On October 11, 2016, the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) held a protest at the UTSU office. The protest called for a boycott of the students’ union and demanded that the UTSU do the following three things:
First, “Immediately drop the ongoing lawsuit against Sandra Hudson — which alleges she owes students over a hundred thousand dollars in fees — and release a public statement of apology, acknowledging the deliberate targeting and criminalizing of Ms. Hudson, as well as taking full responsibility for the mental, physical, psychological, and economic anti-Black violence inflicted upon her.”
Second, “Meaningfully address the systemic anti-Black racism within the UTSU by holding a town hall for the Black student body to open up a conversation of transparency on their responsibility and future commitment to challenging anti-Black racism.”
And finally, “Make the UTSU operating budget public and release it every year prior to the student union election and following the aforementioned town hall, as well as commit to allocating annual funding for Black student groups to organize at the University of Toronto.”
The BLC have some legitimate concerns about racism on campus. Alongside societal systemic barriers to participation and expression that Black and other students of colour face, U of T has a historical legacy of anti-Black racism that continues into the present. In this context we must also acknowledge the immense stress placed upon marginalized students when striving to obtain and maintain positions of power at the university.
What is also pressing is that, during her tenure at the UTSU, Hudson bore a portion of the brunt of the attacks that took place against the union. Simply look at UTSU politics from 2009 to 2013, all the raucous AGMs that took place during this period, and the language that was directed at them. In 2009, when the UTSU hosted a town hall about student grievances, Hudson was yelled at by a multitude of students. On another occasion, a brick was thrown through the UTSU office window while she was working.
There was also oppression on the part of the administration; as Governing Council was voting to increase tuition fees, Hudson and others who fought for the students’ rights were reprimanded through the university’s code of conduct. All of this, on top of the stress of being a marginalized student on campus, would certainly have taken a toll on Hudson.
Despite the legitimacy of these concerns, however, the BLC’s demand for the UTSU to drop the lawsuit against Hudson is not the right response. The UTSU alleges that Hudson was improperly paid $247,726.40 as part of a termination agreement made in April 2015, despite the former UTSU executive never having expressed dissatisfaction with her performance.
This sum is equivalent to approximately 10 per cent of the UTSU operating budget. While rulings have not yet been made in terms of Hudson’s liability, and it is unclear whether she engaged in wrongdoing, the magnitude of the accusation makes it clear that this issue is appropriate to be dealt with in a legal proceeding. The UTSU has a responsibility to pursue this course of action in order to secure accountability to the students it serves, and from whom it collects fees.
Moreover, the other accusations made against the UTSU shed light on the fact that this issue is far more multifaceted than the BLC makes it seem. Some of the statements made against the UTSU are devoid of context.
For instance, the BLC claimed that the UTSU did not release its club funding for the Black Students’ Association in the fall of 2015, and that the amount allocated for them was substantially lower than previous years. The BLC pointed to “anti-Black racism” as the reason for the funding cut, despite the fact that the Vice-President Campus Life Akshan Bansal was impeached at the time and replaced by Alessia Rodriguez, thus delaying the release of funding for their group. The BLC was not the only club to get their funding slashed, as other large student groups have made similar complaints to this effect.
The BLC also argues that, by supporting the creation of a St. George’s Students’ Union, the UTSU is backing an endeavour that will disenfranchise students at both UTM and UTSC, which have large populations of marginalized students. Yet no UTSU executive member currently supports the creation of the Students’ Union.
Finally, the BLC criticized Robert Boissenault, former Associate Vice-President Internal and Services, characterizing him as “anti-black, Islamophobic, sexist and [having] racist sentiments.” These accusations are baseless and ad hominem; there is no excuse for this type of language directed at an individual without any source.
These questionable statements cast doubt on the BLC’s concerns as well as their requests for redress. The group has many valid reasons to bring issues of racism at U of T to light, but some of their demands of the UTSU may be misdirected.
Haseeb Hassaan is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the former position of Robert Boissenault.