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Almost 15 per cent of sitting UTSU board members resigned or deemed resigned in the past year

Seven out of 48 board members effectively resigned, decrease from previous years

Almost 15 per cent of sitting UTSU board members resigned or deemed resigned in the past year

According to attendance records supplied by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), out of the 48 sitting members on the UTSU Board of Directors, four have resigned, while three have been deemed to have abandoned office in accordance with UTSU bylaws in the past year. This amounts to almost 15 per cent of sitting members, a decrease from The Varsity’s 2018 analysis, when a third of members missed enough meetings to effectively abandon office. Six members have been replaced, and one position remains vacant.

Board members who handed in their resignations include Trinity College Director Arunoshi Singh, Victoria College Director Thomas Siddall, Applied Science & Engineering Director Eran Vijayakumar, and Architecture and Visual Studies Director Jennille Neal.

Life Sciences Director Honesty Senese and Transitional Year Programme Director Valerie Dawe were both deemed to have abandoned office, while Professional Faculties at-Large Director Hasma Habibiy was deemed to have resigned under bylaw 10.3, Ineligibility, as she had switched to part-time studies and thus was no longer a member of the UTSU.

The union’s bylaw 10, section 2 outlines the criteria for abandonment of office for a Division I or II director as “deemed to have delivered their resignation, confirmed by a simple majority vote of the Board” when directors have failed to send their regrets for two missed meetings, or failed to attend three consecutive meetings, or any four meetings, regardless of sent regrets. If a director is unable to attend a meeting, they must send regrets to the speaker within 48 hours of receiving the agenda. Directors receive an excused absence if they cannot attend due to academic obligations, work, or religious observations, among others. Otherwise, they are deemed absent.

Board members were marked present about 58 per cent of the time. About 33.3 per cent of absences were unexcused. Directors sent regrets for 18.7 per cent of absences, and 41.8 per cent of absences were excused.

In total, there have been 11 meetings of the UTSU Board of Directors since June of 2019. This includes eight regular scheduled meetings, three of which took place over the summer, as well as an emergency meeting, the Annual General Meeting, and the Special General Meeting.

A resignation by a director can be blocked if a simple majority of the Board of Directors votes against the motion. Instead, the director is put on probation for the next two meetings. Directors can speak for five minutes in their own defence or submit a one-page statement to the board.

UTSU President Joshua Bowman called the increase in attendance from previous years a “step in the right direction,” attributing the increased attendance to the elimination of slates. Writing to The Varsity, Bowman expressed his belief that directors sought their positions outside of the support of a collective slate, and thus “have their own reasons for participating in the UTSU at this level. They are here because they want to be, not because a slate or a Presidential candidate told them to.”

On the enforcement of bylaw 10 and attendance at meetings, Bowman wrote that the policy’s implementation has “been equal parts accountable and empathetic. We encourage elected members to attend all meetings, but understand when life gets in the way.” He also emphasized that meetings are scheduled around the majority of availability among directors, who are “made aware immediately and informed of the procedure” when in danger of contravening the union’s bylaws.

“As a Director last year, I remember a lack of information being made available for Board members. We didn’t know what Bylaw X was until it was essentially too late,” wrote Bowman.

Crediting last year’s Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm’s attendance formula for clarity in the processes and guidelines of the bylaw, Bowman wrote that directors were informed of the criteria for abandonment of office from the beginning. “I am happy that our attendance is increasing, but I will truly be satisfied when our elections are contested and seats aren’t left vacant.”

Editor’s Note (March 24, 6:28 pm): This article has been updated to correct that Habibiy was deemed to have resigned from office under the UTSU’s bylaw 10.3.

Eve Saint discusses arrest and forced removal from Wet’suwet’en territory at Toronto event

Daughter of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief, pipeline protestors speak out

Eve Saint discusses arrest and forced removal from Wet’suwet’en territory at Toronto event

Wet’suwet’en land defender Eve Saint described her arrest on her peoples’ territory at a talk in Regent Park Community Centre, hosted by the Toronto division of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) on February 20.

Saint sang the women’s warrior song as she was removed from Wet’suwet’en territory by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers for taking part in a blockade against the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline.

She was arrested at Gidimt’en, one of two checkpoints set up by the Wet’suwet’en people to stop the CGL pipeline from being built on their unceded lands. Though the Wet’suwet’en gave Coastal GasLink an alternative route, the company has rejected it.

