Colleges, student unions expand representation for international students

U of T welcomed 19,187 international students last year

Colleges, student unions expand representation for international students

Amid a rising international student population, student unions and the seven colleges are expanding their representation on campus and creating services catered to those demographics. The Varsity reached out to several student unions and college governments for a roundup of international student representation on campus.

UTSU

The University of Toronto Students’ Union does not have a specific committee geared toward international students. However, it does have positions which serve the international student population, such as Vice-President Student Life and Vice-President Equity.

UTGSU

The International Students’ Caucus (ISC) at the University of Toronto Graduate Students Union (UTGSU) aims to address the interests and concerns regarding international graduate students.

The caucus hosts social, academic, and professional workshops and meetings concerning governance and policy changes within the university community and the city at large.

“The ISC is a group under the UTGSU [that] mainly serves international students’ interests, including academic success, social interaction, and networking,” reads a statement on its website.

“Meetings will be held monthly and will focus on the needs of the caucus’ members and the needs of all international graduate students including social interaction, networking, and potential changes in programming and/or governance at the university, city, and/or provincial levels.”

The ISC’s elected positions include the chair, who oversees the caucus as a whole, and the UTGSU Executive Liaison.

UTMSU

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) represents over 13,500 students across the UTM, with 20 per cent of students being international. While the UTMSU does not have a specific position or caucus dedicated to international students, they do provide several services.

“We endeavour to ensure that the rights of all students are respected, provide cost-saving services, programs and events, and represent the voices of part-time undergraduate students across the University and to all levels of government,” reads a statement on their website. “We are fundamentally committed to the principle of access to education for all.”

The UTMSU also has several campaigns in partnership with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) regarding international student issues, including Fight for Fees, Fairness for International Students, and OHIP for International Students.

SCSU

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) currently does not have a specific levy or caucus dedicated to international students; however, it has positions aimed toward serving the needs of domestic and international students alike on campus, such as Vice-President Campus Life and Vice-President Equity.

SCSU also provides specific services in partnership with the CFS for international students including the International Student Identity Card, which provides students with exclusive discounts such as airfare and entertainment.

Innis College

The Innis College student body provides a number of resources and services made available to international students. The Innis Residence Council has six positions for Junior International House Representatives who work alongside Senior House Representatives to coordinate events and foster a sense of involvement. An International Transition Advisor is also available on campus.

New College

New College houses the International Foundation Program, which provides conditional acceptance to international students whose English proficiency scores do not meet direct entrance requirements. The program guarantees admission to the Faculty of Arts & Science or the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering upon completion.

Madison Hönig, New College Student Council President, told The Varsity, “At New College, international students make up an important part of our student population. We are lucky to house the International Foundation Program (IFP) at New College. As such, we do have an International Foundation Program Representative to advocate for these students.”

“Additionally, we work closely with the New College Residence Council and the main governance structures within the College to ensure that international students are being advocated for and included in our programming, academic initiatives and support at New College,” continued Hönig. “We are working to see that international student representation and advocacy is considered within the portfolios of all of our members.”

University College

University College’s International Student Advisor aims to provide academic and personal resources to International students through their sUCcess Centre. Appointments can be made to meet with an advisor.

Victoria College

Victoria College International Students Association (VISA) is a levy funded by the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council that aims to support the needs and interests of international students at Victoria College.

VISA is used to host social, academic, and professional events throughout the year and also funds a mentorship program for incoming students.

“Our program offered help to students from all backgrounds, in which the mentor would be providing both academic and moral support to the students transitioning into the new university environment, through a two-hour session every two weeks,” reads a statement from the mentorship program’s website.

Woodsworth College

The International Students Director under the Woodsworth College Student Association (WCSA) is the representative for international students at Woodsworth College. The International Students Director also coordinates events hosted by the association catered to international students.

“With this role, I hope to connect with not only incoming international students but also upper year students to bridge the gap between them. I look forward to continuing with some of the events introduced by last year’s director as well as introducing a few new ones,” reads a statement on its website from from Leslie Mutoni, WCSA’s International Students Director.

During the 2017–2018 academic year, the university welcomed over 19,187 international students from across 163 countries and regions, mainly from China, India, the United States, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

The Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students and student societies at St. Michael’s College and Trinity College did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Governing Council approves Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations

Opponents of the policy stage sit-in outside Council Chambers

Governing Council approves Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations

Governing Council has voted to approve the Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations.

Executives from the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) came to the June 23 Governing Council meeting, imploring governors to vote down the policy.

Conversely, student leaders representing the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Engineering Society, the University College Literary & Athletic Society, the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council, and the New College Student Council also attended to show their support for the policy.

