SCSU candidate profiles: Vice President Campus Life

TJ Ho (WENITED), Kevin Turingan (VISION UTSC)

SCSU candidate profiles: Vice President Campus Life

Kevin Turingan (VISION UTSC)

Kevin Turingan is a fourth-year student doing a major in sociology and minors in economics and statistics, who is running for vice-president student life on the VISION UTSC slate. In an interview with The Varsity, Turingan said his reason for running was “to give back and make sure the campus is lit.”

Turingan cited his experience as being the street team coordinator for campus life and vice-president events operations for Students of Sociology.

Turingan ran for vice-president operations on the Shine Bright UTSC slate last year and lost.

If elected, Turingan would endeavour to reduce the stress associated with being a student by implementing more programs and events, with the goal of creating a vibrant campus community.

Turingan would provide on campus groups with discounted services, such as catering, by working with local businesses. In addition, Turingan plans to open up an arcade room in the UTSC Student Centre as a multipurpose space for students, so that “people could have fun playing games but also relax and rest up.”

As well, he would commence monthly themed pub and karaoke nights at the Scarborough campus’ student pub, Rex’s Den.

Turingan would also move to implement an online booking system for campus groups to organize room rentals.

TJ Ho (WENITED)

TJ Ho is a third-year student majoring in psychology running for the position of vice-president campus life under the WENITED slate for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. An avid goer of campus events, Ho believes UTSC’s event planning could benefit from an outsider without a “fixed mindset” when it comes to event structure.

“Essentially it’s a leader… showing students how a person on campus can be engaged,” Ho said of the position.

Ho is an international student from mainland China and believes Chinese students are underrepresented when it comes to campus politics. In his first year, Ho did not attend many campus events, besides those geared toward international students, because he felt they were not meant for students like him.

Should Ho be elected, he plans to “deconstruct” events so as to increase the number held throughout the year. Ho cited his perception that a common event currently would have both food and a dance floor as an example. Ho would instead organize events that feature a single component, such as only a dance floor or only food, so that more events could be held.

Ho said that he considers himself to be a creative person, as in his spare time he designs board games and writes. Ho said that he would bring that creativity into the role of vice-president student life by designing “super fresh” events for students.

—With files from Andy Takagi and Hannah Carty

SCSU candidate profiles: Vice President Operations

Bruce Chan (VISION UTSC), Niroban Jayakumar (WENITED)

SCSU candidate profiles: Vice President Operations

Bruce Chan (VISION UTSC)

Bruce Chan is a fourth-year student majoring in human biology and minoring in psychology and applied statistics, who is running for the position of vice-president operations on the VISION UTSC slate. Chan did not respond to The Varsity’s request for an interview at publication time, however Chan’s campaign points were listed on the VISION UTSC slate website.

If elected, Chan plans to implement new discount services at the Members Services Desk, including tickets to Canada’s Wonderland and movie passes. Chan would also look into getting more food options for UTSC, particularly focusing on halal, kosher, vegetarian, and vegan options, as well as starting a community garden to help promote food security.

In addition, Chan would improve mental health at UTSC by creating a “decompression space” at the UTSC Student Centre and working toward better mental health coverage on the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) health and dental plan.

Niroban Jayakumar (WENITED)

Niroban Jayakumar is a third-year student double-majoring in neuroscience and molecular biology, running for the position of vice-president operations on the WENITED slate. Jayakumar would like to promote transparency, should he be elected.

“I want students to hold SCSU accountable for the money that they use, essentially because all the students are paying,” Jayakumar told The Varsity. He would see that the SCSU budget is updated monthly online so that students can follow along with the SCSU’s financial endeavours.

In addition, Jayakumar would lobby for expanded health and dental services, including mental health, and increasing affordable food options on campus.

In the face of an appeal by the province to overturn the Divisional Court of Ontario’s decision to quash the Student Choice Initiative, which allowed postsecondary students to opt out of certain incidental fees deemed “non-essential,” Jayakumar said that he would focus on seeking external sponsorships and investments to achieve “returns for future years.”

As far as prior experience goes, Jayakumar has been involved in a variety of campus clubs and associations in a finance and budgeting capacity, including managing an $80,000 budget as the president for the Scarborough College Athletic Association.

