Transparency, accountability dominate discussion at executive all-candidates night

Four independent candidates and four “Turn it Up UTSC” slate candidates came head-to-head at the Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU) elections all candidates’ debate Monday night, one night before voting begins.

The debate took place in the Rex’s Den on the lower level of the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC) student centre.

Approximately 100 students were present.

Candidates for president, vice-president, academics and university affairs, vice-president, external, and vice-president, equity spoke in categories according to their would-be positions. Within the categories, each candidate gave a short speech and answered audience questions.

Criticism for the transparency of the SCSU in recent years ran rife in the second hour, causing tension between the presidential candidates in an otherwise civilized discussion.

Presidential priorities

Three hopefuls are running for the position of SCSU president: Dulaa Osman, Nicole Dionisio, and David Tweneboah. Of the three, Dionisio is the only candidate that currently serves in an executive position on the SCSU. She currently serves as vice-president academics and university affairs.

Dionisio also leads the “Turn it Up UTSC” slate.

Tweneboah spoke first and said that his wide range of experience on UTSC campus clubs and associations, including the African Students’ Association and the Imani Mentorship Program, an outreach program for Scarborough school students, make him particularly well-positioned for the role.

He said that students could trust him in the role because of his work ethic. “I know what it is to work hard. I know what it is to be a full-time student working 30 hours a week,” Tweneboah said, adding that his drive comes from genuinely caring about UTSC.

Tweneboah also promoted the idea that the SCSU needs a fresh perspective, saying that, if elected, he would look to “diffuse power out of the union” and gain more regular input from students at quarterly meetings.

Dionisio said that her experience as both a director and vice-president on the SCSU has provided her with a unique outlook on the union’s future. “If we continue to do things the way they’ve always been done, then things will remain the way they’ve always been. And, for some students, I know that’s the reason why you’re here today,” she said in her opening speech.

Dionisio outlined the need for anonymous feedback mechanisms and “operational efficiencies,” all the while emphasizing those SCSU initiatives should not come at the expense of the students.

Osman also supported the idea of a new approach to the SCSU. He said that strategic planning would be the basis of all union decisions..

Osman brought up the issue of transparency in the middle of the presidential candidates’ forum. Following an audience question about an October 2014 article from The Underground, which detailed the breakdown of the SCSU budget, Osman made the point that students should know where the money they give to the union is going, and they should know right away.

“It’s all going to be online. It’s going to be ‘Instagramed’,” Osman said of how he would approach budget documents as president of the union.

He also emphasized that greater transparency is needed to justify the proportion of SCSU funds spent on wages, which, according to The Underground, is 53 per cent.

Osman went on to criticize Dionisio’s reliability. “How can you trust someone who’s currently part of the system?” he asked.

Tweneboah echoed Osman’s sentiment. “To critically analyse a system you are [already] a part of is impossible,” he said, noting that big changes to expenses such as frosh week are called for.

These comments led to an interjection from an audience member who asked that the candidates speak only to their own platforms, and not reference their opponents.

Dionisio said that her experience on the SCSU provides her with more, rather than less, clarity about the kinds of improvements that need to be made.

Stevelle Steer, a fourth-year student at UTSC, says that the issue of transparency will be at the forefront of his voting decision: “[T]ransparency is a big deal for SCSU. I think that [issue is] going to push a lot of students to vote for whichever candidate they believe will be most transparent to them.”

Equity, external, and “Please say yes”

Independent Jessica Kirk challenges “Turn it Up UTSC” candidate Leandro Diaz-Matus for the role of vice-president, equity. Both candidates expressed similar priorities in their statements, advocating for multi-faith space, sex positivity, and an open forum for discussion on equity issues.

Kirk recalled her own intersectionality to draw attention to the many questions of identity and inequality on the UTSC campus. “I am an intersectional being and with that comes politics,” she said.

Kirk said that probing privileges is the key to understanding equity issues, and that she hopes to work with students of all identities as vice president, equity. Kirk said that she carries her own limitations and privileges. “I can’t do it on my own,” Kirk said.

Diaz-Matus also described mental health destigmatization and international students’ rights as key platform points. When asked about his own experiences with equity on campus, Diaz-Matus said that he’s noticed destructive language on campus directed toward and in between certain groups. “There needs to be a conversation… I don’t think that one voice should silence the other,” he said, specifically referencing tensions between Jewish and Palestinian groups on campus.

The two candidates for vice-president, external are David Shim, an independent candidate and president of the Scarborough Campus Residence Council, and Yasmin Rajabi, the “Turn it Up UTSC” candidate.

Rajabi said that her own experience working with Members of Provincial Parliament Non-Governmental Organizations has prepared her for a role that will involve a great deal of lobbying.

Rajabi said that lobbying for transit projects to extend to UTSC, and increased government funding to prevent tuition spikes, are key parts of her platform.

She also advocated a food-box program to provide healthy food for students.

Rajabi said that she would work to mobilize students for the upcoming federal election as part of her platform. When asked about how the SCSU should be involved in partisan politics, she responded that students should push politicians of all stripes to talk about issues that matter to them.

He added that students should advocate for fiscal prudence from politicians.

Shim said that the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project is already funded and will not extend to UTSC. He also said that in the role of vice-president, external he would work with businesses to create exclusive internship deals for students.

Rajabi rejected this idea, saying that such deals are only realized at a cost.

Camille Galindez, the “Turn it Up UTSC” candidate for vice-president, academics and university affairs is the only candidate running unopposed. She said that, in the position, she would deliver a seamless directory of academic resources.

Galindez acknowledged her lack of opposition and appealed to the audience for their votes.

“Say yes please!” she said.

Voting takes place between Tuesday and Thursday, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, at UTSC.

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