On July 19, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) voted to keep ties with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The motion, tabled at the RSU’s monthly Board of Directors meeting, sought to “suspend all work and collaboration with the UTSU” and failed by a vote of 16 for and 19 against. The vote was conducted by secret ballot.
The motion, put forward by RSU President Susanne Nyaga, accused the UTSU of being anti-Black for pursuing its lawsuit against former UTSU Executive Director Sandra Hudson, claiming that the legal action did not follow good practice. As such, Nyaga’s motion stipulated that the RSU executives cease any collaboration with the UTSU until they agreed to drop the lawsuit against Hudson.
The UTSU has been pursuing legal action against Hudson since September 2015 regarding a termination agreement signed by Hudson, then-Executive Director, allegedly entitling her to $247,726.40. The lump sum was equivalent to approximately 10 per cent of the 2015 UTSU operating budget. The UTSU is seeking $277,000 plus damages.
At the meeting, which lasted from approximately 8:35 pm to 10:15 pm, the RSU Board of Directors appeared to be divided on their sentiments towards the UTSU.
Some executives, such as Vice-President Education Daniel Lis, advocated for collaboration with the UTSU because the UTSU has been “spearheading” U-Pass, a student transit pass campaign for downtown university campuses, including the St. George campus (UTSG), Ryerson, OCAD, and George Brown College.
Others question the UTSU’s reputation, citing the lay-offs of its Clubs and Service Groups and Health and Dental Plan Coordinators made in April. Faculty of Community Services Director Johanna Brown stated that she doesn’t want to be involved with a student union that is “embroiled in scandal.”
RSU Vice-President Student Life & Events Lauren Emberson attempted to circulate a letter sent to the RSU Executive by the UTSU Executive Committee. Some RSU board members claimed it was unfair to distribute such a letter as there was no letter from Hudson to provide balance.
Harlick asks how the letter can be accepted as fact, as they did not receive the letter even though it says they were Cc’d. pic.twitter.com/bNvVEuQ1mY
— Varsity News (@VarsityNewsUofT) July 20, 2017
After the motion failed to pass, Vice-President Equity Camryn Harlick apologized to students present in the room for the motion’s failure; students could be heard replying, “apology not accepted.”
“I’m extremely disappointed in the outcome of today’s board meeting and I think it overwhelmingly showed that our board is not standing in solidarity with its Black students,” Harlick told The Varsity, following the meeting. “[The board] is participating in anti-Blackness and prioritizes capital funds — which I don’t think we can even say prioritizes capital funds because it’s not in our best economic interest to partner with the UTSU — but also just a complete disregard for Black lives.”
Members of the RSU Executive and board speaking in favour of the motion to suspend collaboration with the UTSU, including Nyaga and Harlick, claimed that the motion was not about the lawsuit, but about how Hudson was treated by the UTSU.
Speaking with The Varsity after the meeting, Nyaga said she thinks that “when we’re talking about what’s happening with that lawsuit and the way in which they’re treating her around that lawsuit, whether they have merit or not, they’re treating her in an extremely anti-Black way, and I would be disgusted if anyone did that to anybody I know whether they’re Black or not.”
“I’ll continue to stand up for the humanity of others, especially when anti-Blackness comes into play as a Black individual,” Nyaga continued.
“With this voting what I kind of see is that people are ready to privilege events or orientation or U-Pass… over Black lives of students. I’m disappointed that I don’t have a team that supports Black lives, I’m disappointed that I don’t have a team that listens and works as allies.”
UTSU Vice-President External Anne Boucher, who was present at the RSU board meeting, stated that “saying that I’m relieved would be an understatement. I’m glad to see [U-Pass] will be able to move forward as planned.”
Boucher claimed that had the motion passed, the success of the U-Pass project “would have been at risk. That’s not just UTSU members suffering, it would be RSU’s members, OCAD’s members, and George Brown’s members.”
Update: This article has been updated to clarify that the UTSU is seeking $277,000 plus damages from Hudson.