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UTSU discusses Campus Police, anti-Black racism, COVID-19 equity concerns at June board meeting

2020–2021 preliminary budget passes, with minor surplus projected
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The UTSU’s June board meeting was held online.NAWA TAHIR/THE VARSITY
The UTSU’s June board meeting was held online.NAWA TAHIR/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held its June Board of Directors Meeting online on June 24. 

The board addressed numerous issues, including the presence of campus police officers at U of T, COVID-19 in relation to international students and student aid disbursement, and anti-Black racism at Trinity College. The board also passed its preliminary budget for the 2020–2021 year.

Campus Police

According to Vice-President Equity Alexandra McLean, the UTSU is collecting research on campus police officer presence on campus so that it can advocate to the university administration and demand for better policies. This follows a statement by the UTSU in which it called for limiting or prohibiting Campus Police presence at student-run events and asked Campus Police to apologize and acknowledge its “historically unjust behaviour towards Black, Indigenous, and other racialized and marginalized students.”

UTSU President Muntaka Ahmed added that the presence of campus police officers at events adds an unnecessary layer of accountability that marginalized student groups need to go through, citing her own experience with the Muslim Students’ Association.

This research on Campus Police is not available as a formal report yet, but Ahmed said she would be willing to pursue it with McLean. “I am very proud that we decided to stand on the side of history that we did decide to stand on,” said Ahmed.

Equity concerns surrounding COVID-19

Tyler Riches, Vice-President Public and University Affairs, gave updates on communications with the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students, in which the UTSU brought up concerns about the exam timings and the fact that some international students would have to sit their exams at inconvenient hours. The OVPS agreed to follow up on the specific summer courses that had this issue and see what could be done. 

He also pointed out that there are some issues for international students that are outside the university’s control, including eligibility for federal benefits and study permits, but he plans on discussing them in the upcoming meetings with the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities.  

Vice-President Student Life Neeharika Hemrajani added that the OVPS is reviewing the University Health Insurance Plan, and looking into the possibility of allowing international students to opt out of it if they are not on campus.

The Executive Committee also authorized $16,531 in emergency bursary funds to remaining applications for student aid at its May 15 meeting. Ahmed said that the executives did not want to wait to keep applicants waiting until they were able to start the Student Aid Committee later on, as they wanted to provide support to students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Student aid is one of the largest and most impactful and direct services that the UTSU does offer,” she added.

Anti-Black racism at Trinity College 

Fiona Reuter, Trinity College Director, and Alex Erickson, Social Sciences Director, brought up the discussion of anti-Black racism at Trinity College and asked how the UTSU would be responding. 

Alexandra McLean said that her role as vice-president equity is to address inequities, but she wants to be mindful that she doesn’t overstep the boundaries between the UTSU and Trinity College, since she doesn’t work for Trinity College directly.

She added that she would ensure she is always working to make campus as equitable as possible, but she cannot directly dictate what goes on at Trinity or how its student leadership responds to the issues.

Ahmed commented that the UTSU is waiting for the direction of student leadership at Trinity to dictate where it should be putting in its efforts. She mentioned that the UTSU will bring up these issues in the meetings with the OVPS and the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office. 

She also emphasized the importance of student leaders and UTSU directors helping the UTSU to make the campus a safer space.

The UTSU has not yet officially reached out to the Trinity College Meeting, but plans to do so. 

Preliminary budget passes

The UTSU’s preliminary budget for the 2020–2021 year was presented to the Board of Directors by Vice-President Operations Dermot O’Halloran. 

The UTSU will not decrease its membership fee because of COVID-19, citing almost no reduction in union expenses. The membership fee is also expected to increase in the future because of the Student Commons project.

Budget expenses include accommodation costs to help the UTSU staff transition to working from home, hiring an external firm to hire staff for senior positions, and more professional development for UTSU staff. Other operating expenses include the costs for an external governance review of the UTSU and hiring a web development firm to revamp the UTSU website. 

The board unanimously passed the preliminary budget, and the UTSU is projecting a minor surplus.

The next board meeting is scheduled for July 27.