I recently learned that in its hundred-plus years of history, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has had nine women serve as president. Three were racialised, two of whom served recently. This is meaningful to me in light of International Women’s Day and the current campus discussions about the role of students’ unions.
In my first year, I attended an event where a group of students arrived in blackface and were awarded for doing so by my college council. I witnessed the flak that UTSU and the Black Students’ Association received for publicly condemning these actions. This and other incidents forced me to question my place in my college community and U of T as a whole.
I often reference this while running anti-oppression workshops, illustrating the responsibility of student leaders in creating and maintaining safer spaces. In my roles at UTSU, I proudly took public stances against men’s rights groups that promote rape culture, racist comments made by professors, and the administration’s support for an Islamophobic, and xenophobic speaker.
Even as an elected executive, it can be difficult to speak about issues I relate to on a personal level. I remember reading comments on The Varsity and in social media last year suggesting my executive team must have been picked for their ethnicity. I hesitated to comment for fear of being accused of “pulling the race card,” or deflecting from real issues. In a Student Societies Summit meeting, I detailed some of the advocacy work the UTSU does for students, and my comments were dismissed by a faculty representative as “minority issues.”
Through participating in the Summit, it’s become clear that students engage in student societies that represent them in different ways. Direct involvement in UTSU can range from using services or attending social events, to joining the Blue Crew or a commission, to joining a club that receives UTSU resources. Some students build community by participating in college or faculty councils and feel fully accepted in those spaces. Some students could continue to pay tuition fees if they tripled and can afford to work unpaid internships, and don’t personally value advocacy on these issues. But I will always advocate for the students that need it, and take “controversial” positions when necessary to support our members and support justice within our communities.
I am certain that every student benefits from the work of the UTSU. Our union’s recent victories include the student discounted TTC Metropass, eliminating flat fees in the Faculty of Arts & Science for students taking less than 4.0 credits, a guarantee to include gender inclusive washrooms in every new campus building, increased prayer space and childcare space, and the elimination of some ancillary fees, ensuring our university is more accessible.
I’m running for president because I know that UTSU must continue to do this work. I’m running with a talented and progressive group of students involved on campus in a myriad of ways. We created a platform that represents our collective experiences and concerns students have voiced to us. On March 11 to 13, vote for an experienced, strong and principled voice to advocate for a better university community for all.
Dear U of T students,
This Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, vote for Team Unite on utsu.simplyvoting.ca.
In the next a few years, our university will be undergoing a lot of changes and we will need a strong student union working with its members and fellow student societies to advocate for increased access to education, better services, and greater support from the university.
Now, you may be asking yourself, why should I vote for Team Unite? What does Team Unite have to bring that other student leaders could not otherwise give us? The answer is simple: we are committed to working with you and student groups to understand your issues and those which your constituency faces.
For starters, it means that with flat fees being phased out and the university being hit with a supposed $16 million loss of revenue students will need to have a strong voice at university committee meetings. It means that the UTSU needs to advocate keeping student services well funded, classing sizes small and TA/student ratios low. It means that when Arts and Science, for example, is discussing ways to keep costs low that we look for best practices in different faculties, other campuses, and universities.
Further, we will not run away from the tough questions which critical student leaders continue to ask. We will not avoid or delay resolutions on year long issues which have divided our campus and have put the ‘war of words’ between the UTSU and colleges on the front page of The Varsity for months. We will
take a critical look at proposals, presentations and submissions by students like you, who are as qualified as we are to make suggestions on how to improve our campus. We will be the group to get the Student Commons (a student centre funded by YOU) approved, because we will not hide from the issues which have stalled it. We will work with UTM students to ensure that expansion projects proposed are expansion projects they want and that the bus shelters they need are built.
Team Unite is committed to working in solidarity with you to lobby for matters that concern your education and experience at U of T. Team Unite believes in educating its union members before we exhaust student resources. Team Unite aims to work with its members to fight against issues such as unpaid internships and transit hikes and strongly supports campaigns that are backed by its members.
Lastly, our team is committed to fighting discrimination and improving accessibility on campus. Our team is dedicated to ensuring that mental health awareness and services are a key focus point next year. Our team will collaborate with partners across this campus to develop mental health awareness tools that everyone can use. Our team understands that creating safer spaces on campus starts by working with local groups and associations.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, join us in challenging the status quo and changing U of T. Log in to utsu.simplyvoting.com and vote for Team UNITE.