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.
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.
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.
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.