Members of the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) are calling for a boycott of University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).
The group occupied the Union’s office at Hart House Circle with microphones and speakers and called on the union with three demands: to drop its ongoing lawsuit with former Executive Director Sandra Hudson; to increase funding for Black student groups; and to hold a town hall for black UTSU members to address what they call systemic anti-Black racism within the union.
The UTSU Executive released a statement Sunday evening regarding the demands, in which they “commit to a town hall on anti-Black racism, as well as to a series of public consultations on the role of the UTSU as an institution,” as well as a review of clubs funding that will introduce “guaranteed funding for Level 3 clubs at the point of renewed recognition.” The statement says that the executive “urges that all individuals affected by the current legal dispute, including all parties to the lawsuit, be treated with respect.”
During the protest, the interior and exterior of the UTSU office was plastered with posters that list the BLC’s demands. Some of the posters called out former President Ben Coleman, former Vice-President University Affairs Pierre Harfouche, current President Jasmine Denike, and current Vice-President Internal & Services Mathias Memmel by name.
“BEN, WE SEE YOU,” one poster read. Others read, “UTSU your antiblackness is SHOWING,” “UTSU IS ANTIBLACK PERIOD,” and “#IMWITHSANDY.”
The BLC outlined its grievances in a nearly 3000-word statement published online. A BLC member read out the statement through a megaphone inside the UTSU’s office. In the statement, the group accuses UTSU executives since the 2015–2016 year — which is the year that the Brighter UofT slate swept the UTSU elections — of ignoring UTM, which it describes as “a campus comprised of predominantly racialized students, with a significant population of Black students.”
“In the year prior to getting elected, some of these executives worked to demonize the Mississauga campus and treat students from UTM like they were second-class citizens at UofT,” a part of the statement reads.
The group’s statement also discusses the Black Students’ Association (BSA), which, according to the BLC, did not receive full funding from the UTSU. The BLC says that because of this, the BSA was “unable to provide secured resources to host events and initiatives for Black students that year, including the BSA’s Black History Month educational trip to New York, which was nearly cancelled due to a lack of funding from the UTSU.”
In addition, the BLC claims that during the UTSU’s Annual General Meeting in October 2015, the union rejected proxy forms from BSA members and did not discuss a student’s motion to support Black Lives Matter — Toronto. The Black Lives Matter motion was pushed to a Special General Meeting in January, but that meeting failed to reach its required quorum attendance.
The statement also discusses lack of attendance of UTSU executives at the BLC’s rallies. The BLC criticizes the 2015–2016 executive for not attending the rally for the University of Missouri, which was held on the same day as a UTSU AGM. Denike, Memmel, and Vice-President University Affairs Cassandra Williams did attend a BLC demonstration while they were candidates in the UTSU elections; the BLC said this was a “tokenistic and problematic act, in consideration of the continued racist violence UTSU has perpetrated.”
When discussing tokenization, the BLC’s statement claims that the UTSU consulted one Black student for its Black History Month programming: “This will enable them to checkmark permissibility and wade off criticism of not having Black voices organizing about Black lives. This vile tokenizing of Black organizing continues to be the prop that UTSU uses to uphold the image that they care about Black students as they simultaneously systematically entrench them further into violence and marginalization through their continued anti-Black racism.”
The BLC statement also takes aim at The Varsity, saying this newspaper “has neither written about these incidents of anti-Black racism nor engaged in impartial journalism to fairly report on the activities of the students’ union.” The statement also mentions a racist image that this newspaper ran as a part of its satirical issue in November 2007.
“The Black Liberation Collective has refused to give comments to the Varsity on any stories they write that only tokenize Blackness,” the statement says.
Dropping the lawsuit
The Varsity’s coverage of the UTSU’s lawsuit against Hudson is also discussed in the statement. The BLC alleges that the UTSU “colluded” with this newspaper to “assist in the character assassination of Sandy, leaking the lawsuit to the paper, prior to Sandy being served.”
The UTSU is currently in the midst of a lawsuit with Hudson and accuses her of improperly arranging severance payments for herself totalling $247,726.40 or approximately 10 per cent of the union’s budget. The union also alleges that Hudson deliberately destroyed confidential documents and improperly logged 1,974.5 overtime hours that were recorded in a single entry.
The UTSU Executive statement iterates that the litigation is the responsibility of the Executive Committee.
According to the BLC, Hudson was entitled to that severance payment and it “does not reflect the tireless hours of service she has contributed and dedicated to students at UofT and across Canada.”
The BLC calls Hudson a “mentor for student leaders and marginalized students,” and highlights her work in social justice activism. The group alleges that Hudson, who is a Black woman, endured “anti-Black and anti-woman sentiments, harassment, public threats that she would be fired upon Brighter UofT’s election, repeated public humiliation, character assassination and coercive bullying and intimidation.” Hudson is making similar accusations in her $300,000 countersuit against the union.
Hudson told The Varsity that she did not have prior knowledge of the protest and had no part in the events, but said that she “understand[s] and deeply appreciate[s] the support to myself personally and for Black students generally.”
Current UTSU Executive Director Tka Pinnock — whom the BLC characterized as “significantly disempowered” — declined to comment. The BLC did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.