Over the past year, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) executive committee has worked on campaigns, a community care centre, and advocacy. However, they have also navigated controversies and seen three executives resign.
Sarah Abdillahi is in her second term as president of the SCSU. As Abdillahi comes to the end of her term as president before the incoming SCSU President Michael Sobowale takes over, The Varsity reviewed the work of this year’s SCSU executives, taking a look at past campaign goals, developments during the year, and the controversies that the SCSU has undergone this year.
Goals of the president
Abdillahi’s goals for her presidency in the 2020–2021 elections were centred on increasing student services. She planned to increase student aid, implement stronger mental health services for students, and ensure an atmosphere of trust between the union and students.
For the 2021–2022 elections, Abdillahi reaffirmed her pledge to improve student aid as well as mental health services. However, her second presidency campaign included plans for a first-year support centre, and was more substantial. According to Abdillahi, as she now has had experience as SCSU president in pandemic conditions, she felt she had the necessary skills to work another year online.
Following allegations of misconduct against her opponent, Abdillahi won the 2021–2022 elections unopposed.
Under Abdillahi’s presidency, the SCSU expanded its work in the Building Consent Culture, My Mental Health Matters, and the Education for All campaigns.
The Building Consent Culture campaign advocates for more support staff and training to prevent gender-based violence on campus. The campaign also demands a review of U of T’s 2019 Sexual Violence Policy by September 2022.
In 2021, the union conducted sexual violence prevention training for all staff and executives. The My Mental Health Matters campaign calls upon the university to provide better mental health support and revise its University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy (UMLAP). Efforts made on this campaign’s demands included tri-campus phone and email zap campaign which relayed the union’s and students’ concerns with UMLAP.
The Education for All campaign seeks to create equitable conditions where no student is unfairly disadvantaged. In addition to a broadening of the credit/no credit (CR/NCR) policy, the campaign also demands an earlier exam date release, acceptance of self-diagnosed sick notes, and a consistency of degree requirements throughout a student’s studies. Although the campaign created an avenue for discussion on the CR/NCR policy, the policy has not yet been amended.
Under Abdillahi’s presidency, the SCSU also launched a campaign in response to U of T’s decision to return to in-person teaching in the winter semester. Organized with the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the email campaign urged the university to reconsider its plan for the return.
The SCSU and UTMSU initiated the campaign after hearing a lot of student concerns. The campaign is an appeal to the university administration to provide the means for a “safe” return. It has now accumulated over 1,000 signatures.
Community care centre
Abdillahi had proposed to create a first-year support centre as part of her election campaign, but later realized the need for such support is not limited to first-year students.
“We realized that not just the first-years are a community that needed support. We were looking into all of the ways that SCSU can be a better support system for our membership, and that’s how the community care centre was kind of born,” said Abdillahi when introducing the proposal for the community care centre at the February Board of Directors meeting.
Alyssia Fernandes, president associate and the newly elected vice-president campus life, explained, “SCSU noticed that there was a gap between supports available and vulnerable communities that could benefit these programs and opportunities. This enabled us to think about how we can bridge this gap between the resources and the supports that SCSU can offer students ourselves.”
The centre will provide mental health, sexual violence and prevention, off-campus housing, financial, and vulnerable community supports.
“The support centre will serve as the first step of many in bridging this gap and supporting students’ immediate and personal needs,” continued Fernandes.
If the board of directors approves the proposal at the March meeting, the centre will be launched in the 2022–2023 academic year by the incoming team.
Advocacy for Palestine, controversies over antisemitism
The SCSU has often advocated for Palestine this past year. In July 2021, the union participated in UTMSU’s tri-campus phone and email campaign calling on U of T to address the hiring scandal at the Faculty of Law. The campaign also demanded that U of T explain its limited support for Palestine.
The union also reaffirmed its commitment to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions policy at the 2021 Annual General Meeting (AGM) despite significant resistance from some campus Jewish student groups. The policy has been previously reaffirmed at the 2021 Winter General Meeting and the 2020 AGM, also under Abdillahi’s presidency. The policy had been in place before Abdillahi’s two terms as president.
After the policy was reaffirmed at the 2021 AGM, the SCSU was subject to massive backlash. Jewish student groups raised concerns over access to Kosher food on campus as the policy does not allow any student groups on campus to form contracts with companies that are “found to profit from the occupation of Palestine.”
Jewish groups said that the motion limits access to Kosher food coming from Israel, and U of T President Meric Gertler released a statement condemning both motions.
At the December board meeting, the clause pertaining to Kosher food access was removed in an effort to assure Jewish students that the SCSU did not intend on banning Kosher food at all.
Additionally, a motion written by Max Fine, SCSU Physical and Environmental Sciences Director, declaring SCSU’s respect for Jewish rights at UTSC was heavily amended prior to its presentation at the 2021 AGM. Fine, as well as other Jewish students that were present, felt that SCSU had undermined the spirit of the motion by amending it without consultation with them.
Abdillahi defended the amendments claiming that many of the clauses were redundant, and that, due to very general wording, the motion as it was originally written would be beyond SCSU’s scope.
Contentious statement on Russian invasion of Ukraine
The most recent SCSU controversy was a statement released on March 3 regarding Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was written in collaboration with four other student unions and associations.
The statement, which has since been deleted from SCSU’s Instagram account, blamed NATO and the “imperialist” and “capitalist” agenda of the west for the conflict in Ukraine. Students felt that the statement was long overdue and misguided.
Abdillahi explained that while the union wrote the statement highlighting the ‘Western’ agenda as a factor in the war, it did still recognize the suffering of Ukrainians at the hands of Russia.
The Varsity has reached out to Sarah Abdillahi for comment.