After the British Columbia Supreme Court issued an injunction to clear the roads in December, the RCMP began an operation to clear the blockades and arrest protestors, which in turn sparked nation-wide solidarity protests.

“You know, your father, your ancestors have walked the territory for thousands and thousands of years, and you’re being treated like a criminal,” said Saint.

As armed RCMP officers moved around the blockade, the thought at the front of Saint’s mind was that someone was going to get shot. “My main goal was to make sure that they know that we’re unarmed, we’re peaceful,” Saint recounted of the moment that the RCMP officers closed in.

In December, The Guardian reported that the RCMP, in its plans to clear the road for the CGL pipeline, were prepared to use lethal force, and in leaked documents had proposed “[using] as much violence toward the gate as you want.” It further added that arrests would be necessary for “sterilizing [the] site.”

Based in Toronto, Saint had been visiting a sick family member when the RCMP moved to enforce the court injunction against the pipeline protestors. At that moment Saint made the decision to leave school and her life in Toronto to help her father, Hereditary Chief Woos, and others’ efforts to halt the construction of the pipeline Wet’suwet’en territory. Hereditary chiefs titles are passed down through generations — Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have authority over their unceded territory as per pre-colonial Wet’suwet’en law. While the Elected Band Councils are in favour of the pipeline, they only have jurisdiction over reserves and not the unceded territory that the pipeline would pass through. Furthermore, the band councils were created under the Indian Act, which does not predate the hereditary chiefs’ authority.

On February 7, Saint was told that the RCMP officers were on their way to her location at Gidimt’en checkpoint blockade. Saint described preparing for RCMP arrival by eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, and thinking over what she would say to them upon arrival.

Saint said that she told the RCMP during its raid of Gidimt’en, while helicopters and drones could be heard overhead, that “they are trespassing and that they have no consent.”

Despite this, the RCMP moved in, and Saint was arrested and held in custody for four days. Saint spoke of crying in custody because she wished she could have done more. However, shortly before the raid she had found out she was pregnant and made every effort to maintain the safety of her person.

Vanessa Gray from Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, Ontario, also spoke at the OCAP event. Along with members of Climate Justice Toronto, Gray occupied the office of the federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett.

Gray stressed that this is not a “new issue.”

“While the rest of you have an option to do something, we have been raised in Indigenous families that have only been surviving this same issue,” said Gray, who is also a co-founder of Aamjiwnaang & Sarnia Against Pipelines.

A U of T student studying political science and Indigenous studies, Ross Johnston, attended the event. Though informed on the issues in Wet’suwet’en territory, Johnston hoped to learn from the speakers’ personal experiences.This is not the first Wet’suwet’en solidarity event for Johnston, who also attended a “big march on Family Day and a few smaller things up in Northern Ontario… [where] we got some solid support from people on the side of the road.”

Johnston said that the protests “solidified the fact that this was a growing movement and that gave [him] a lot of hope.”

At this time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called for an end to the rail blockades that are held in solidarity across the country. CGL has been told by British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Office that further talks are needed with the Wet’suwet’en people before construction continues. The gas company has been given 30 days to complete these consultations.

Letter from the artist

A celebration of Black beauty

Letter from the artist

To me, Black History Month means the celebration of Black heritage, culture, beauty, and the unity of everyone around the world with African ethnic descent. I tried to tie all these concepts into the cover piece by depicting a laughing Black woman decorated in gold, with the pan-African flag colours in the background. The pan-African flag colours — red, black, and green — represent the bloodshed of Africans who died in the fight for liberation, the colour of their skin, and the fertility of their land. I thought it was an important flag to include because of the ideology behind it: solidarity between all Indigenous and diaspora ethnic groups of African descent, which is a major theme of Black History Month.

Makena Mwenda designed the cover of The Varsity‘s Issue 18 in celebration of Black History Month.

In the Spotlight: Black Graduate Students Association

President Entisar Yusuf, Vice-President Sara Turner on Black community-building, graduate experiences, mental health

In the Spotlight: Black Graduate Students Association

When Entisar Yusuf, who completed her undergraduate studies at Western University, arrived at U of T as a graduate student in the fall of 2018, she noticed a key difference between her two campus experiences: a lack of community, particularly as a Black student.

“At Western, I had good relations with the Black, African, and Caribbean associations. But when I came to U of T, I found some sort of disconnect,” she told The Varsity. “I wasn’t sure whether it was because of graduate studies, or if it was the school itself.”

