s definitely a goal worth striving for, but it’s a very challenging one because as you mentioned, there are different types of student governments now just in the wake of the International Union of Students, which has collapsed. Now you have student governments represented in a certain geographical area, whether that’s a country or continent or a series of countries. You have ones like ours in the one dimensional represent subjects and stuff.

It’s definitely not going to be easy because those organizations also have different structures, ways of doing things. Some have a very codified structural list of individual members. In contrast, others are less formal and might just be a collection of associations, or some might be a bit of both. I think it’s important to find a way that we can make sure that regardless of all these differences, we can find something where it’s funded by students. Because I know there are a lot of risks if it’s funded by private interests, it could be holding to those private interests.

As we saw in the 1960s, those students were actually two international student unions that fought for control like the IUS that we’ve mentioned and the International Student Conference. One was generally supported by the USSR and one by the US. They competed for a bit in the 1960s. Whether it’s interference by governments, private interests, it’s definitely dangerous.

With groups like the United States Student Association, we saw stuff where they became dependent on funding by foundations and stuff. Then one year, the foundations just decided to donate their funds somewhere else. It was a deciding factor in that association’s capitulation eventually. Definitely a lot of progress to be made. I know that it’s very difficult to get all the different groups at the table currently around the world. Some have different ideas, some want to go in different directions. It’s a delicate balance, for sure.

Oleksii: This is why those global student organizations collapsed. Some were funded by USSR-oriented states, some were funded by the Western countries. Once the Cold War was over, there was no point in financing them anymore because they were used as political gain tools. This is what we must ensure should not happen with the global student government. First of all, it shouldn’t be used as a tool for political purposes. It shouldn’t be used as a tool for corporations. It shouldn’t be funded by private companies.

Secondly, we have to ensure it does not slip into autocracy. The organization should be funded by the students, and all the represented student organizations should have one vote. We would have an advisory board consisting of experts who can advise the executive board in decision-making. The organization should have member institutions representing different fields. Daily expenses should be reduced to a minimum for daily operation, so we ensure we stay afloat and finance many other things to be taken care of. Think of it as the United Nations for students, but better. More effective, more influential, and not bound by national politics.

This is a dream I think we might not achieve next year or year after that, but hopefully within this decade, as we continue working towards accomplishing sustainable development goals. Especially the education goals, where we see that there’s a lot of progress being made. I think our role as students is vital in achieving the sustainable development goal for quality education. We should mobilize a global studentship to help achieve this goal. I think it’s totally doable. I will do everything in my power and currently as IAPSS US and Canada Chair to ensure the global student government succeeds.

Justin: I know that, as you mentioned, it might not come to fruition. I think even as far as we’ve come, it still sets a new precedent that hasn’t really been, I think, examined that in-depth for at least a couple of decades. Because I know there’s been a bit of a resurgence in the late 2010s. Between that fall of the IUS and the early 2000s, it’s been a void. I think there’s a lot more activity now. It’s good that students are communicating with each other.

Even if our initiative fails, I think it’s still a question of “when,” perhaps, as opposed to “if” at this point. With that, new challenges will come, and we have to make sure the structure that’s established is, as you mentioned, inclusive. So it does not exclude particular countries and stuff. Still, at the same time, it should have a structure that’s fair and democratic and, as you’ve worded, doesn’t slip into autocracy.

I think a large part of that would be just making sure we have that grassroots activism. I think we’ve come a long way since the IUS days, especially technologically, where we have a lot more tools that we can use. Online voting, I think, is one major thing that can allow us to come together. We don’t necessarily have to physically go to conferences; we can do it virtually. That saves a lot of funds that students will be putting into the organization.

Another thing too if we can one day figure out – it’s a little bit idealistic, but the potential of having some form of direct elections instead of the old model. The old model is where you have students where they elect the student government representatives of their school who elect representatives of their country. Then they elect representatives of their continent, and then they would elect representatives of this global organization. It’s a lot of tears, and the grassroots students just don’t really know what’s going on. It’s very difficult to communicate that message, especially if their vote just doesn’t directly go all the way up through the ticket. Now we have online voting, we could hypothetically organize that.

At IAPSS, we’ve been experimenting with it. Students vote for the global executives and they also vote for their continental chairs. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep expanding with that. Then with the Canadian Political Science Student Association, we can maybe add a national level in that instance. I know that IAPSS Ukraine has also been very active and have their own elections.

I think there are many possibilities, but we just got to make sure not to repeat the same mistakes. Especially like you said, the increased self-sufficiency, that recruiter retrenchment in terms of international cooperation that we should have done. Stave off as best we can, but definitely, there is a long road ahead. I think we’re setting new precedence either way.

Oleksii: We definitely do, and this work will not go in vain. As you’re saying, we are setting a precedent. Still, I feel it’s going to take off ultimately because we’ve had various meetings and discussions, and I see that students are at the core of this initiative. It’s not a higher body decision, some European commission or education agency that decides to set something up. However, they would have the infrastructure to do it. They would also have a lot of financial and human resources. But right now, we are starting at the grassroots. We start it as students. It starts with people like you and me in IAPSS. It starts with students from other associations we’ve been in touch with.

I think that’s how it should be, that’s where it starts, and then it becomes bigger. One thing to avoid is becoming too big and bureaucratic, tangled in red tape and documents and procedures so much that it loses its original meaning. Also, seeing how the world has changed in such a short time-span this year, we see a shift to online meetings and online conferences. Still, I believe in the power of human relationships in the real world. One day, at IAPPS, I hope that we will return to in-person events, and we return to seeing each other in person. This is where the connections are made, and the deals are negotiated.

