In Photos: UTSC’s Indig-U-Know Pow Wow
UTSC held its first Pow Wow on March 10
Candidate Profile: Atif Abdullah
Slate: Students United, President
Atif Abdullah is a third-year Computer Science student running uncontested for President under the slate Students United.
The current UTMSU Vice-President External, Abdullah is seeking presidency to lead the union through the “challenging period” of likely funding cuts due to the Ontario government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI).
His top priority as president would be to ensure that student clubs, societies, and groups are “supported as heavily as possible” by minimizing any negative impacts from the SCI.
He also values the UTMSU’s academic policy work, citing the UTMSU’s successful lobbying for a course retake policy at UTM, whereby students can repeat one credit and have the second grade used for their cumulative GPA.
Abdullah said that he is working with the UTMSU to implement “Self-Assigned Sick Notes” as a pilot project within six months, as an alternative to the current sick notes system.
Speaking on the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), an organization that represents student unions across the country, Abdullah said that the CFS–Ontario has done “amazing work,” which he saw as a representative on its Ontario Executive Committee this year.
He particularly lauded it for providing support and resources to northern and rural universities, which might not have been able to access them otherwise.
Discussing a media policy, Abdullah said that he believes student media “should have every sort of access to any public meetings, any public settings, [and] any executives that are elected by students.”
Speaking on this year’s conflict between the UTMSU and The Medium, UTM’s student newspaper, he recalled that both parties have acknowledged mistakes made in their interactions. He spoke in support of a cooperative relationship with the press, saying that the organizations “don’t have to love each other… but there needs to be a level of respect and trust between the two organizations to actually be able to work together.”
On how he would respond to postsecondary changes by the provincial government as president, Abdullah said he would work with the CFS and other student unions to push back and ensure that the UTMSU has a “unified voice” across Ontario.
He also said that the UTMSU is currently trying to meet with Training, Colleges, and Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton and parliamentary assistants for direct advocacy against the changes. He also noted that the UTMSU has met and will continue to meet with elected MPPs such as Progressive Conservative MPP Sheref Sabawy.
Abdullah added that it is too early to tell what funding cuts the union could face as he was not sure whether the list of essential services was finalized based on consultations with Sabawy.
Citing a lack of information, he said that it is “a little hard to gauge what our plan is going to be next year.” However, should cuts occur, he plans to avoid discriminating an student group funding based on whether students opt out of individual fees, saying that the union represents all UTM students, regardless of their choice to pay fees.
On separation from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), he said that UTM students should expect a similar medical and dental plan under a different insurance provider. He also said that he plans for a continued positive working relationship with the UTSG-based UTSU, which includes collaborative advocacy for policy changes.
— With files from Kathryn Mannie
Candidate Profile: Luke Victor Warren
Independent: Vice-President Internal
Luke Victor Warren is a third-year Digital Enterprise Management student running for Vice-President Internal as an independent candidate. His position is one of two contested executive races.
He said that he previously also served as an associate to the VP Internal and as an assistant to the Board of Directors.
When asked about his decision to run, Warren said, “I’ve been a part of the UTMSU for two years, I’ve worked a lot with the union.” He added that “all of my fondest memories have always been because of the union and I’m running because it’s about time I give back to the community that’s done so much for me.”
“I feel the impacts of rising tuition, I feel that there’s a lot of issues that students are facing,” said Warren. “I personally come from a low-income background… I just want to continue the good work that the UTMSU does.”
Warren said that he knows how much work the role takes and has “basically been doing the job,” which to him entails managing human resources, arranging meetings, conducting outreach, and being active within the UTM community.
Warren adds that he would like to push for changes similar to the course retake policy passed earlier this year during his term, to “help students in their academics [and] not feel so punished by mistakes that they make.”
Warren would “reduce redundancies” to offset changes in the union budget as a result of the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary education funding.
As for implementing a new health and dental plan following the UTMSU’s separation from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), Warren responded, “You just go out and find a new plan, it’s not impossible.”
“I know that people were upset [about the unions’ separation],” said Warren. “However it won’t be a impossible to find a new [plan].”
“Yes, [the UTSU] gave us the Health and Dental Plan, but aside from that… it was almost like a weird relationship, like you’re dragging a dead horse around.”
Candidate Profile: Kai Ng
Slate: Students United, Vice-President External
Kai Ng is a third-year political science student running unopposed for Vice-President External under the Students United slate.
The current President of the UTM International Cantonese Union and as a UTMSU WeChat Team volunteer, Ng writes that he wants to address the provincial government’s recently announced changes to postsecondary funding.
These changes include the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which requires institutions to develop an opt-out system for incidental fees, and adjustments to the Ontario Student Assistance Program.
Ng also hopes to combat food insecurity at UTM and start a campaign for the upcoming federal election that discusses student issues and provides information on how to vote.
Addressing the relationship between the UTMSU and the Canadian Federation of Student (CFS), Ng hopes to use the research and campaigning resources that the CFS provides to lobby the federal and provincial governments and to connect with students across Canada.
Ng believes that the recently announced 10 per cent domestic tuition reduction will be “beneficial for students,” but also notes that international students and workers will disproportionately face the effects of the cuts as the university has to make up for the reduction in tuition.
He also believes that the SCI is a threat to student unions and other levy-funded groups and hopes to run a campaign to educate students on the resources provided by student unions as well as lobby the university to protect levy-funded groups as they are “essential to student life.”
Candidate Profile: Miguel Cabral
Slate: Students United, Vice-President University Affairs
Miguel Cabral, a fourth-year student and current UTMSU Promotions Coordinator, is running uncontested to be Vice-President University Affairs with the Students United slate.