—With files from Andy Takagi

SCSU candidate profiles: Vice President External

Eesha Chaudhry (VISION UTSC), Annie Sahagian (WENITED)

SCSU candidate profiles: Vice President External

Eesha Chaudhry (VISION UTSC)

Eesha Chaudhry is a third-year student majoring in international development and health studies, running to be vice-president external of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) under the VISION UTSC slate. She currently serves on the SCSU as the Director for Critical Development Studies.

Chaudhry’s motivation for running is to “serve as a liaison, a voice of reason to help students get what they truly deserve.” In her various leadership roles throughout U of T, Chaudhry said she realized “how much the smallest efforts I do really do give back to other people.”

Her top priorities if elected would be to address the topics of mental health, student housing and transportation, and cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

Chaudhry feels it is especially important to improve mental health resources for students given recent discontent about student mental health services. “It’s clear and evident that university, although it’s a huge milestone in our lives, it’s also one of the most stressful points of our lives.” She hopes to increase mental health support and resources, inform and educate students, and improve campus mental health resources like the Health & Wellness Centre.

She would also work with Scarborough housing activists and the university “to ensure that students are not only getting adequate and decent housing that is within their budget, but that they also know their housing rights, that they’re protected, that they’re safe.”

As a commuter herself, Chaudhry would prioritize lobbying efforts to see the Eglinton East Light Rail Transit system comes to fruition. She also wants to ensure that buses arrive as scheduled. “Transit is such a critical factor in whether or not I even come to school.”

She also emphasized the importance of OSAP. “Education is a right, it’s something this country owes us.”

Annie Sahagian (WENITED)

Annie Sahagian is a fourth-year student in human biology and media studies, journalism, and digital culture running for vice-president external under the WENITED slate.

When asked why she is running, Sahagian answered: “To give back to the UTSC community, to really utilize my connections on- and off-campus with the university administration, specifically for the betterment of the student body.” She also noted that the experience she has gained through the SCSU “literally made me the person who I am today.”

Sahagian cited being a student representative on the UTSC Campus Council, and being the volunteer network program coordinator for SCSU, which involved working with off-campus organizations, as relevant experience.

Among her campaign points, Sahagian wants to institute a political and financial literacy workshop and consolidate information on health resources to make it easier for students to understand. She also wants to install cameras in UTSC libraries and parking lots, in order to help students who have things stolen from them at those locations.

Addressing the fact that presidential candidate for her slate is her sister, Sahagian responded: “I am very proud to be running with such a dedicated leader on campus.”

For Sahagian, the responsibility of vice-president external is “to strengthen our relationships and collaboration… not only off, but even on campus.”

SCSU candidate profiles: Vice President Academics and University Affairs

Lulu Gemma (VISION UTSC), Yathu Uthayan (WENITED)

SCSU candidate profiles: Vice President Academics and University Affairs

Lulu Gemma (VISION UTSC)

Lulu Gemma is a fourth-year student who studies psychology and health studies. She is running to be the next vice-president, academic & university affairs of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) under the VISION UTSC slate.

Gemma’s motivation for running stems from the personal struggles she has faced while navigating the academic system at UTSC. Thus far, not only has her time been characterized by a heavy dependence on the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), but she has also experienced a program change and has had to rely on her professors and student union for additional support. In an interview with The Varsity, Gemma expressed that she wants “to be able to give students a platform where those issues are easier to mitigate.”

Her key priorities include moving forward on OSAP reform, providing students with more accessible academic tools — which could be done by paying professors a lump sum to post their textbooks and other required resources online — and increasing the number of credit/no credit courses that a student can enrol in.

“I also want to advocate to make permanent 24-hour study spaces,” Gemma noted. Because of a lack of these dedicated spaces, “Many students don’t get to stay on campus and participate in events and stick around for other academic review sessions.”

Yathu Uthayan (WENITED)

Yathu Uthayan, a fifth-year student studying human biology and psychology, is running for the vice-president, academic & university affairs position on the SCSU under the WENITED slate.

In an interview with The Varsity, Uthayan spoke about his experience, citing his creation of the UTSC Tamil Networking Association, which, according to him, saw significant growth and attracted many people to its events. This is something he hopes to replicate with SCSU.