I see the global student government, eventually meeting in person on various continents and perhaps meeting on the global level like IAPSS World Congress. Even though it is a lot of money, it’s a lot of effort, but in the end, it’s absolutely worth it. There is a substitute with Zoom, but I don’t feel like it’s the future even though it’s very useful for day-to-day use.

Through the global student government, I hope that students will also be getting financial help to attend those events and participate in democratic procedures as it happens in real life and time. It’d be amazing sitting at the general assembly and voting and seeing that your vote matters when you elect your representatives in real time. I hope as the world adapts to living with Covid-19 with vaccines and just seeing progress being made in that regard, we’ll return to be seeing each other and shaking hands, and building relationships.

Justin: Absolutely. I have a feeling when everything goes back to normal, it’s just going to be in-person events all the time—a very big explosion of conferences and stuff. I’m imagining a best-case scenario in 2022, our World Congress that’s just gigantic where we’re all able to meet and talk about this stuff just like our predecessors have done for over 20 years now. At the same time, too, I think we’re learning many skills as an organization. Like doing these online events, we can maybe integrate those into the in-person ones. We can do both so people who can’t afford to travel to the conferences in person can still tune in virtually.

We can have that simultaneous thing, or maybe a situation where we could have multiple locations in different countries, perhaps, so that’ll be easier on travel and then intercommunicate through various virtual tools. Possibilities are endless. Making the best of a bad situation, at least we’re learning new ways to ensure that students get our resources and opportunities and stuff. As a group of things have been over the past year or so, I think we have a lot to look forward to for sure.

Oleksii: I think that right now we have a chance. As we sit in our homes and talk through Zoom and do everything through Zoom, and maybe get outside occasionally —  this is a chance to regroup our efforts. If there was the best moment to create a global student government —  it is now when we’re locked up and we have to sit and think, and we can’t do many activities. This is the time to connect with organizations, and this is a time to start building it, so by the time the world is open, we will be ready. This time should be used productively. I think this is our goal as IAPSS to change the direction and change how we do things. Perhaps see where our work processes or our procedures have not been as reliable and improve them. Once the world is back from the pause button, we will be stronger than we were before.

Justin: I think that’s a good place to segue to our conclusion, I think. Those are good words to maybe leave students on as they think about the future and stuff. Definitely gives them a lot of hope here. With this, is there anything you would like to say to viewers, IAPSS members, other students who might be watching, whether IAPSS USA and Canada are doing or other kinds of ideas or maybe some other words of encouragement and hope to leave them with? The floor is yours.

Oleksii: Everyone who made it that far please keep the faith. I was watching Justin Trudeau assessing the global pandemic. He said it really sucks, but we have to make it through. We are here to support you. IAPSS USA and Canada has multiple initiatives, just check out our regional pages or the web page or check out our Facebook and Instagram. You can always send us a personal message. I’m actually probably going to be the one responding to it, or it will be our media coordinator. Please do get in touch with us. We’ll also be launching a newsletter soon with various monthly opportunities. 

Sitting in isolation is difficult. Being isolated from human interaction, being isolated from different activities we’re used to doing it is hard, and everybody is collectively struggling through it. For me, I still go to work, and I still attend school, but it’s a combination of in-person and virtual interaction. Most of the time, I just have to study and can’t do much in current circumstances. When I do meet with people within IAPSS, when we have meetings with other regional chairs from around the world, Australia, Asia, even Latin America is joining, this is such a big inspiration that I’m not alone in this, and we’re working together.

When we organize events and just sit down and listen to people from Turkey, listen to people from the Middle East talking about their experiences. Yes, it is virtual, but it is connecting us. Right now, if you’re a political science student, even if you’re just a student interested in political science and you are struggling, you don’t know what to do next, you don’t know what’s your future after school, how you will apply your degree, please come to us. We’re building a community, we want to support each other, and we are available for you. The best decision for any political science student to make is to join IAPSS and see where it takes you because IAPSS can give you much if you’re willing to take it. 

I’m looking forward to completing the next half of my mandate. By the time the next June 1st rolls around, IAPSS US and Canada will be filled with motivated and ambitious people who will want to make this region even further. My dream is that we build a community of political science students who support each other, and who are friends with each other, and do everything together wherever they live. Again, this is the time to join IAPSS. Everything will be okay. We will make it through.

Justin: I echo those words. I think that’s a great way to leave it off here. For those watching, if you’re a political science student and you’re not part of IAPSS yet, I definitely encourage you to go to iapss.org and become a member or check out if your school is already a part of IAPSS. If not, I would encourage you to go to your local political science student association and see if they can get involved in IAPSS if they’re not already. They might have some other information for you. Also, if you’re interested. You can find the information about Oleksii and the IAPSS USA and Canada team on our website if you’d like to reach out and get involved.

We also always have lots of opportunities on our Get Involved page. We’re rapidly expanding, especially in the last few years, so there are always ways to help out and be a part of it. I’d like to thank Oleksii for being here for the first interview with IAPSS team members. We’ll have some more for you in the future this year. Hopefully, we can start a trend and provide you with a perspective into what it’s like to volunteer and work with IAPSS and be a part of it to see how different aspects of our organization operate.

As Oleksii mentioned, I think there are many good things to look forward to here, and there’s definitely a lot of hope. Suppose you’re ever interested in things like the Global Student Government initiative or other things like events coming up that we’ve talked about. In that case, you’re welcome to contact us anytime. Thank you so much for tuning in here and watching this, whether it is in 2020 or sometime in the future, when you’re looking at what it was like in the pandemic for student organizations. Great to have you here. Take care. Thanks again, Oleksii. Have a great rest of your day.

Oleksii: You too, Justin. Please stay safe.

Justin: You too.