The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) held the All Candidates Forum for its 2021 elections on March 10. The forum featured candidates for the five executive positions to discuss and answer questions from community members about student issues, such as academic policies, student life, equity, and mental health.
There are seven candidates for the 2021 elections — five of whom belong to the Build Back Better (BBB) slate — running for the five executive positions. The candidates for president, vice-president internal, vice-president external, and vice-president university affairs are running unopposed. The race for vice-president equity includes three candidates — one from BBB and two independents.
Chief Returning Officer Juliana Salsa hosted the event, with the sole candidate absence being Maryam Yousefipournigjeh, an independent running for vice-president equity.
Presidential candidate Mitra Yakubi, who is running for re-election unopposed, stressed that she would push for a reduction of all student fees.
“I think it’s shameful that we have to pay for postsecondary education, let alone in the midst of a pandemic,” she said. “So what [BBB] wants to do is lobby U of T governance as well as the federal and provincial government to gradually reduce and eliminate tuition fees.”
When asked about her other priorities, Yabuki said that BBB would develop a COVID-19 accommodation policy that includes extending the credit/no credit policy to program requirements.
Merica Joy Carlos, the BBB candidate for vice-president university affairs, discussed the proposed accommodation policy in more detail, saying that her team will first survey students to better understand which academic accommodations are most needed.
“Students shouldn’t be expected to study and operate the same way as if the pandemic isn’t happening,” she said.
Vice-president internal candidate Lai Wei, running on the BBB slate, was asked by a club executive how she would help clubs and societies next year, many of which are struggling as a result of the pandemic.
She acknowledged the difficulty campus groups faced while transitioning to a virtual environment and said that she and her team would make it easier for groups to submit recognition documents. Wei also promised to look into making faster banking features, such as wire transfers, e-signatures, and alternative banking available to student groups.
Regarding international students, BBB candidate for vice-president external Maëlis Barre said that BBB would strike an international student roundtable that “would be a space for international students to come together and talk about… some of the struggles they face that are specific to their experience.”
She indicated that the roundtable would work on a document that could be used to lobby the administration for policies that best serve international students. “The idea is to really put international students’ voices at the centre of this initiative to make sure that what [we’re] lobbying for and demanding is actually what international students need to feel supported,” she said.
Equity and mental health
Questions surrounding student equity and mental health also featured prominently in the forum. Independent vice-president equity candidate Laiba Khan said that she would address these issues by implementing diversity and equity counselling that “will be available to students who come from different backgrounds.” Khan also highlighted her previous experience as a community organizer focusing on gender equity and domestic violence.
One of her opponents, BBB candidate Ryan Tomlinson, would expand the university’s United for Equity campaign, an initiative coordinated by the Canadian Federation of Students that aims to eradicate all forms of oppression and discrimination from Canadian postsecondary campuses.
Tomlinson plans to create more safe spaces for students facing oppression, including town halls where students can learn more about the discrimination other community members face. “I know that these spaces are able [to] allow students to have their [voices] validated and move to heal as a community,” he said.
Tomlinson highlighted his previous experience creating safe spaces for Black students while serving on the Black Students’ Association’s Black History Month committee.