Natasha Lopes Looks Back on Her Time with the KSA

“I’ve become the person I told my 16-year old self I would be,” says KSA executive
Alyssa Laube, Associate Editor

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Natasha Lopes in a phone call, after a WOOW meeting at Grassroots Cafe. (Alyssa Laube)

“I did not make this decision lightly,” says Natasha Lopes from the Kwantlen Student Association general office. After serving for nearly a year as the KSA’s women’s representative and vice-president student life, she has opted not to run for reelection.

“Student life is about giving other people the capacity to develop themselves,” says Lopes. “I want to give someone else the opportunity to learn how to organize, to learn how to facilitate moving a group of people from one stage to the next.”

Tears well up in her eyes as she talks about saying goodbye to her coworkers, one of whom is across the room. From her desk, Vice President Finance & Operations Rawan Ramini wears a sentimental smile.

“Don’t look at me,” jokes Lopes, shielding her face with one hand.

Lopes’ passion for student life is clear to anyone who’s worked with her over the past year. Before being elected last February, she had never experienced professional involvement in politics, but now has come to feel at home in the offices of student governance, due in large part to the welcoming environment at KPU.

With a tenacity rarely seen in a first-time politician, Lopes has accomplished enough to justify a career in politics, performing the duties of both vice president student life and women’s representative for the Kwantlen Student Association. With no previous experience, she has brought attention and productivity to KPU’s women’s collective, club membership, and student life on campus. Lopes has shown resilience through challenge, ambition through apathy, and passion that remains unparalleled by many who have done her job in the past.

As VP student life, her first priority was relieving stress and facilitating a closer community at KPU. She did so by organizing movie marathons, open mic nights, and trivia events in the Grassroots Cafe, communicating with and representing clubs, and revamping Welcome Week. Giant chess and Jenga are at KPU thanks to her, as are the appearance of external companies like David’s Tea at the Welcome Week festivities. She also a made sure that a free equipment loaning system between clubs and the KSA was launched.

Many of her efforts as VP student life tied into her initiatives as women’s representative, which have made a sizeable difference to the health and safety of female-identifying students at the university. Dually functioning as chairperson and spokesperson for Women Organizing Opportunities for Women, Lopes has attended several conferences in her free time to learn more about women’s rights, drafted the KSA’s first comprehensive policy on sexual violence, collaborated with community organizations to set up free self-defence classes, and more.

Although her love of political science emerged two semesters into earning her degree in history, prompting her to switch faculties in 2013, Lopes didn’t run as an executive for another three years. Once she did, she was elected into both of the roles she shot for.

He path into student politics began humbly, inside the capitalistic confines of a bustling Forever 21. There, she was employed on minimum wage as a sales associate.

Working in retail was not a good fit for Lopes, and it showed. In fact, her dissatisfaction was visible enough that a regular customer noticed and offered her a job as a care aid to look after her ailing mother, Dobrilla Stojkovic.

Lopes accepted, and in the summer of 2013, Dobrilla’s cozy apartment became her second home. Over the next three years, her relationship with both Dobrilla and her daughter blossomed, giving her a new perspective on the elderly, the effects of dementia, and what it means to care and be cared for.

Dobrilla’s daughter supported Lopes through her participation as an elections campaign specialist in 2015’s KSA Get Out the Vote Campaign, her interest in politics that developed as a result—which pushed Lopes to become the co-chair of the KSA’s committee on student services, as well as a member in multiple clubs—and, finally, her decision to run in the KSA elections.

Tragically, Dobrilla passed away shortly after she was elected into the two positions she now holds. As a result, April was a month of mixed blessings for Lopes, who describes the period as one of growth on both personal and professional levels.

“It was a lot of complicated emotions all at once…[and] there was a lot of learning that I had to do. The ability to have that kind of leadership is not something to be shirked, even if it’s at a university level,” she says. “But if I didn’t take this role, I wouldn’t be this person. I wouldn’t be this happy. I’ve become the person I told my 16-year old self I would be.”

A daughter to Portuguese immigrants who came to Montreal during the 1980’s, Lopes was immersed in her parents’ culture during her childhood. English is her third language after Portuguese and French, and she continues to identify strongly with that culture today.

Still, as with most societies around the world, there are deeply ingrained aspects of the culture that made Lopes feel uncomfortable as a woman, such as the accepted reinforcement of gender roles. On a personal level, she felt that pressure even from members of her family, but simultaneously had strong women like her mother in her life to look to. Growing up in such an environment is one of the many reasons why she would later develop a keen interest in women’s rights.

Another influencing factor is her history with sexualized violence. Having experienced it first-hand, Lopes is open about her past, and has channelled the consequential hardship in the most productive way imaginable. She recognizes how crucial it is to have support systems in place for survivors of sexualized violence, as well as working towards creating a non-violent culture that understands consent and boundaries. The work she has done to contribute to that cause has made KPU safer and more accepting over time.

As Lopes moves on from the KSA’s executive team, she leaves a long to-do list behind. Many of her projects will still be in progress when the new women’s representative and vice-president student life are elected, and she will be personally training the former in order to assure that they are prepared to pick up where she left off.

Two weeks before the elections begin, the women’s centre that will become home to WOOW is set to open in the newly-renovated Birch building. Once fully functioning, it will be stocked with feminist literature, hygiene products, snacks, and members of the collective open to listening, connecting, and answering questions. Because it’s a project that Lopes has facilitated from start to finish, she is disappointed to be wrapping up her term as women’s representative before it can truly begin serving students on-campus, but has faith that the next to fill her shoes will do a proper job.

Organizing a yearly consent campaign, supporting relevant policy and regulation changes, and being there for female organizations or individuals seeking help are some of the endeavours that she is recommending as future focus areas for the KSA and next women’s representative. She encourages a continuation and expansion of the self-defence classes she has been coordinating on-campus, as well as additional panel discussions, documentary screenings, and keynote addresses about feminism and safety.

Between February and March, Lopes will oversee a rebranding of WOOW which will change its name to LIFT (Linking Intersectional Feminists Together). She will also account for the women’s centre as its new base and open several volunteer positions to applicants. The sexualized violence and misconduct policy that she has spent the past five and a half months drafting will soon be approved and made public, and some of the events she has put together for student life and the women’s collective have yet to take place.

“I don’t know what’s next for me,” she says. “But the motto is keep moving. I’ve been able to learn a lot and I want to be able to learn even more, and to learn even more you need to put yourself in a vulnerable position. While I love this job, I have become very comfortable in this job, and I don’t see comfort as growing. I see comfort as staying.”

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