Two slates battled for support at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Executive Candidates Elections Forum before a packed room on Thursday night.
The Brighter UofT and Change UofT slates are fielding one candidate each for the positions of vice-president, external, vice-president, equity, vice-president, university affairs, vice-president, internal & services, and president.
No independent candidates will be on the executive ballot.
The candidates were called up to the dais by position. Each gave an opening statement and were asked questions before making their closing remarks. Questions ranged from how the candidates plan to make campus more equitable and accessible, to clubs funding, and some personal questions regarding the competence of individuals.
While most of the Change UofT slate arrived shortly after the meeting commenced, presidential candidate Cameron Wathey did not arrive until 6:29 p.m., almost thirty minutes after the scheduled start. When asked the reason for the delay, Wathey said that it was due to struggles in printing candidate materials.
Vice-presidential candidates talk equity, accountability
First to speak were the candidates for vice-president, external. Jasmine Denike, the Brighter UofT candidate, gave opening remarks first. She outlined plans to provide support and materials to incoming students and to host “accountability cafes” to stay in touch with the student population.
“For UTM, I especially want stronger communication between the campuses and I will go to UTM campus at least once every two weeks,” Denike said.
Agape Amponsah-Mensah, the vice-president, external candidate for Change UofT spoke after Denike. She described her experiences being marginalized as a black woman at U of T, and said that this gives her an appreciation for equity issues necessary to the role.
“I was struck with awe that the UTSU cares about students that look like me,” she said.
The candidates for vice president, equity spoke next.
Sania Khan for Brighter U of T spoke about her experience belonging to several minority groups at U of T, and the need for the UTSU to provide spaces for such groups. “As a minority, I need to know that I own my own narrative,” Sania Khan said.
Frishta Bastan, the Change UofT candidate, also spoke about the need to provide marginalized students on campus with avenues for discussion. “Equity is an action, a discussion, a necessary understanding for communities,” Bastan said.
Students present asked the vice-president, equity candidates how they would combat racism on campus, and what it means to trivialize issues.
To the latter question, Bastan spoke in defense of Change UofT’s campaign material, which included a flyer featuring the phrase “sexual violence” on a wordsearch of issues that Change UofT hopes to tackle. Bastan said that it was not meant to trivialize the phrase. “Sexual violence is real – it happens – and the only way to address it is through dialogue,” Bastan said.
In a response to this question, Sania Khan added that she is primarily in the business of “winning hearts,” not votes. “’I’m an activist, not a politician. I’m not going to homogenize issues,” she said.
Candidates Vere-Marie Khan for Brighter UofT, and Xinbo Zhang for Change UofT spoke next regarding their respective plans for the position of vice president, university affairs.
Zhang spoke about launching new initiatives for international students, such as airport pick-ups. He also said that, as vice-president, university affairs, he would prioritize helping students find employment. “I will work to organize the largest career fair in Ontario — if not in Canada,” Zhang said.
Vere-Marie Khan said her work as vice-president, university affairs would involve advocating for mandatory mental health training, and providing international students with information packets when they arrive at U of T.
The candidates responded to an audience question regarding previous attempts by engineering students to divert UTSU fees to the Engineering Society (EngSoc), including a referendum held in 2010 in which EngSoc members voted in favour of fee diversion.
Vere-Marie Khan said the result of the EngSoc referendum was indicative that the UTSU has not met the needs of its engineering constituency. “There must be compromise to take into consideration the views of engineering students,” she said.
Zhang responded that, thanks to his previous involvement on campus, he is confident of his abilities to liaise with other groups at U of T.
The candidates for vice-president, internal & services addressed the crowd next.
Ryan Gomes, for Brighter UofT, outlined his plan to make UTSU’s budget transparent, to increase clubs funding, and improve existing services, such as printing and metro passes.
Gomes said that he would also be committed to delivering a new, legal Board of Directors structure, as well as improving the union’s communication with the broader community. “We need to sit down with students and say: ‘How can we work with you?’” Gomes said.
The current UTSU Board structure is untenable under the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act. An alternative Board structure proposal was rejected at the UTSU Annual General Meeting in October 2014, igniting a debate over how best to represent U of T students and determine member constituencies.
Grayce Slobodian, Change UofT’s candidate for the role, spoke on the changes she wants to see at the university. “I’m running for the UTSU because I’m sick of students’ voices being heard last at this institution,” she said.
Coleman, Wathey compete for union president
In opening statements, Wathey pointed to what he sees as his team’s two greatest successes during his tenure with the UTSU: securing approval for the Student Commons, and eliminating flat fees. Wathey said he plans to focus on mental health and sexual violence strategies.
Ben Coleman, the Brighter UofT presidential candidate, encouraged the audience to ask questions that would keep candidates accountable. “If you feel that my responses to your questions demonstrate commitment and integrity, you should vote Team Brighter UofT,” he said.
The presidential candidates answered questions about providing space for commuter students, and giving a voice to clubs on the Student Commons Management Committee.
Melissa Theodore, University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union vice-president, equity, asked the candidates about their views on white supremacy and whether they think space on important committees should be taken up by cisgender, able-bodied, straight, white males.
Wathey responded that he is aware of his privileges as a cisgender, able-bodied, straight, white male, and affirmed a commitment to be the best ally he can.
Coleman also acknowledged his privileges. “I think listening is very important,” Coleman said.
The two delivered their closing remarks by expressing confidence in each of their respective slate team members.
Polls open on Tuesday, March 24, and will run until Thursday, March 26.