My name is Bryan Liceralde, and I ran for president in the 2019 University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) elections. First, I want to congratulate the executives and directors for their impeccable victories in the spring elections. The UTSU is going to face many challenges this year, especially when it confronts issues caused by the policies of both U of T and the Ford government. Going forward, President Joshua Bowman must face the biggest issue in student democracies: voter apathy.
When I looked over the by-election positions in April, it was heartbreaking to see how many seats — both of Directors and Vice-Presidents (VP) — were vacant. It was all the more heartbreaking when I found that the election’s turnout rate stood at just 4.2 per cent.
From my brief experience in student politics, I can surmise that this lack of engagement is the fault of both the UTSU and the student body. It is our fault as student voters for ignoring the issues that will affect us, and it is the UTSU’s fault for not sufficiently promoting its elections.
If we collectively do not get our act together, students may choose to opt-out of UTSU fees through the Student Choice Initiative, greatly hindering the abilities of student governance. As a result, there would potentially be no organized student body to defend students from potentially harmful U of T policies. Had the UTSU done a better job in promoting its elections, the three VP positions left vacant from the elections may have been filled by March 25.
In an interview with The Varsity, Bowman said that the UTSU has “a lot of relationship-building to do.” He is right. The UTSU must do a better job marketing the clubs it funds and the services it provides to all students, not just to those in first year.
The UTSU VPs must make themselves more relatable to the student populace through engagement on social media. Of course, the executives reserve the right to keep some aspects of their lives private. Nevertheless, they should try to socialize with their constituents as much as possible. Doing so would bring us closer to realizing outgoing president Anne Boucher’s goal of making UTSU “more human.”
More importantly, the UTSU should demand changes to the university-mandated leave of absence policy, which, according to The Varsity, currently “allows the university to place students on a nonpunitive, but mandatory, leave of absence from U of T if their mental health either poses a risk of harm to themselves or others, or if it negatively impacts their studies.” If U of T refuses to amend the university-mandated leave of absence policy, the UTSU must demand its repeal.
On U of T’s part, it should increase funding to its mental health services and do more to encourage its students to use these resources. Any changes to the university-mandated leave of absence policy should be approved by both the UTSU and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Overall, the UTSU must work in tandem with the U of T administration to make our campus a more welcoming place.
As for students, the most important duty we have is to vote to keep our student democracy alive and our rights protected. I also strongly encourage students to run in the UTSU elections. We are all prepared for any UTSU position through our shared campus experiences — including both the struggles and triumphs that all students face. I know that we all have creative solutions to the most pressing problems in our student lives, so step up to the plate and run. We must confront a campus environment of ignorance with a spirit of optimism. Overall, we must reform student politics today so yesterday’s mistakes will not be repeated tomorrow.
Before I end off, I’d like to thank all the students who inspired me to run. Although I faced defeat, I’ll forever appreciate the support you gave me. As long as I’m a student here, I’ll always be on your side.
For 118 years, the UTSU has always been a beacon of hope for students. It is thus our responsibility to ensure that it keeps on burning.
Bryan Liceralde is a fourth-year Political Science student at St. Michael’s College. He was a presidential candidate in the 2019 UTSU executive elections.