On top of her personal feelings of isolation, she had also heard of public incidents of anti-Black racism on campus in recent years, including one at the Faculty of Applied Sciences & Engineering in 2017. This motivated her to try and find Black community on campus.

In her search, Yusuf found the Black Students’ Association, but realized that it is primarily geared toward undergraduate students. She wanted to find out if there was any interest for another space — for Black graduate students.

After an individual campaign of flyers and outreach emails, she discovered that there was indeed considerable interest. In November 2018, Yusuf set up the inaugural meeting where an election was held for the group’s executive.

By January 2019, the team was complete, and Yusuf, the group’s founder, became its first president. The Black Graduate Students’ Association (BGSA) was born.

The BGSA’s raison d’être

Yusuf, who is still the group’s president and now a second-year master’s student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), explained the BGSA’s purpose: “In graduate studies, in my experience, Black students feel very isolated,” she noted. “[The BGSA’s] really a support system.”

Currently, the BGSA has seven executives and 190 members across graduate programs and professional faculties. While most of the membership is concentrated on the St. George campus, it is also looking to expand its reach to UTSC and UTM.

When it comes to programming, the group is involved in a wide range of events. “I made clear to the team that we could engage in anything, on- or off-campus, that we think is relevant in order to support our students,” noted Yusuf.

On campus, the BGSA has worked with other student groups to host the “Women of Colour in Politics” and “Why Representation Matters in Canadian STEM Research” events last year. Off campus, they have been involved with the Toronto Black Film Festival, and more recently, Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

For Sara Turner, a master’s student at OISE and the vice-president of the BGSA, the group also operates as a promotional directory for other events on campus. “Different organizations will reach out to us in order to raise awareness about their events,” she told The Varsity.

“A lot of people who commute and go home after class are just not aware of some of the things that they can be doing on campus. So we raise awareness through our newsletters, in addition to connecting with people one-on-one.”

The diversity of Black graduate experiences

When asked to describe the Black graduate experience at a school like U of T, Turner emphasized its non-singularity. “I must say first and foremost that I cannot speak for everyone. The Black communities on campus neither at the undergraduate level nor the graduate level are homogenous,” she stressed.

“We are diverse and it is my hope that any genuine effort taken to reflect and record Black graduate experiences takes into account that there are many voices to be represented, included, and listened to.”

Turner chose to answer the question by reflecting on her conversations with fellow Black graduate students. They spoke about microaggressions, like people’s disbelief that they attend or work at U of T, which contribute to feelings of discomfort and exclusion; the desire for more classes that can educate people about anti-Black racism; the need for more resources for racialized students on campus; and the need for better representation of Black faculty and staff on campus.

One student also stressed to Turner that the university should act against anti-Black racism more meaningfully, rather than as a gesture during Black History Month. For the occasion, the BGSA was present in a conversation about collective futures with Black faculty at OISE on February 11, and will co-host two upcoming events: “Black Self-Care Fair”  on February 25, and “Black Futures: Let’s Talk Careers in Tech” on February 26.

Centring Black mental health and wellness

When asked about her reasoning for joining the BGSA, Turner highlighted the importance of such social gatherings for Black graduate students.

“I got really excited about this idea of creating a warm space and community on campus. Because I know that graduate school can be very isolating, and certainly there isn’t that much [Black] representation altogether,” she told The Varsity. “I wanted to see other Black graduates and engage with them.”

Turner also reflected on how her desire to “empower Black graduate students toward positive mental wellness,” and her decision to join the BGSA, coincided with further developments of the mental health crisis at U of T last September.

Last November, the BGSA notably hosted a Black Mental Health Panel with Black professionals in the field. “It provided a forum for experts and community members to have a discussion,” reflected Yusuf. “This was fairly unique because we discussed issues and barriers that the Black population faces. And we’re also finding solutions… talking to professionals was a great resource for us.”

Given the importance of the topic, the BGSA is planning to host a second event on Black mental health in March.

“Being there for people, and providing a support network, is so important,” Turner noted. “I wanted to create events that would bring people together.”

On what still needs to be done, Yusuf stressed the need to put in the work beyond Black History Month: “As we embrace Black History Month as a time to reflect on our history, we need to be deliberate of the ongoing reflection and action to support our future.”