“I want to actually make sure that all the events, everything that we do on SCSU is being continued and delivering its purpose,” stressed Uthayan.

Uthayan also expressed that his diversity of experience was relevant for the role, which includes prior experience with SCSU, the Scarborough Harry Potter Alliance, and the Tamil Students’ Association.

Uthayan explained that he has delivered specific campaign promises with timelines so that students can hold him accountable. One of his plans is to lobby the administration to ensure that marks are posted at least 10 days before the start of the next semester, and another is to allow students to credit/no credit courses until the last day of the semester.

“You can see all my points are kind of shaped toward making sure that students are making more informed choices,” said Uthayan.

When asked how he will approach the role, Uthayan said that his responsibility would be “to make sure the students at UTSC are effective, efficient, and successful.”

—With files from Andy Takagi

SCSU candidate profiles: Vice President Equity

Nadifa Mohamed (WENITED), Kanitha Uthayakumar (VISION UTSC)

SCSU candidate profiles: Vice President Equity

Nadifa Mohamed (WENITED)

Nadifa Mohamed is a fourth-year psychology and health studies student running for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) vice-president equity position as part of the WENITED slate. To her, the position is one of community building — particularly for students who are part of marginalized communities. To address this, her campaign will focus on funding and accessibility. If elected, Mohamed hopes to implement grants for marginalized students, and to host monthly events with the goal of fostering a more cohesive community.

“I don’t want to create things for people without their consultation, without them knowing,” Mohamed said in an interview with The Varsity, outlining her campaign vision of a more inclusive SCSU.

Mohamed speaks from experience, as she currently serves as President of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society Students’ Association at UTSC, an organization that she has been a part of for three years. She also talked about her experiences with community outreach events for young women of colour and artists, which Mohamed said have built up her skills for handling the logistics of events.

“[Universities and institutions] are so individualistic, and I think we need a narrative change — that we need each other to do things, that we need each other when it comes to mental health and all these kinds of things,” Mohamed emphasized.

In terms of concrete policy goals, Mohamed hopes to increase accessibility to counselling services, create working groups to identify Islamophobia and racism on campus, and other equity initiatives.

Kanitha Uthayakumar (VISION UTSC)

Kanitha Uthayakumar is a fourth-year health studies and political science student who is running for the SCSU’s vice-president equity position under the VISION UTSC slate. Uthayakumar immigrated to Canada when she was 12 after fleeing Sri Lanka in the midst of the Sri Lankan Civil War. Her prior experience includes being the president of the UTSC Tamil Students’ Association and a co-founder of Manidhi UTSC, a non-profit organization that advocates for the “social and political emancipation of women” in the South Asian community.

She is running to be the next vice-president equity because she wants “to remove the barriers that students are facing on and off campus.”

Uthayakumar has six key goals that she would address if elected. She plans to host biweekly events that would provide free breakfasts and lunch services, and “advocate for more diverse course content that covers issues related, but not limited to, race, gender, sexuality and religion.”

Her plans for Governing Council and lobbying university administration include tackling Health and Wellness funding and wait times, better budgets for the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre, and incorporating Indigenous knowledge into curricula through the hiring of Indigenous leaders. She also plans to host educational workshops on a variety of equity-related matters.

In a written statement to The Underground,  UTSC’s student paper, Uthayakumar remarked that “UTSC shaped me into the person that I am today by providing a variety of leadership opportunities.” In return, she wants to give back to this community by ensuring that it is a safe and inclusive campus for everyone to enjoy.

Uthayakumar did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment at the time of publication.

SCSU candidate profiles: President

Sarah Mohamed (VISION UTSC), Carly Sahagian (WENITED)

SCSU candidate profiles: President

Sarah Mohamed (VISION UTSC)

Sarah Mohamed is a fifth-year student studying health studies, psychology, and city studies who is running to be the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) president under the VISION UTSC slate. She is currently serving as the SCSU’s Vice-President Campus Life.

Mohamed is motivated to run because she is “passionate about student issues, and [she wants] to make sure all UTSC students have the best [experience] on campus.”

Her slate’s platform rests on three major goals: increasing student aid for students, providing better mental health services for students, and fostering greater transparency and accountability in student representation.

