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UTM Hindu Student Council faces backlash for name change proposal, attributes opposition to misinformation

HSC executives describe online harassment from critics
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JOSEPH DONATO/THE VARSITY
JOSEPH DONATO/THE VARSITY

A petition against a proposal to change the name of the UTM branch of the Hindu Student Council (HSC-UTM) has been circulating, created by some of the club’s alumni and other stakeholders. The HSC-UTM had been in the process of exploring a name change for the group to make it more inclusive, though members never formally decided on what they might change the name to.

The HSC-UTM was founded in 2005. According to its Ulife page, the group’s purpose is to “promote Hinduism and educate people about Hindu culture, religion, spirituality and way of life.”

The petition criticizes a name change proposal due to the already inclusive nature of the word “Hindu,” its connection to the club’s roots and values, and the undemocratic proposal process. On August 28, the UTSG branch of the Hindu Student Council (UTSG-HSC) as well as the UTSC branch (UTSC-HSC) both came out with statements condemning the move and supporting the peition’s organizers.

However, in an interview with The Varsity, some of the HSC-UTM’s executive members argued that the petition and movement had been fuelled by misinformation. They also expressed frustration and stress regarding the harassment and cyberbullying they had consequently faced.

Motivation for the petition

The description under the petition, which has garnered over 1,200 signatures to date, says that the club, with its current name, is already diverse. It also argues that changing the name would fundamentally shift the values and priorities of the club.

Moreover, it states that the “present proposal to change the club name by an exclusive decision of the executive committee” violates the inclusive nature of the club, and calls for broader discussion and debate on the topic. It concludes that the creation of a new club could address any concern that the HSC-UTM does not currently represent all values and identities.

While the description does not explicitly mention the removal of the word ‘Hindu,’ simply stating that there is a proposal to change the name, the picture on the petition reads “Removal of ‘Hindu’ from Hindu Student Council – UTM.”

This may have fuelled some confusion about the proposal, evidenced by the fact that HSC-UTSG and HSC-UTSC’s statements both condemned the decision to remove the word ‘Hindu’ rather than a proposal to change the club’s name.

HSC-UTM released a statement on its Instagram on August 29 that said it would no longer pursue the proposal. However, HSC-UTM also pointed out that much of the anger was based on misinformation and that they had followed all procedural steps correctly. The petition is currently active, and signatures are still being added.

Response of HSC

HSC-UTM executives, who wished to remain anonymous due to harassment, told The Varsity that while the original proposal had been aimed at expanding an already inclusive club, much had been lost in translation.

One member said that removing the word ‘Hindu’ “wasn’t even part of… the discussion.” They continued, “That’s never the way [the executives] thought of it.”

The original idea to change the name in May was driven by the chance to include students from other backgrounds who may have felt excluded from the club due to its name. “We really wanted to open up and be the most diverse club on campus,” another executive said.

“I have Muslim friends on campus who are a part of India… but they cannot join HSC because of the name tag,” said one executive.

The club had been in the early stages of considering a proposal — speaking with the founder and other stakeholders — and hadn’t yet decided whether to vote on a name change. The executives expressed frustration that they were not consulted by the petition organizers before the petition was published and spread on social media.

Despite the fact that the name change was never a formal motion, and they decided not to go through with a name change, the executives said that over the past few weeks, they have received harassment online. “The word ‘Hindu-phobic’ was used throughout social media,” one recalled.

Another mentioned the toll that the online backlash has taken on their mental health. “I already have very bad anxiety,” the executive member noted. “I [opened] up my social media, and it was hundreds and hundreds of… notifications of me being tagged on… random Instagram posts,” the executive member said. They said that they had continued to get messages even after HSC-UTM released its statement that it would not change the name.

The executives interviewed also expressed that they had been shocked by the statements from HSC-UTSG and HSC-UTSC. “They didn’t consult us or ask us anything regarding this statement,” an executive said. “We did have a discussion with them after… so we did mend relations. But at the time that the statements were released, we didn’t really have any communications with them.”

They added that they would put more effort into communicating with the branches in the future.

The organizers of the petition did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.