On October 15, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held its October Board of Directors (BOD) meeting. Updates on and plans for the union’s activism in areas like meal plan affordability and divestment from fossil fuels dominated the meeting. Executive members also discussed their fundraising in response to natural disasters in Morocco and Libya.
The union also discussed plans for its Annual General Meeting (AGM), which will take place on October 29 at 4:00 pm online. All UTSU members — including full-time UTSG undergraduate students, Toronto School of Theology students, and Transitional Year Programme students — can attend the AGM to hear reports from the UTSU executives and vote on bylaw amendments. Students who wish to attend must be registered by October 22.
Food Insecurity Report
UTSU Vice President of University Affairs Aidan Thompson shared that the union has released its Food Insecurity Report. The report included information from a 2021 survey of 6,167 postsecondary students at 13 campuses across Canada, including UTM, in which 56.8 per cent of the students surveyed reported severe or moderate food insecurity.
The UTSU’s report highlights how the financial and time constraints students face lead many to skip meals or rely on low-cost but less nutritious food. Commuter students face multiple barriers to getting good meals, such as contending with greater transportation costs and often working part-time jobs.
Many students living in residence also experience food issues. The report argues that the pay-by-weight (PBW) system, which the Chestnut and New College dining halls expanded at the beginning of the fall 2023 term, places financial strain on students and makes budgeting more challenging.
A spokesperson for Food Services — which operates the two dining halls — wrote in a previous email to The Varsity that the PBW system increases students’ choices. However, students at the New College and Chestnut dining halls told The Varsity that they reduced their portion sizes and skipped meals because of the dining halls’ high prices.
Mike Lawler, a fourth-year PhD student in the Department of Geography, served as a don at Chestnut Residence and helped consult on the report. On October 5, Lawler started a petition calling on Food Services to eliminate the PBW model from Chestnut and New College dining halls and reduce prices. As of October 19, the petition has 466 signatures.
Thompson said he’ll look for ways the UTSU can promote the petition.
The Advocacy Group Advisory Committee
Vice President of Operations Samir Mechel gave an update on the planned structure of a proposed UTSU institution called the Advocacy Group Advisory Committee — previously called the Student Advocacy Roundtable.
The UTSU proposed the committee to replace the UTSU Student Senate. The union changed its bylaws last year to involve the creation of the senate, which was meant to add student representation after the UTSU cut seats from the BOD. The executive plans to introduce a motion at the AGM next week to remove its obligation to create the Senate from the UTSU bylaws. Notably, the Senate has never actually existed — the UTSU decided it would attempt to scrap the Senate before holding any elections for it.
According to a preliminary plan for the committee, the UTSU would charge the committee with advising the union “on advocacy and equity-related concerns on campus.” It will be composed of representatives from campus groups, provided that “their values do not conflict with the UTSU’s values of equity and inclusion.” However, the precise structure and composition of the committee remain in the planning stages.
Quicker divestment at Trinity, and beyond
Thompson also relayed that he went to a session of the Trinity College Meeting — a student direct democracy that votes on matters related to Trinity College — and made a motion calling on the college to divest from fossil fuels by 2025, five years sooner than their current target. Students passed the motion.
According to Thompson, the UTSU is in talks with student governance bodies for the other federated colleges — St. Michael’s College and Victoria College — to arrange for more resolutions of that kind.
Bake Sale for North Africa
Charitable Indulgences — a U of T club that fundraises for communities in and outside of Canada by selling treat boxes — held a bake sale on September 25 to raise funds for aid efforts in Morocco and Libya in light of natural disasters that occurred in the two countries. With the help of equipment provided by the UTSU, the group raised $1,800, which it donated to Islamic Relief Canada — an organization that provides aid to address emergencies and poverty. The UTSU matched that amount, donating an additional $1,800.