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One Year On: Checking campaign pledges by UTSU executives, part one

Reviewing work of Vice-Presidents External Affairs, Equity, Student Life, Professional Faculties
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The Compass slate from the 2018 UTSU elections. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY
The Compass slate from the 2018 UTSU elections. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

It’s been almost a year since the 2018 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections concluded, and the campaign for the next executive team is already underway. The Varsity reviews the work that the outgoing executives have done to fulfil their pledges, in this first article of a two-part series.

Vice-President Equity Ammara Wasim

The role of Vice-President Equity is to advocate for the interests of marginalized students, campaign to make U of T a more inclusive space, and ensure the union is acting equitably.

In her profile with The Varsity prior to the 2018 campaign period, Wasim pledged to increase equity education and training on campus, improve services for marginalized students and visible minorities, collaborate with the “new equity collectives to lobby the university on equity issues,” and work with advocacy groups such as the Black Students’ Association (BSA).

Based on Wasim’s executive reports this year, she has organized equity education and training on campus and met with advocacy groups such as the Muslim Students’ Association, LGBTOUT, and U of T’s Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, though it’s unclear how extensive the contact with each was.

She has also hosted events with the equity collectives, but noted low membership, possibly due to a lack of advertisement.

In an email to The Varsity, Wasim wrote that she “decided not to do the Equity Audit due to the lack of resources available,” and also to prioritize other initiatives such as advocacy with the World University Service of Canada. On the equity collectives, she wrote that the Women’s collective was “the only one that was able to get off the ground” due to various challenges.

Although the BSA was “unfortunately… very busy when we reached out to them,” she noted that she was able to work with other campus student groups.

In addition to her pledges, highlights of Wasim’s work include hosting the eXpression Against Oppression events on campus, which aim to give voice to minority groups, running a menstrual product drive, and organizing events for Pride month last June.

Vice-President Student Life Yolanda Alfaro

The Vice-President Student Life oversees orientation and Frost Week, provides opportunities to improve the social lives of students, and supports student clubs.

In her 2018 profile with The Varsity, Alfaro pledged to revamp orientation to run different events this year, restructure clubs funding to reduce the possible influence of the union on clubs’ activities, and avoid funding clubs that directly take away the rights of students to feel safe on campus.

In an email with The Varsity, Alfaro’s team said that during orientation week, they had organized a “pep rally on front campus which led students to a Blue Jays game,” instead of the traditional club night event that takes place on the Friday. Alfaro said the event was well-received by participants, who she said found it safe and enjoyable.

On restructuring clubs funding, she said that she made “a few small changes to the policy in the summer months to better serve smaller clubs who do not see much revenue from outside sources,” but is continuing to work toward her goal of having “a completely new policy by the end of [her] term to be in place for next year’s funding cycles.” She said it was difficult to introduce substantial changes in the middle of the fiscal year, as many clubs start financial planning early into each funding cycle.

Alfaro also wrote that she has not “had any issues with any of our recognized groups in terms of students’ rights to feeling safe,” so she has not had to address situations in which she might have to remove funding.

In addition to her pledges, highlights of Alfaro’s work include organizing Frost Week, the Montréal Reading Week trip, Unity Ball, and managing applications for club recognition.

Vice-President Professional Faculties Yasmine El Sanyoura

The duties of Vice-President Professional Faculties are to represent professional faculty students at the UTSU, and work to improve their academic and social lives.

In her profile with The Varsity in 2018, El Sanyoura pledged to re-examine the ways in which the union could better serve students in professional facilities, research mental health challenges and resources available to them, and continue to reach out to various faculties to learn how to best represent their interests.

From El Sanyoura’s executive reports, she has fulfilled all of her campaign pledges. She has organized various mental health initiatives, which include research on the quality of mental health services available to professional faculty services, and met with numerous professional unions including the Architecture and Visual Studies Students’ Union, the Students’ Law Society, and the Engineering Society.

In addition to her pledges, highlights of El Sanyoura’s work include surveying professional faculties’ students satisfaction with university gym access, as well as organizing various social events for a wide range of faculties.

Vice-President External Affairs Yuli Liu

The role of Vice-President External Affairs is to represent the UTSU outside the U of T community. In her 2018 profile with The Varsity, Liu pledged to spend time educating students on their housing rights as tenants, workers, and residents in Toronto. She also pledged to lobby for “fairer rules on international student tuition increase caps.”

From Liu’s executive reports this year, she has planned events and materials to educate students about their rights. It is unclear from her reports what work Liu has done to lobby for fairer rules on capping the increase of international student tuition.

In addition to her pledges, highlights of Liu’s work include organizing an International Students’ Week in September, translating information about the UTSU into Simplified Chinese, and meeting with various student groups on campus.

The Varsity has reached out to Liu for comment.