As president, Mohamed’s key priorities would be to improve the Annual General Meeting process, create a frequently asked questions page on the SCSU website, increase SCSU staff positions for part-time students, and invest in training and development for SCSU executives, board members, and staff.

Carly Sahagian (WENITED)

Carly Sahagian is a fourth-year student studying biology and women and gender studies, and is running on the WENITED slate for president of the SCSU. Sahagian first came to Canada with her sister and fellow candidate Annie Sahagian from Aleppo, Syria. After transferring from the University of Aleppo, Sahagian worked at the UTSC registrar’s office, represented students on the Campus Affairs Council, and currently serves as SCSU Vice-President Academics & University Affairs.

Sahagian’s main focus on the campaign trail is emphasizing realistic and concrete policy promises: “students are tired [of] empty promises,” she said. However, she did not name particular executives from previous years that she believes have failed to uphold their campaign points.

“I want to make sure that all of my team, even if it’s a mixed slate or whatnot, I’ll be the leader that they come to me and that I can lead them to make the campaign points a success,” Sahagian said, pointing out that in her current position, she has filled in for the current president as second-in-command.

Regarding her particular policy goals, Sahagian hopes to increase the number of embedded counsellors in Health and Wellness, lobby the province against cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program, and increase Indigenous representation on the SCSU.

Department of Computer Science creates graduate scholarship in memory of Iranian plane crash victims

Second fund to honour U of T community members lost during the tragedy

Department of Computer Science creates graduate scholarship in memory of Iranian plane crash victims

On January 30, U of T’s Department of Computer Science announced its plan to launch the Beiruti and Saleheh Memorial Fund — an endowed scholarship for international students seeking graduate degrees in computer science. The fund was established to honour the memory of Mohammad Amin Beiruti and Mohammad Saleheh, PhD students in computer science who were killed in the recent crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 in Iran. This is the second scholarship that U of T will establish in the name of the crash victims.

The flight’s 176 passengers and crew were killed on January 8 when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard mistook the plane for an enemy aircraft and shot it down, according to Iranian officials. The incident happened amidst heightened tensions between Iran and the US, following the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani. Eight members of the U of T community — six of whom were students — were among the victims of the crash, part of the 138 passengers connecting to Canada.

The department is asking for donations to help set up the fund, which will be awarded in perpetuity. It will be matching donations up to $50,000 at a one-to-one rate.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of two vibrant members of our computer science community,” said Marsha Chechik, Interim Chair of the Department of Computer Science, in a statement posted to the Faculty of Arts & Science webpage. “By establishing this fund we hope to honour the impact Mohammad Amin Beiruti and Mohammad Saleheh made on the department and support future international graduate students [pursuing] education in computer science.”

On its donations page, the Department of Computer Science also honours Zahra Hassani, who was returning to Toronto to begin graduate studies at U of T. Hassani and Saleheh were married.

Beiruti was described as “an innovator, with a natural ability for deep thinking” in a press release from the department. As a teaching assistant and mentor at U of T, he was committed to supporting undergraduate students. Through his research in theoretical modelling and system analysis and design, Beiruti sought to make meaningful contributions to technology, as he believed “that the more technology improved, the better the world would be.” He had travelled to Iran that winter to spend time with his family following the death of his grandmother.

Saleheh had been an avid programmer since elementary school, where he designed his first video game for a Commodore 64 home computer. He was an instructor at Sharif University and created an online course in Farsi to teach web programming — a course which is still used by thousands each year. He is remembered as “an outstanding scientist and a top-rate engineer,” who made the most out of his short time at U of T by collaborating with Samsung and AT&T, and publishing multiple peer-reviewed papers.

Hassani was a physics graduate from Sharif University who was about to begin her studies at U of T. She was described as “caring, devoted to her friends and family, spiritual, and [having] a unique perspective where she enjoyed life to its fullest.”  Hassani and Saleheh are remembered as a “great couple.”

The Beiruti and Saleheh Memorial Fund is now the second memorial scholarship to be created at U of T in honour of the victims of flight PS752. On January 15, U of T announced that it would establish the Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will provide needs-based scholarships to students from Iran or any student interested in pursuing Iranian studies at U of T.

