During the UTSU’s December board meeting, Omar Gharbiyeh was announced as the new vice-president, public and university affairs. This position had remained vacant since September 2021, when the previous office holder resigned.
Gharbiyeh was appointed to the position after a by-election in the fall was unsuccessful due to a lack of candidates.
Gharbiyeh is the third student to ever hold this position following its creation in 2020. He is a returning student who took some time off from his studies at U of T and studied at the University of Havana. Upon returning to U of T to continue his studies, he became involved with several Palestinian non-governmental organizations, including Palestinian House, a Toronto-based community centre. In an email to The Varsity, Gharbiyeh wrote that his prior experience working with students and advocating for their interests has helped him put his “passion and skills to use for the purpose of social justice.”
He plans to continue multiple advocacy efforts while holding the position for the current term. Gharbiyeh wrote that his priorities include “ensuring that the [U of T] administration becomes proactive in planning for contingencies that arise from the pandemic.” He hopes that U of T will publish a clear and predictable strategy that both students and faculty can rely on.
He also plans to focus on student finances. His plans include fighting the Ontario Student Assistance Program cuts by the Ford government, increasing “work-integrated learning opportunities,” and advocating for a reduction in tuition fees while classes remain online.
Lastly, he will focus on the health, safety, and wellness of the student body. This will consist of continuing to support the UTSU’s own initiatives such as the upcoming Peer Support Network.
When it comes to the UTSU’s efforts to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), which it has been working on for multiple years, Gharbiyeh wrote that “the CFS’ bylaws make this process impossible under pandemic conditions because it necessitates a significant in-person presence.”
“I understand what it’s like to feel unheard, and I know that we’ve all been struggling together with so many issues these past few years,” Gharbiyeh wrote. “I can’t overstate how honoured I am to be given the chance to work towards some real progress in rectifying these concerns and helping students feel heard.”
Editor’s note (January 16): A previous version of this article included a photo of Ghaith Hanbali, not Omar Gharbiyeh. The Varsity regrets this error.