The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is currently in the midst of its online campaigning period for its spring 2022 presidential by-election. The election was organized after no students ran for the president position in the original spring elections. Voting will open on April 19 and close on April 22.
To help students navigate their election options, The Varsity has provided a profile for each of the five candidates, outlining their experience and platform.
Jerico Raguindin, a third-year public policy and sociology student, is running for University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) president in the by-election after running for vice-president equity in the original spring election.
Raguindin has no direct experience with the UTSU; however, he is finishing up a term as president of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC). In previous years, he was on the council’s sustainability commission, which he also co-chaired in his second year. Additionally, he has worked with the UTSU through mental health initiatives outside of VUSAC.
In an interview with The Varsity, Raguindin explained that he was running for the president position because he wanted to apply the skills that he’s acquired through previous student governance roles. Moreover, he feels that many of the issues he’s passionate about and that were part of his vice-president equity platform — such as climate change, mental health, and climate change — are transferable to the president position.
In terms of his platform, Raguindin would like to take the union back to the basics to tackle criticisms that it has become ineffective. According to him, this means both clarifying its advocacy goals, with a focus on holding the university accountable, and what services it provides for individual students.
“We are here as a union to [enact] that systemic change, but also to help you out individually,” Raguindin concluded.
Bo Zhao, a third-year civil engineering student, is running for the position of president in the UTSU’s spring 2022 presidential by-election.
In an interview with The Varsity, Zhao explained that his previous experience as president of his own department’s union had revealed that some of his goals — especially regarding mental health and academic advocacy — would require more resources and manpower.
Zhao noted that, given low voter turnout this year, one of his priorities would be rebuilding engagement with and faith in the UTSU. One of the ways in which he would do this is by working more directly with students and student organizations to get them the resources they need.
To prevent academic burnout, Zhao would also advocate for more academic leniency so that students can take breaks from their academics without worrying about catching up. Moreover, he would aim to make mental health resources more accessible.
Zhao’s other priorities include tuition, racial justice, and anti-sexual violence advocacy, as well as promoting transit subsidies.
Omar Gharbiyeh, a fifth-year student double majoring in political science and history, is running for the UTSU president position after serving as the union’s vice-president public and university affairs (VP PUA) since January of this year.
In an interview with The Varsity, Gharbiyeh said four months as VP PUA has allowed him to achieve some of his goals, but that there is still a lot of work to do. “I don’t generally like leaving things unfinished,” Gharbiyeh explained.
Serving as the VP PUA has helped Gharbiyeh become familiar with the bureaucratic structure at UTSU, and he noted that his understanding of the UTSU’s capabilities and limitations informs him on how to maximize the union’s strength.
Gharbiyeh sees the UTSU’s role as a balance between service and advocacy. If elected, his priorities for the upcoming year would include following through with his work on the Same Degree Same Fee campaign, ending gender-based violence on campus, pushing for proactive responses to the pandemic, and advocating for dining hall food security.
Harvi Karatha, a first-year engineering science student, is running for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) president in its spring by-election after originally running for the VP PUA position.
In an interview with The Varsity, Karatha explained that she has extensive experience with non-governmental organizations that focus on various areas, including financial literacy and refugee and immigrant rights. In terms of on-campus experiences, she had worked at student councils and organizations such as Engineers Without Borders.
Additionally, Karatha noted that during the VP PUA campaign, people reached out to her and shared what they thought would improve the union and their experience at the university. Running for president has allowed her to bring these visions forward.
Though she was previously motivated to advocate for specific policy changes, she realized that roles like VP PUA were limited in their scope. She believes that the president position will allow her to more directly guide the union towards solutions that will make the university better.
In terms of her priorities, Karatha will aim to address assaults on campus, enhance academic and mental health supports, make education more affordable, support student initiatives, and provide more support in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ying J Chow
Ying J Chow is also running for president. Chow originally ran for vice-president equity.
Chow did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.
Voting for the by-election will open be open from April 19 to April 22.