On May 1, Muntaka Ahmed took office as the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) president for the 2020–2021 academic year. Joining her is Dermot O’Halloran as vice-president operations, Neeharika Hemrajani as vice-president student life, Alexandra McLean as vice-president equity, and Tyler Riches as vice-president public and university affairs.
The Varsity recently reached out to the new UTSU executives to shed light on their year ahead — especially their first steps. They highlighted outreach, adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic, and leaving the CFS.
There were no candidates this year for the position of vice-president professional faculties. Joshua Bowman, the 2019–2020 UTSU president, has informed The Varsity that the UTSU has decided to hire one rather than hold an election. The decision was made in consultation with Ahmed and O’Halloran. Applications were due on April 22, and the UTSU has yet to announce who will fill the role.
President Ahmed on outreach to student groups
For Ahmed’s first actions as she steps into the role of UTSU president, she intends to reach out to student leaders and organizations. “I want to start new and positive relationships with student societies and organizations, [and] meet with individuals and groups across campus to see where the UTSU can play a supportive role and what initiatives we can work on/collaborate on together,” she wrote in an email to The Varsity.
Ahmed hopes that she can “make you all proud next year, provide meaningful service throughout my term, and work with my team to support and represent our community as best as I can.”
VP Public and University Affairs Riches on COVID-19, CFS
Riches’ position of vice-president public and university affairs was formed earlier this year by merging the vice-president external affairs and vice-president university affairs positions. As such, he is conscious that his initial conduct in office will set a tone for the role.
“I think the important first step in both transitioning into this role, and assuming office, is determining how the UTSU can support students during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Riches wrote to The Varsity. He also wants to get started on organizing a petition for U of T to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). “Since working on this petition takes a lot of time, it’s important to start early,” Riches explained.
Though UTSU executives are not permitted to directly contribute to defederation efforts, leaving the CFS has been a prominent goal for them in recent years.
VP Student Life Hemrajani on fall orientation
As Hemrajani transitions into the position of vice-president student life, she hopes to get into contact with recognized campus clubs to learn from their experiences in the past academic year.
Beyond this, Hemrajani is prioritizing fall orientation, especially given the pandemic’s disruption of social gatherings. She would like to “figure out what can and can’t be made possible in the coming months.”
VP Equity McLean on campus diversity
In the role of vice-president equity, McLean hopes to “establish a strong positive working relationship with diverse student groups on campus” as one of her first steps. McLean also aims to create diversity and inclusion task forces to expand upon the work of the UTSU Equity Collective.
“Accessibility program delivery needs to be directly informed by all students from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds,” wrote McLean.
Vice-president operations O’Halloran did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.
2020 UTSU election recap
This year’s election saw 4,818 students, or 12.7 per cent of the electorate, participate — a significant 8.5 percentage point jump from last year’s 4.2 per cent turnout.
This year’s UTSU ballot also featured two referenda. The referendum that sought to increase the health and dental insurance fee by 10 per cent failed. However, the referendum to establish a Student Aid Program Fund beginning this fall with a $1.00 fee per semester passed, with 68.8 per cent of students voting in favour.