Over the past year, the University of Toronto Mississauga Student’s Union (UTMSU) executive committee has run new campaigns, supported health initiatives, and revitalized its food centre. However, the union was heavily criticized by Transparent UTMSU, an advocacy group founded by UTM student Shen Fernando. In particular, the organization has criticized the UTMSU for failing to be transparent and failing to communicate with students.
Mitra Yakubi is completing her second term as president of the UTMSU. As Maëlis Barre prepares to step into the role for the 2022–2023 academic year, The Varsity is here to debrief Yakubi’s time in office this year.
When running for president the first time, Yakubi’s platform included a few major policies. Firstly, she wanted to hold “conversations” about affordable education, noting the specific needs of students at UTM, which has a high commuter population. She also wanted to implement a peer mental health support program and maintain a self-assigned sick notes program.
During her second campaign, Yakubi wished to expand the peer support program to include more support for sexual violence survivors, to create a mental health task force that would lobby the government for more resources, and to review UTM’s ancillary fees to see if students’ costs could be reduced.
The UTMSU successfully developed its Peer Support program during Yakubi’s first term. The union collected feedback from members and ended up virtually launching the program in January 2021.
With regard to the university’s sick note policy, Yakubi noted that the UTMSU’s initial discussions with the Office of the Registrar — where they’d been discussing modifying the policy so that students could report sickness without a doctor’s note — were put on hold after such a policy was implemented for the duration of the pandemic.
“If [the policy] is removed in the future, the UTMSU is ready to work with the [Office of the Registrar] to implement the pilot and further continue our advocacy as planned,” Yakubi wrote in an email to The Varsity.
In her two terms, Yakubi has also launched the Education For All campaign, which aims to reduce tuition fees; created a textbook exchange program; and lobbied alongside other U of T student unions to extend the review process of the University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy.
Though Yakubi hadn’t focused on health coverage in her campaigns, her team was successful in negotiating more coverage for students under the UTMSU Health and Dental plan without increasing cost per student. Vision coverage was raised from $150 to $200, and students are now able to visit a psychologist, psychotherapist, counsellor, or social worker up to 25 times a year for up to $125, as opposed to the 20 visits with a mental health professional that they could previously get covered.
Moreover, the UTMSU relocated its food centre from the Davis Building to the first floor of the Student Centre. In January, the union allocated $18,000 to the renovation of the centre and its reopening was inaugurated with an event where the union gave away free smoothies to raise awareness for food insecurity on campus.
Incoming and outgoing presidents
During her campaign, UTMSU President-elect Maëlis Barre focused on tuition reduction, making postsecondary education more accessible, and advocating for a tuition refund for students who feel the quality of their education has been reduced during the pandemic.
When asked what she hoped Barre would work on in the new year, Yakubi wrote, “There are multiple different projects that the union has worked on and many of which the future executives can build on, however each year the vision of the executive team shapes the priorities and the work done.”
Yakubi added that she is proud of the work her team has done over the past two years. “I’m proud of how fast the UTMSU changed to ensure that we meet members wherever they are,” Yakubi wrote. “I hope to have left a positive impact for current students and for those to come.”