Trigger warning: Discussion of sexual violence
The campaign period for the 2015 UTSU elections officially began at 9:00 am Monday, at which time both the Brighter UofT and Change UofT slates began to distribute campaign materials. The Change UofT website was launched Monday, while the Brighter UofT website was delayed due to technical difficulties.
Change UofT is running Cameron Wathey for president; Grayce Slobodian for vice president, internal and services; Frishta Bastan for vice president, equity; Agape Amponsah-Mensah for vice president, external; and Xinbo Zhang for vice president, university affairs.
Brighter UofT is running Ben Coleman for president; Ryan Gomes for vice president, internal and services; Sania Khan for vice president, equity; Jasmine Denike for vice president, external; and Vere-Marie Khan for vice president, university affairs.
The first taste of election controversy came Tuesday when Change UofT, the slate led by Cameron Wathey, was found to be distributing flyers with an insensitive and potentially triggering word-search puzzle.
The puzzle included the phrase “Sexual Assault” among phrases such as “Snow Day” and “Go Blues.” Some alleged that the placement trivialized the issue of sexual assault. “I don’t think finding sexual assault is going to accomplish anything to be honest except trigger some folks,” tweeted student Nashwa Khan on Tuesday.
On Wednesday evening, Change UofT posted a defense of their word search flyer, saying that it was not an attempt to trivialize the issue.
“We felt that for us to omit sexual assault from the list of words to find would only serve to reinforce the stigma and the silence around a public conversation about sexual violence and rape culture on our campuses, which we believe is missing,” the statement read.
Also on Wednesday, former U of T student politician James Finlay accused the Change UofT slate of taking its name from a former slate with a similar title. According to Finlay, the slate name Change was used by a group of students, himself included, to oppose what they describe as a “line of direct incumbency” in the UTSU. The Change slate was active from 2008-2010.
Finlay says that the use of a similar name by Change UofT is misleading because the slate contains incumbent candidates: Cameron Wathey for the position of president and Grayce Slobodian for vice president, internal and services. “…Change means renewal, bringing in fresh blood. It means introducing something different than what was there before. The fact that they’re appropriating the name and using it for a purpose that’s totally contrary to that is a pretense. They’re essentially lying to the electorate,” Finlay accused.
Change UofT did not respond to a request for comment on these allegations.
As of Wednesday, the Brighter UofT website was active, but their platform was not available.
All executive candidates went head to head on Thursday at the mostly genial executive forum.
One audience question from a student wearing a yellow t-shirt — the colour adopted by Brighter UofT supporters in the crowd — was not in keeping with safe space, according to the Change UofT candidate answering the question.
The question asked the vice president, external candidates about resource allocations to campaigns that “do not represent the majority of students.” When asked for clarification on the question, the asker gave the example of the UTSU spending money to support campaigns for indigenous rights.
Amponsah-Mensah responded by saying that the example given was discriminatory and inappropriate.
“The land that we reside on is aboriginal,” Amponsah-Mensah said. “I just spoke about discrimination. I feel as though that question is in that realm.”
The Brighter UofT slate issued a statement late Thursday night condemning the audience question and indicating that the individual who asked the question will step back from involvement with the team.
“As a slate, we will actively work to right the offense, and ensure that those who stand with us are aware of our commitment to equity and anti-racism,” the statement reads.
Some students later took to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the environment in which the elections are taking place.
Early Friday morning, account activity from Change UofT presidential candidate Cameron Wathey’s Facebook page showed him “liking” a misogynistic post on the UofT Confessions page.
In response, Wathey issued a statement on his Facebook page Friday morning assuring his social media network that the activity was not his own. In the statement, Wathey said he is “disgusted” by the “perpetuation of misogyny and rape culture on our campuses and in the community,” and that anyone who knows him would recognize this as an attack and not his own action.
Celia Wandio, an Arts & Science at-large director candidate, left the Change UofT slate on Friday to run as an independent. The decision followed the controversy surrounding the Change UofT campaign material that allegedly trivialized sexual violence — something Wandio has been focused on combatting as the founder of U of T Students against Sexual Violence.
Wandio says that her decision to run as an independent should not be seen as an endorsement of either slate, and that she feels no animosity towards her former running mates on Change UofT. “I care about and support so many of them, and I recognize that they made an effort to take my opinions into account in their actions. However, it got to a point where I felt a pretty big divide in how we felt we should respond to this situation, and I could not see a scenario in which we could negotiate this to come to a solution we all felt comfortable with,” Wandio said.
Wathey said that he supports Wandio’s decision to leave his slate. “The whole team supports her decision and we will continue our friendship and our work together regardless of the outcome of the election,” Wathey said.”
The Brighter UofT election platform became available on their website Friday.