“A 700-year phenomenon”: Before Malcolm X lecture series bridges Black, Islamic, and American history

Mustafa Briggs illustrates the historied presence of Black Muslims in the Americas

“A 700-year phenomenon”: <i loading=Before Malcolm X lecture series bridges Black, Islamic, and American history"/>

“When did Islam arrive in the Americas?”

On February 10, UK-based Arabic and international relations scholar Mustafa Briggs asked this question to the Victoria College Chapel audience in framing his new lecture series, Before Malcolm X: The History of Islam in the Americas. This month, Briggs is touring Canada and the United States with the series, in addition to his previous series, Beyond Bilal: Black History in Islam.

Briggs’ presentation dove into the undertold history of Islam in the Western hemisphere. He sought to challenge the popular narrative that Islam began in the Americas in the 1950s and 1960s, during the era of the Nation of Islam and the civil rights movement, with popular figureheads like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.

Through his research, which included speaking to U of T graduate alum in West African Islamic history, Abdullah Hakim Quick, he found that the story of Islam in America goes back much further. Muslims, specifically Black ones, have been present in the Americas for hundreds of years.

Briggs pointed to Black Muslim voyagers who, some argue, beat Christopher Columbus to the Americas; enslaved West African figures who “left behind diaries and treatises in perfect Arabic;” and the “Muslim warriors who fought for freedom in South America and The Caribbean before the abolition of slavery.”

The sold-out event was moderated by Imam Yasin Dwyer, and was organized by the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA), The Muslim Chaplaincy of Toronto, the Somali Students’ Association, Emmanuel College, and the Women’s Circle.

The MSA executive wrote to The Varsity about organizing the event: “We made a conscious decision to celebrate black history month by inviting Mustafa Briggs to give a talk on aspects of African American History that people normally don’t hear about; his presentation allowed us to bridge Black History Month and Islamic history.”

Islam across the Atlantic Ocean: empowerment and resistance

Briggs opened his talk by introducing the theory that there may have been Black Muslim contact — originating from the Mali Empire in West Africa — with the Americas in the fourteenth century, before the arrival of Columbus. He noted that if this theory were true, it made “the presence of Islam here a 700-year old phenomenon.”

He then moved onto the more definite history of the transatlantic slave trade, which enslaved many people from Muslim-majority nations and empires in West Africa. Islam not only underlined the identity of many of these enslaved Africans, but also their resistance.

Discussing how the first slave revolt in the Americas occurred in the Caribbean, Briggs described how, on the island of present-day Haiti, enslaved Wolof Muslims rose up against their Christian enslavers in 1522, over 200 years prior to the famous Haitian revolution of 1791.

Also giving the example of Bahia, Brazil — Briggs noted that South America was a major destination for enslaved Muslim Africans who were empowered and united by the common cultural practices of Islam, which they continued to practice. In 1835, the Muslim population of Bahia took part in the Malê revolt.

Briggs described how, in both the Haitian and Brazilian cases, the authorities “feared that [the enslaved Africans] being Muslim encouraged them to rise against their masters and fight for freedom.” They pursued practices such as forced conversion to Christianity to attempt to control them and “erase the popular memory and affection toward Islam that these people had.”

Briggs also illustrated how the high level of Islamic education that West Africans had received enabled them to pursue remarkable lives, despite their enslavement. He reviewed the famous examples of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, Omar Ibn Said, Yarrow Mamout, and Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori.

“These are just four examples of the stories of thousands and thousands of slaves similar to them, [who] came from families established in learning, and were highly literate and educated individuals,” Briggs remarked.

“These [four] were the first openly practicing Muslims in the USA. So you can see that the history of Islam traces back… hundreds of years.”

The twentieth century: the resurgence of Black Islam

“Many of these enslaved Muslims travelled to [the Americas] and were persecuted and were not allowed to practice their religion,” noted Briggs. The transatlantic slave trade “was built so that people would forget where they come from and who they were. So when they came to America, they were given new names, they were Christianized.”

“But many silently prayed that their descendants would one day be able to return to their religion and join them in practicing Islam,” he continued. In the twentieth century, many of these prayers were answered, according to Briggs.

He described how Islam re-emerged and spread among African-Americans in the 1900s, which included notable examples like Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple of America in the early part of the century; the Nation of Islam, which led to figures like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali; and concurrent orthodox Sunni Muslim movements, such as Shaikh Daoud Faisal’s Islamic Mission of America, which opposed the Nation of Islam’s Black separatist stance in favour of integration.

