Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual harassment.
On December 5, 2022, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) held its monthly Board of Directors (BOD) meeting in person at the Student Centre, during which the BOD ratified the results of the fall byelection, noting low voter turnout. SCSU Executive Director Nicole Brayiannis also presented a credit card policy to the BOD for approval. Additionally, SCSU executives updated the BOD about their advocacy efforts, academic campaigns, and upcoming events for the winter term.
Fall byelections and new hires
At the BOD meeting, the SCSU ratified the fall byelection results and welcomed six new directors: two first-year directors; a director of psychology, neuroscience, and mental health studies; a director of physical and environmental sciences; a director of human geography; and one part-time director.
Four BOD seats remain vacant, leaving international students and the departments of anthropology, English, and philosophy without designated representatives.
The voting period for the SCSU’s fall byelections ran from October 18–27, 2022. Only one per cent of the UTSC student body voted in the byelection. According to Vice-President External Thai Higashihara, voter turnout was low because many upper-year students formerly relegated to online classes came to campus for the first time this fall, so an unusually large number of students were “unfamiliar with university processes.” The byelection also marked the SCSU’s first in-person election since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Higashihara said that the byelection’s chief returning officer (CRO) submitted recommendations to the SCSU in an effort to streamline the election process, such as hiring the CRO earlier. Higashihara assured the BOD that the SCSU will implement these recommendations in the upcoming spring election.
Nonetheless, Higashihara said that the byelection was a “resounding success” because “there were no major hiccups.” According to Higashihara, the election didn’t involve any mischief, violations of the voting code of conduct, or concerns about the voting process that would require review from the Elections and Referenda Committee.
In addition to welcoming directors, the SCSU hired Sarah Abdillahi as events and membership engagement coordinator — a new full-time staff position — in November. Abdillahi served as SCSU president during the 2020–2021 and 2021–2022 terms, working on numerous campaigns, some of which sparked controversy. In her new role, Abdillahi will help the SCSU executives handle event logistics.
New credit card policy
The SCSU presented the BOD with a proposal for a new credit card policy, which, pending the board’s approval, would grant the SCSU its own corporate credit card and allow SCSU executives and full-time staff to purchase materials without submitting expense reports.
Currently, staff members pay out-of-pocket when purchasing items for the SCSU and get reimbursed by the union. According to the SCSU’s December BOD meeting package, this reimbursement process “creates financial strain on individuals required to utilize their personal resources to make necessary and pre-approved purchases for the Union.”
Brayiannis said that the new policy will help “streamline” the SCSU’s operations and finances. The credit card will also allow the SCSU to earn points on business expenses, which it can then use toward its billing statements.
Brayiannis assured the BOD that the proposed policy includes “a number of accountability measures.” The SCSU would purchase credit card insurance to protect the credit card from employee misuse. The policy would also require the executive director, president, and vice-president operations to approve any expenses, and members who use the card must submit receipts and documentation to the SCSU’s accountant.
The BOD will vote on the credit card policy at a later meeting.
UTMSU protest and U of T’s sexual violence policy
On November 30, 2022, Higashihara, Vice-President Campus Life Alyssia Fernandes, and Vice-President Academics and University Affairs Amrith David attended a protest organized by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The protest demanded that U of T terminate Robert Reisz, a UTM professor who violated U of T’s Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, according to an external investigation commissioned by U of T.
During the BOD meeting, David said that the SCSU met with UTSC vice-deans to discuss Reisz’s case and some shortcomings of the latest proposed amendments to U of T’s sexual violence policy. Higashihara said that UTSC administrators did not express “much verbal support” on either issue, describing their responses as “lukewarm.”
According to Vice-President Equity Yumna Abdelhameed, many UTSC administrators considered Reisz’s actions to be a UTM issue rather than a UTSC one. However, Abdelhameed argued, “We shouldn’t be waiting for [sexual harassment] to happen at UTSC to care or take action.”
Currently, the union is advocating for Ramadan accommodations during UTSC’s winter exam period. U of T’s policy grants accommodations to students who observe religious practices during exam periods. However, Abdelhameed said that the SCSU wants a written policy outlining the specific steps that UTSC will take in order to accommodate students observing Ramadan.
According to David, the SCSU wants UTSC to give students who have to break fast more time to write their exams, so that these students can eat if needed while writing their exams. The SCSU also calls on the university to provide prayer spaces beside these students’ exam rooms.
David said that the SCSU decided to advocate for these policies so that students “won’t have to choose between faith and academics.” According to David, Shelby Verboven, UTSC’s registrar and assistant dean enrolment management, already set up a working group to discuss the policy.
Meanwhile, the SCSU’s proposed course retake policy is pending approval at a February UTSC Academic Affairs Committee.
Other advocacy updates
David told the BOD that he has been meeting with Varsha Patel, UTSC’s assistant dean of career success at the Academic Advising and Career Centre, and Neel Joshi, dean of the Office of Student Experience and Wellbeing (OSEW), to implement a free Law School Admission Test (LSAT) prep course at UTSC. David noted that a free LSAT prep course is already available at UTSG.
SCSU President Michael Sobowale reported that, on November 3 and 29, 2022, he met with a number of student groups, U of T’s Planning and Budget Office, and OSEW to discuss proposed increases in UTSC student fees.
Sobowale said that the fee increase is intended to support the creation of a part-time outreach position at Health and Wellness, who will “[make] sure that students have that support that they need.”
The SCSU plans to host a Week of Welcome at the beginning of the winter term, which will include puppy yoga and a chance to attend a Toronto Marlies hockey game on January 13.
The SCSU will also host its annual Undergraduate Research Symposium from March 30 to April 1 at 1265 Bistro, located in the Student Centre. This year’s theme is “Decolonizing Education.”
“We hope to center Indigenous, Racialized, and Black perspectives in our decision-making and throughout the symposium,” David wrote in the SCSU’s December BOD meeting package.