As part of his experiences, Cabral lists his current affiliations with the Middle Eastern Students’ Association and the Muslim Students’ Association — adding that being a part of and working with clubs and student unions has been what has made his time at U of T “very enjoyable.”
Cabral also recently ran to be on the UTM Campus Council, advocating for similar policies as his current campaign. Results for that race will be released on April 8.
As for his goals in policy, Cabral hopes to work on “fair academic policies,” saying that he is ready to advocate for extending the deadline to drop courses with refund, “a self-assigned sick note” policy, and “a midterm deferral policy.”
Cabral also hopes to lobby the university to have campus space that is “reflective of UTM students’ needs,” listing study, leisure, de-stressing, and multifaith and prayer spaces, as well as more food options.
Editor’s Note (March 14, 8:28 pm): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Cabral lost the race for UTM Campus Council. In fact, the results have not been released yet, therefore Cabral is still in the running for the election. The Varsity regrets the error.
Candidate Profile: Habon Ali
Slate: Students United, Vice-President Equity
Habon Ali is a fourth-year student studying Biology and Environmental Sciences running for Vice-President Equity as part of the Students United slate. Her position is one of two contested executive races.
Ali describes herself as “a social being” and her love of social interactions helped to develop her “passion for community building and youth participation.”
If elected, Ali plans to tackle issues of food security, the availability of multi-faith spaces, and racism, homophobia, and anti-Indigeneity on campus. She is also looking to implement mandatory training on consent for campus groups and workers.
When asked about the UTMSU’s voting system, which uses paper ballots as opposed to online voting, Ali is open to reforms to increase students’ abilities to democratically engage with the student union. She supports the establishment of a working group to propose improvements to the current system, ranging from advanced polling to mail-in ballots.
Faced with the separation of the UTMSU and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), Ali and the Students United slate remain committed to addressing local issues at UTM, while also taking every opportunity available to collaborate with the UTSU on student issues.
Off campus, Ali has experience as a member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council and has worked on various initiatives including the Toronto Public Health’s Youth Health Action Network and the think tank Mosaic Institute. She has engaged on campus through Habitat for Humanity UTM and the Somali Student Association.
Candidate profile: Sara Malhotra
Slate: Students United, Vice-President Internal
Sara Malhotra, a third-year Political Science and Economics student, is running for Vice-President Internal with the Students United slate. Her position is one of two contested executive races.
Malhotra is the Associate to the UTMSU Vice-President External and the VP External of UTM’s Undergraduate Economics Council. In a statement to The Varsity, Malhotra wrote that she was “passionate about student activism,” and as an international student, she envisions herself “creating a safer and more inclusive space.”
Malhotra also recently ran to be on the UTM Campus Council. The results of that election will be released on April 8.
On any potential bylaw changes or additions, Malhotra said that she would concentrate on helping members of the UTMSU understand them first before soliciting direction on anything new. “I want to focus more on ensuring that members know where to access them and how to democratically participate in the union,” she wrote.
Regarding the looming separation of the UTMSU and the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the ongoing discussion on how to adequately provide a health and dental plan to members following the divorce, Malhotra said that she would support a request for a proposals process “in order to solicit a new health and dental plan that is affordable and all-encompassing of services that students need.”
Another challenge the incoming executive will face is the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative, which will give students the chance to opt out of certain, non-essential incidental fees, including parts of student union levies.
“If the UTMSU’s operating budget is cut dramatically we want to ensure that students have a say in how we should repurpose the budget,” Malhotra wrote. “We can also look to external avenues for funding that are ethical and that align with UTM student priorities. For example, we can look to the Mississauga Food Bank to help support the UTMSU Food Center.”
Editor’s Note (March 14, 8:31 pm): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Malhotra lost the race for UTM Campus Council. In fact, the results have not been released yet, therefore Malhotra is still in the running for the election. The Varsity regrets the error.
Candidate Profile: Saarang Ahuja
Independent, Vice-President Equity
Saarang Ahuja is a third-year Economics, Applied Statistics, and Mathematics student running as an independent candidate for UTMSU Vice-President Equity. His position is one of two contested executive races.
When asked why he is running independently, Ahuja replied that it wasn’t intentional.
“I didn’t really know anybody close to me who was interested [in running]. I did ask someone, but she said no.” As for his opinion on slates, Ahuja has no comment.
Ahuja has worked as assistant chef at UTMSU pub The Blind Duck for two years, and was previously an orientation leader. “I’m pretty good at working in a team,” Ahuja said.
He added that his main motivation for running was because he “went through a really hard time at UTM coming as an international student.”
Running for VP Equity, he explained, is “a personal thing I want to do right before I graduate to make other students’ lives better and future students’ lives much better.”
While Ahuja had no comment about online voting, a much-debated topic at the UTMSU’s Annual General Meeting, he has several campaigns he wants to push during his term.
Ahuja wants to increase awareness among students regarding the UTMSU’s services, due to the lack of communication between students and the UTMSU.
He also wants to increase the range of services offered by UTM’s Accessibility Services. He says that students — especially international students — often believe that Accessibility Services are only for individuals suffering from disabilities like dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but that they should also provide accommodations for students experiencing eating or sleeping disorders.
Ahuja believes that UTM will be receptive to this as it will improve student retention.
Ahuja also wants to amplify student voices regarding food options on campus, saying that he doesn’t believe students wanted the café in the new North Building as he never sees long lines there.
“If they really wanted to open a coffee place, opening another Starbucks or Tims would’ve been much better.”
“UTM has made a plan to build three buildings over the next four years,” he continued. “This gives me the opportunity to convince and to work with the faculty at UTM who are in charge of the the food services on campus to allow students to have a voice in what they want on their own campus.”
“After all, it’s them who buys the food.”