Returning to the title of his presentation, Briggs closed with the importance of making connections between Islam, Blackness, and the Americas across history. “When we speak about Malcolm X, we shouldn’t just see him as an individual,” Briggs stressed.

“We should see him as someone who represents a legacy and a history that interlinks continents, such as Africa and North America, and the Islamic community of West Africa and North America, for a period of over 700 years.”

A search for identity, Christianity versus Islam, and anti-Blackness

When asked about how he gained interest in his scholarship, Briggs reflected on his personal search for his history and identity. He grew up in a Christian Gambian family in the UK, even though most of Gambia and his extended family were Muslim. By contrast, he descended from liberated Africans who had been Christianized.

“When I went back to Gambia, I found out that a lot of my cousins were Muslim. Why were they Muslim, and why were we Christian?” Briggs recalled asking. “This led to me learning about the transatlantic slave trade — about how Islam spread. I felt robbed of the knowledge.” Briggs eventually converted to Islam as a teenager.

When The Varsity asked Briggs to compare the spread of Islam in West Africa and the Christianization of enslaved Africans in the Americas, he pointed to one key distinction: Christianity was used by non-African enslavers to oppress and erase the identities of Africans, while Islam coexisted with, and preserved, West African culture.

“The [West African] leaders converted to Islam, but they didn’t force their people to Islam,” he responded. “In fact, West Africans used Islamic scholarship and the newfound literacy that they had through the Arabic language to preserve their own language, their own culture, and their own religion.”

The Varsity also asked Briggs about the contemporary legacy of anti-Blackness in the Muslim community. “It’s a lived reality that we all know exists, that we’ve all experienced in one way or another,” he responded.

He later discussed how solidarity between Black and non-Black Muslims required tackling the issue of anti-Black racism, and providing Black Muslims with a sense of empowerment and belonging.

Nonetheless, Briggs also expressed some optimism, as his tours suggest that there is interest in addressing anti-Blackness. “I feel with the new generation, things are changing,” he noted. “I never approach [a] university. Universities invite me, because people want to learn and go beyond the horizon.”

The MSA executive wrote to The Varsity: “The MSA recognizes the issue of anti-Blackness within the Muslim community and the effects it has on Black Muslims. It is important to lend our voices to be allies, but not to speak over the experiences of the marginalized, even within our own communities.”

“These prejudices have taken root deeply within all our communities, but it is our collective responsibility to ensure that these prejudices are tackled, regardless of how difficult of a task it may seem.”

U of T faculty sign petition to address anti-Semitism on campus

Petition sent to president outlines five demands following dispute between Hillel and UTGSU

U of T faculty sign petition to address anti-Semitism on campus

Over 60 U of T professors have signed a petition to President Meric Gertler asking him to take action against anti-Semitism on campus. The petition was released on November 18, 2019, following an incident between Hillel UofT and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), where the union was accused of anti-Semitism. The petition authors say that Gertler has recently agreed to a meeting.

In November, the UTGSU’s former External Commissioner, Maryssa Barras, sent an email to Hillel in response to its request for support of its campaign to bring kosher food to campus. The email allegedly insinuated that the union would not support the campaign as a result of Hillel’s “pro-Israel” stance. The union has since apologized and Barras has resigned.

The text of the petition mainly criticizes the UTGSU, which, along with the incident over kosher food, has formally supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement since 2012. The BDS movement aims to economically sanction the state of Israel and boycott organizations that support it.

This is done in an effort to dissuade Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, which has been condemned as illegal by the United Nations. Some critics of the movement, including the petitioners, argue that the movement’s sole focus on Israel, and anti-Semitic comments made by the movement’s leadership, point toward anti-Semitic intentions behind the movement itself.

In an article published in the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) on February 7, Psychology Professor Stuart Kamenetsky and Dentistry Professor Howard Tenenbaum expressed disappointment at the lack of an expedient and adequate response from the university at the time, especially as Gertler had written an article on preventing anti-Semitism at U of T for CJN in September 2019.

Kamenetsky, the Undergraduate Director and Program Advisor of Psychology at UTM, said in an interview with The Varsity that Gertler’s article “promised that [anti-Semitism was] something that he really cares about and will do something about. So then when he never responded to us, we really felt that that was not a good-faith type of practice.” According to Kamenetsky, the president granted the group’s request for a meeting after the CJN article was published.