Vice-President Advancement David Palmer, one of the co-creators of the Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund, said to U of T News that the aim of this scholarship was to “ensure that the names of those we lost will not be forgotten.” He went on to say that “these students and scholars were among the very brightest of their generation. We hope that this scholarship will allow their memory to serve as an inspiration for generations to come.”

What you need to know about the 2020 SCSU elections

Union’s history on transportation, mental health, elections

What you need to know about the 2020 SCSU elections

Content warning: mentions of transphobia.

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) 2020 elections have begun, with voting set to take place from February 11–13. Two slates — VISION UTSC and WENITED — have candidates running for each executive position and are currently vying for student support in the run up to the voting period. The Varsity outlined some potential hot topics for this year’s candidates, and detailed the tumultuous history of SCSU elections.

Transportation

At a Toronto City Council meeting in October 2019, current SCSU President Chemi Lhamo and Vice-President Student Life Sarah Mohamed advocated for UTSC transit users. They highlighted frequent delays with the TTC’s 905 bus, as well as inadequate bus stops for Durham Region Transit buses. Mohamed is currently running for president on the VISION UTSC slate.

The executive members were in support of an extension of the Eglinton West Light Rail Transit eastward with a stop at UTSC. This addition was not approved in the city’s most recent transit plan, which was confirmed on October 29.

In addition, there is currently no service provided by the university that takes students between UTSG and UTSC, unlike the Mississauga campus, which is connected to UTSG by a shuttle bus.

As UTSC is primarily a commuter campus, the candidates’ plans for regular and accessible transit may be a deciding agenda item. This may be the case especially for the vice-president external elections, as this position handles advocacy and lobbying efforts outside the university.

Mental health

Following the release of the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health’s final report, U of T is set to redesign its mental health service system. Lhamo emphasized that as a satellite campus UTSC has its own specific nuances when it comes to mental health. There were no campus-specific reformation plans in the final report. 

Vice-President & Provost, Cheryl Regehr, told The Varsity in an earlier interview that though mental health services would be coordinated across one system for three campuses, there would be “local delivery” for each specific campus. These changes to U of T’s mental health services are set to begin on a rolling basis with no specific timeline.

Different strategies to improve mental health services at UTSC were found in numerous candidates’ campaign promises.

Elections

At its 2019 elections the SCSU saw a number of controversies. The SCSYou slate’s presidential candidate Anup Atwal was disqualified after posting a “gross representation of the facts” on social media claiming that Shine Bright UTSC’s presidential candidate and current President, Lhamo, hit then SCSYou’s vice-president academic & university affairs candidate Carly Sahagian with a table. Sahagian won her election, and is now running for president on the WENITED slate.

The 2019 elections were also marred with damning screenshots leaked by The Underground, UTSC’s student paper. Atwal was found to have sent transphobic comments about Shine Bright UTSC’s vice-president equity candidate Leon Tsai in a group chat. Atwal noted to The Varsity that “context is super important.” He provided screenshots which showed how he further criticized Tsai for posting about what she saw as the opposition slate’s mishandling of LGBTQ+ issues.

Vice-presidential external candidate and current incumbent, Chaman Bukhari, also had his chat screenshots leaked by The Underground. In a previous article, The Varsity translated his comments concerning a class exam to be “useless” and “the same LGBTQ bullshit.” However, Bukhari defended his comment as being “grossly misinterpreted” and “utterly lacking context,” adding that the comments were made two years prior to the election.

Following the election, the SCSU Board of Directors initially refused to ratify Rayyan Alibux as vice-president operations for writing “I hope this chat is never leaked” in response to the transphobic comments made by other candidates on his slate.

Lhamo also faced criticism in the lead up to her election for her strong stance on Tibetan independence, for which she received widespread harassment on social media.

2018 also saw its share of controversy, when an SCSU board meeting erupted in protest and physical altercations following allegations of collusion to ensure that certain candidates won the election. It was alleged that former SCSU President Sitharsana Srithas worked to ensure that presidential candidates Deena Hassan and Rayyan Alibux did not win. Srithas denied these allegations. As a result, Mahir Zuber, the then-chief returning officer, resigned, citing safety concerns.