The nomination period for the 2017–2018 UTSU executives and Board of Directors elections opened on February 27. As candidates mobilize and prepare to campaign for a spot on the board, we asked four contributors to outline their expectations for next year’s new faces in student leadership.
All I want from the UTSU is the most basic courtesy a democratic body can afford its constituents: transparency. Last week’s story in The Varsity about the UTSU’s use of in camera meetings is perfectly demonstrative of the problem.
As was reported, “When the Board of Directors votes to move in camera, anyone who is not a director, executive, or staff member must exit the room and any discussions that happen during the in camera session are not recorded in the minutes.” Put simply, it’s a way of closing and locking the door, excluding others from conversations that may very well concern their interests.
This type of procedural secrecy makes sense when there are state secrets to protect and nuclear wars to deter, but this is the UTSU, not the Pentagon.
Moreover, voter turnout for last year’s election was less than 10 per cent, signalling an ambivalence that may be reflective of the general impression of the UTSU on campus. Knowing it only from media and campus gossip, the union comes across as a self-important circus of bizarre backdoor dealings and absurd misdemeanor.
Perhaps more people would be engaged with UTSU matters if they were privy to them in the first place. In order to reform their image, the UTSU needs to build trust, and increasing transparency is the way to do it.
Zach Rosen is a first-year student at Trinity College studying History and Philosophy.
What I want, and what I’m sure many students want, is for the UTSU to act more equitably. Although the union tends to use all the right language when it comes to social justice and equity, it has been accused of failing to follow through with action on some occasions.
I believe the new UTSU executive and board, when they are elected, should come forward with a concrete plan to work on some of the equity issues we’ve seen this year and improve on what the UTSU has already done thus far.
Many trans students have reported feeling unsafe on campus — particularly in the wake of the Peterson controversy — and some have reported being doxxed online. It would not be enough to merely condemn this; ideally, the UTSU would be able to explicitly provide the courses of action it would take to make trans students feel more comfortable and safe on campus in light of these incidents.
Additionally, the current tensions within the UTSU, and between the UTSU and the Black Liberation Collective (BLC), reveal that the UTSU has had serious trouble in meaningfully engaging with Black students.
While I would not go so far as suggesting that the UTSU drop its lawsuit against Sandra Hudson — as the BLC is seeking to do — the other concerns raised by the BLC require a much more productive response.
Ideally, the UTSU that is next elected will not only enumerate courses of action to address these issues, but also state unequivocally that it will work with marginalized students to improve on its plan.
Adina Heisler is a second-year student at University College studying English and Women and Gender Studies.
International student support
Totaling about 16,000, around 18 per cent of the student population, international students are a prominent group across the three U of T campuses, including the two campuses that the UTSU represents.
High tuition fees and lack of services have always been consistent concerns for this constituent group. According to Ariel Ho, current head of the newly establised UTSU International Students Commission, international students often cluster in groups isolated from the wider campus community because the UTSU in previous years did little to care about them.
Ho is the only member on the one-person commission, which attempts to pull off monthly meetings with international students only to be met with abysmal participation rates. This could be explained by the general lack of enthusiasm for the new organization as well as the UTSU’s failure to recognize the importance in diversifying its social media platforms outside of Facebook.
Many Chinese international students felt slighted by the disqualification of the 1UofT slate last year — the use of WeChat to distribute campaign messages not in English and without a translation resulted in a significant number of demerit points in that case.
Ultimately, the UTSU needs to strengthen their approach to meeting international students’ needs. Immediate improvements need to be made to the International Students Commission if the UTSU wants it to go anywhere. Above all, if it truly purports to represent our diverse student body, the next-elected UTSU needs to seriously address these concerns.
Arnold Yung is a fourth-year student at St. Michael’s College studying History.
I would like to see a UTSU board with more mutual respect, cooperation, and cohesion. My concerns regarding these aspects of the UTSU came into focus following a public statement by Cassandra Williams, Vice-President University Affairs regarding anti-Black racism at the union.
Although these are important discussions to have publicly, my concern comes from the nature of the public statement and the apparent antagonism directed at other executive members. The tone of the statement reads more as a call-out, dividing the executive rather than focusing on being constructive and moving forward.
Over the last few years, there have been ongoing tensions regarding the UTSU’s relationship with UTM and the UTMSU, its controversial affiliation with the CFS, and its ongoing lawsuit against its former Executive Director, Sandra Hudson.
These issues have been subject to a constant tug-of-war between the board members and executives alike.
Overall, the UTSU needs to work on establishing more cohesion between its members. Personal attacks on other board members and condemning motions to go in camera will not help the UTSU move forward. Rather, these actions will often delay the resolutions to the controversial issues outlined above. Though concerns will inevitably arise, they should be handled in a forward-thinking manner.
Avneet Sharma is a second-year student at Trinity College studying English and Cinema Studies.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify that the 1UOFT slate was issued demerit points for not having an English translation accompanying their non-English messages.