“We’re not even commenting on [whether] what the state of Israel does is right or wrong,” said Kamenetsky. “The bigger issue is that Jewish students on campus should not in any way, shape, or form be held responsible for what another country does.” He feels that “the BDS movement does just that.”

The petition lists five demands for the university to fulfill. The first two pertain to the UTGSU. The first one asks that the university condemn the union’s actions in the incident over the kosher food campaign. “We really felt that the University of Toronto should actually issue a clear statement condemning [about] what happened over there, and it really didn’t,” said Kamenetsky.

The second demand asks that the university investigate the UTGSU for any “policies and campaigns it utilizes that are informed by antisemitic or otherwise discriminatory worldviews.”

The third item, which requests the university’s help in providing more access to kosher food on campus, has already achieved partial success, as kosher food is now available at three locations in UTSG.

The next demand references a graduate student complaint against the UTGSU BDS committee through the university’s Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS), and asks that the university help expedite the complaint, alleging that the complaint “has been stymied at every turn.”

Lastly, the petition asks the university to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. Kamenetsky expects that if the university does adopt the IHRA definition, this “will really shut down BDS and many organizations [that we] now feel that are just a modern form of antisemitism.”

The IHRA defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Overall, Kamenetsky identified one of the main concerns of the petitioners as “that sense that if this goes unchecked at the University of Toronto, it will just bring about a bigger decline.”

In a statement to The Varsity, a spokesperson for the UTGSU’s BDS Caucus wrote, “The [BDS] movement has been clear and consistent about its goals, aims, and practices. It is unfortunate that supporters of Israeli apartheid remain committed to misinformation, at the expense of Palestinian liberation and international law.”

Going forward, the group hopes to add more signatures and increase the diversity of the signatories, as Kamenetsky noted they are mostly from the St. George campus and in the medical faculties.

U of T Media Relations wrote in a statement to The Varsity that “the President and senior administrators have reviewed the letter. The group has raised a number of concerns and the University is following up.”

Editor’s Note (February 25, 9:10 pm): This article has been updated to clarify wording around the BDS movement’s stance on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

UTSU Special General Meeting: external and university affairs executive positions merged

New full-time vice-president public and university affairs position to focus on advocacy

UTSU Special General Meeting: external and university affairs executive positions merged

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held its Special General Meeting on February 12, addressing the merger of the vice-president external affairs and vice-president university affairs positions to form a new vice-president public and university affairs executive position.

The main item on the agenda was bylaw amendments, featuring the executive positions merger and the removal of committees from the bylaws.

The meeting was called to order at 6:16 pm, after waiting over an hour for the meeting to meet the required quorum of 50 members.

Vice-president public and university affairs position

The main change in the bylaws was the merger of the vice-president external affairs and vice-president university affairs roles, which are currently part-time positions at 25 hours per week. The new role will be called vice-president public and university affairs, and will be a full-time position, at 40 hours per week. Joshua Bowman, President of the UTSU, noted that the current system can result in an “armchair advocacy apparatus,” whereby people who hold a position can advocate “whenever it’s convenient” for them. By having one role dedicated to advocacy, the UTSU hopes to bring more focus to its advocacy work.

Alexa Ballis, President of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council, spoke against the change, expressing that she was “worried that combining these portfolios would overload the new position,” and that certain aspects of advocacy work could end up overlooked.

Vice-President External Affairs Lucas Granger and Vice-President, University Affairs Avani Singh both spoke in favour of the change.

“I’m so strongly in favor of this,” said Granger. He added that there is “a lot of redundancy within the work that can be done between what are considered the two major advocacy portfolios,” and that he often has to work with the university’s government relations department, crossing the lines between the two current positions.

Singh echoed Granger’s points about redundancy, and said that she felt that the change would actually make the position more accessible. In her experience, her role often requires more than 25 hours per week to complete adequately, and that therefore people might have incorrect expectations going into it. If the weekly hours of the new position are increased to 40, the role will have a more accurate expectation and be compensated more accurately, according to Singh. The bylaw change to merge the two roles passed, and will be in effect for the upcoming 2020 election.

Committee bylaws, advocacy initiatives addressed

The UTSU hoped that the removal of specific committee mentions in the bylaws could provide more flexibility for committee purposes and for the creation of permanent committees in the future. “If we want to create a new committee to match the needs of students, we can,” said Bowman.

