Structural changes would suppress dissent and represent a mockery of true equity
There has been a lot of drama regarding the newly proposed changes to the structure of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors. The National Post’s commentator Robyn Urback called the changes “one of the dumbest ideas to come out of student governance in recent memory,” and “anti-democratic, nakedly self-serving and completely indefensible.”The proposal has even received some attention from the online community on Reddit after last year’s UTSU president Munib Sajjad made an ill-advised reference on his Facebook page in response to allegations that the UTSU Board of Directors change would disproportionately disadvantage some students — particularly white, heterosexual males, who would not receive a demographic representative should the proposed changes be ratified at the next UTSU Annual General Meeting (AGM). Regarding this group’s representation, Sajjad posted: “And also, heterosexual white males don’t need representation. They used to have it, it was called the Klu Klux Klan.”The former UTSU president claimed that any anger over his comments was simply the result of people misunderstanding his blatant connection of white, heterosexual male students at U of T to a racist organization that has been responsible for burning non-whites at the stake. What is perhaps more disturbing than Sajjad’s inappropriate reference is that it is clear that he actually still believes that the proposal is a good idea.Along with granting a Board of Directors vote to the position of VP-Campus Life, an office that is not elected by U of T students, this proposal represents a thinly veiled attempt on the part of the union to suppress the political representation of smaller colleges and faculties on campus. Trinity College or the Faculty of Engineering for instance, will lose their constituent seats along with the rest of the colleges and faculties, who have been staunchly anti-UTSU in recent years. However, that is not my biggest concern.My real concern is the argument that the proposal’s use of socially constructed constituencies is “equitable.” I would argue the contrary: the politicization of such identities is inherently exclusionary. Although that may seem paradoxical, the idea is quite problematic as it assumes one individual can be representative of a socially constructed and internally diverse group. This type of equity solution truly reinforces a “one voice” mentality within each constituency.Additionally, each constituency is open to all U of T students. That means that people who do not identify within a constituency can vote or run for all the positions anyways. If their equitable argument applies, the plan for the “majority” voting for the “minority” director completely discredits the validity of the proposal. This could also have the effect of individuals who stand in opposition to the proposed being characterized as “anti-equity,” if not racist, homophobic, or sexist. We have actually already seen Sajjad and others through this online debacle simply denounce the criticism as matters of “privilege.” I agree — there is undoubtedly privilege for white, straight cisgendered males in Canada, but if you want to lump diverse and historically different ethnicities into the term “white,” that argument cannot be used to ignore legitimate dissent.The use of such identities is inherently exclusionary and has the false assumption that one individual can speak for an internally diverse and socially constructed group.Haley O’Shaughnessy is a third-year student at Trinity College as well as the President-Elect for Rainbow Trinity.
Politics based on discrimination paint reasonable opposition as discriminatory
Many commentators have expressed shock and anger at the new University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) proposal to restructure the union’s Board of Directors. I can’t say that I reacted the same way.This plan, while clever, is exactly what a wise observer would expect from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) affiliated UTSU and their allies. Despite the group’s best efforts, their involvement with the UTSU has come under serious scrutiny in the wake of a series of procedural grievances filed following the close of the recent union elections.The proposed changes to the union’s Board of Directors structure come immediately after one of the closest UTSU elections in recent memory in which the Team Unite slate was able to wrest one of the executive positions from the incumbents. The proposed changes to the union’s Board of Directors would remove representation on the board from college and faculty directors, some of whom have been opposed to the UTSU in the past, while establishing replacement representatives drawn from specific social and racial demographics.These new “constituency directors” serve to increase equity on the board; however they also create an opportunity for political representation to be allocated disproportionately. The reasoning behind the changes must be questioned as it replaces an evenly distributed system with affirmative action. The UTSU is forcing its constituents into identities, rather than recognizing that the old method of departmental representation was never broken.Disturbingly, the new proposal represents an opportunity for a struggling incumbent to claim the higher ground on a big issue. By assuming moral superiority on the road to a more equitable society, the UTSU can effectively denounce any opponents to the proposal as racist, or sexist, or anti-equity. A recent example of this came from outgoing UTSU president Munib Sajjad posted on his Facebook page about why certain students would not get representation, sarcastically equating white, heterosexual male students to the Ku Klux Klan.While incredibly naive, this comment is a manifestation of Sajjad’s politics.The tactic he is using is simple and can be understood when looking at the broad social consensus that exists today on the issues of racism and discrimination. Without providing evidence of systemic discrimination or overt racism at U of T, the UTSU appeals to its supporters through a very powerful racial equality movement which no longer has any actual opponents.The proposal, and Sajjad’s comments, is part and parcel of a very simple, frighteningly effective politics used by the UTSU to mobilize their supporters against otherwise unthreatening individuals.It is quite rare to see a First-Nations student on campus whereas a majority of U of T students are female. Yet the enormous number of female students and the much smaller number of indigenous students get the same number of representatives under the new board structure: one. This would suggest that decision-makers feel that an indigenous student’s representation is 40, 50, or 60 times more important than a female student. It seems like the union is getting away with a poorly conceived policy with deeply disturbing consequences.By creating a system where political representation is imbalanced, the proposed changes allow for the formation of a dominant majority on the board. All onlookers can do is to keep running in their elections and hope either for unlikely electoral victories or for the administration to act.Jeffrey Schulman is a second-year student at Trinity College studying classics.