The change would allow for ad hoc committees, such as the mental health ad hoc committee, to become permanent more easily. Currently, ad hoc committees cease to exist after the term in which created.

In response to a question about combining the work of the mental health committee with an existing committee, both Bowman and Vice-President Operations Arjun Kaul defended the idea of a separate mental health committee. The bylaw change to remove committee mentions from the bylaws passed.

Following the debate over the bylaw changes, the meeting took a recess, but lost quorum during it. Bowman motioned to suspend the rules so that the meeting could continue discussions minuted.

After the vote to suspend the rules passed, Bowman gave his address, highlighting recent and upcoming initiatives of the UTSU. 

To address the particularly low voter turnout in the 2019 executive elections, the UTSU plans to launch a get out the vote campaign for the first time in several years. This will include setting up tables around campus on the last day of the voting period, where students will be able to vote using a UTSU laptop.

The nomination period for the 2020 UTSU elections will open on March 2 and will run until March 13.

Bowman also announced a health and dental referendum that will be on the ballot for the spring UTSU elections “largely with the purpose of restoring mental health coverage to the previous rate it was at last year,” before changes to the OHIP prompted a decrease in coverage.

Lastly, Bowman touched on the recent reforms made to the UTSU’s student aid program which doubled the amount given by the UTSU in awards from $10,000 two years prior, to over $20,000 in the past four months. The increase in funding will go to new bursaries such as an accessibility bursary and a health and wellness bursary, among others.

Mandatory courses have zero to three Black authors assigned

Low representation of Black authors in mandatory UTSG English courses, Varsity analysis finds

Mandatory courses have zero to three Black authors assigned

Black authors account for approximately 7.2 per cent of overall assigned authors for course readings in the four mandatory courses required for a UTSG English major or specialist, according to The Varsity’s analysis.

The Varsity looked at syllabi from this academic year for the following mandatory courses, each worth 0.5 credits: ENG202 — Introduction to British Literature I, ENG203 — Introduction to British Literature II , ENG250 — Introduction to American Literature, and ENG252 — Introduction to Canadian Literature. It should be noted that English professors design their own syllabi independently, meaning that featured authors may change over the years and across instructors.

Of 83 assigned authors across the four courses in 2020, only six were Black. ENG202 — Introduction to British Literature I, had no Black authors in the syllabus among the 24 authors assigned. ENG203 — Introduction to British Literature II, had one Black author out of 17 authors, Zadie Smith. ENG250 — Introduction to American Literature, had three Black authors studied out of 19 authors: Felix, an enslaved person, Frederick Douglass, and Jesmyn Ward. Felix’s petition was a letter signed to the Massachusetts legislature in 1773, describing the dire conditions under which slaves were treated, and had a lone signatory, Felix. Finally, ENG252 — Introduction to Canadian Literature, had two Black authors studied out of 23 authors, Austin Clarke and Dionne Brand.

Students in an English major are also required to take an additional credit, and specialists are required to take two additional credits in pre-1800s British literature. Both majors and specialists must take a half credit in Indigenous, post-colonial, or transnational literature.

Adriana Williams, writing on behalf of U of T’s Black Students’ Association, told The Varsity that “historically it has been Eurocentric/Western literature and thought that would be the base of many misconceptions about Blackness as a whole.” Williams asked: “Why should we continue to push out [a Black] narrative?”

As far as solutions toward the lack of representation of Black authors on mandatory English course syllabi, Williams wrote that it begins with the department: “The English program needs to create more specific program requirements that involve reading literature outside of the West.” Williams also emphasized the importance of having Black staff teach courses on Black literature.

Associate Chair of the English department, Naomi Morgenstern, told The Varsity that only looking at the required courses does not give a “good enough sense of what most students end up reading over the course of their degree.”

Morgenstern also emphasized that in order to do decolonization work within English, “It’s really helpful [to] read canonical things critically,” and stressed that the English department is interested in hearing feedback from students on the curriculum, noting that it would be willing to have discussions on the topic.

A U of T Media Relations spokesperson told The Varsity in an email that diversifying courses is an “ongoing effort” at the university, and that when programs come under review they are “prompted to consider the extent to which initiatives have been undertaken to enhance the program’s diversity.” Programs are required to be reviewed by the Office of the Vice-Provost, Academic Programs every eight or fewer years.