After the vote, the detractors of the policy held a sit-in outside the Governing Council chambers; loud chanting could be heard from within the chamber as Governing Council proceeded to the next items on the agenda.

The new policy would create the University Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS) made up of one student from a representative student society, three students from other student societies, and one chair with experience in conflict resolution to hear grievances against student societies. Additionally, the policy provides definitions to what it means for student societies to act in a matter that is “open, accessible, and democratic.”

Under current policies, the provost has the unilateral authority to withhold fees from a student society acting undemocratically. With the new policy, the CRCSS can discuss resolutions before recommending the withholding of fees.

This policy was the results of negotiations between the university and students’ societies that occurred during the Student Societies Summit from 2013 to 2014.

Opponents of the policy argued that the policy violates student union autonomy and students already have the opportunity to challenge their unions through courts.

“The introduction with the appeals board provides the provost with a false sense of legitimacy,” argued UTGSU academics and funding commissioner Brieanne Berry-Crossfield.

According to the policy, it “does not provide any additional power to the Provost.” Supporters of the policy have also ridiculed the idea of students pursing litigation against student unions over grievances and praised the policy for encouraging student societies to act transparently.

“Student societies willing to conduct themselves in an open, accessible, and democratic manner have nothing to fear,” said UTSU vice-president internal & services Mathias Memmel.

Disclosure: The Varsity is a levy-collecting student society and would be affected by the Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations

This story is developing, more to follow.

U of T, Toronto stand with Orlando

Hundreds gather to commemorate Pulse nightclub shooting victims

U of T, Toronto stand with Orlando

Pride Month celebrations were interrupted in the wake of the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida at the Pulse nightclub. A gunman opened fire on the crowd; 49 people were killed and 53 were injured.

Several commemorative ceremonies took place in Toronto, including three at the University of Toronto. U of T’s Sexual & Gender Diversity Office organized a commemoration at Hart House Circle, while the Equity and Diversity Office hosted a memorial at UTSC’s The Meeting Place.

LGBTOUT and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS) held a vigil at King’s College Circle, where Julian Oliveira, member of LGBTOUT and organizer for the vigil, expressed his feelings about the tragedy: “The club was populated by queer and trans and Latinx performers and community members who stand with the queer and racialized communities in Orlando. We are suffering this loss together.”

Oliveira continued, “The answer to queerphobia is not Islamaphobia. We should not allow people to skew our knowledge of the facts, of what is right, and we must not let ourselves be tricked. We must stand together with other oppressed communities, for we are all fighting for equality, we are all fighting for love.”

The names of each of the victims were read out loud and the microphone was offered to anyone who wished to address the crowd. Several people expressed grief and praised the community’s support. A canvas was laid out and the audience was encouraged to leave messages.

A Toronto-wide vigil was held at Barbara Hall Park the night after the shooting. Several local leaders and politicians were present to address the hundreds of attendees.

“This doesn’t represent the sentiment or the actions of any faith,” Mayor of Toronto John Tory told The Varsity. “It doesn’t represent anybody except very deranged, clearly deranged persons and we’ll learn more about it in the days to come. But here, look around us tonight and there are people that can tell you how Toronto deals with these things, which is to stand in solidarity with each other.”

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam also addressed the crowd.

“Our social miracle as we know it in Toronto, in Ontario, in Canada can never be taken for granted,” Wong-Tam said. “And we have to let the people of the Americas know that we stand with them and that violence cannot be tolerated. And we will only ever respond to that type of violence with more love.”

Representatives from the LGBTQ community stressed the importance of community, while all shared a similar message of tolerance and understanding.

El-Farouk Khaki, community leader and Muslim-Queer activist, reminded the crowd of the involvement that the Queer-Muslim community has in Toronto.

“I come speaking for the Toronto Unity Mosque, for Universalists Muslims, and for the Salaam Queer-Muslim community: we don’t stand with you, we are you,” said Khaki. “So I stand with you as your brother, as your sibling in humanity, and I am given hope by the joy and by the unity. Unity is not sameness, but it is the celebration of our differences and our diversity.”

Toronto’s Pride celebrations are expected to continue as planned in the following weeks. “We still have to be vigilant,” said Tory. “We got to make it better, make sure it’s safe this coming month, which it will be.”

 

Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations met with opposition

UTSU exec in support, UTMSU threatens to seek “legal remedy” against university if policy is implemented

Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations met with opposition

The university’s proposal for a structured grievances system for levy-collecting student societies has been met with considerable opposition from several large societies.

Details of the proposed Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations were made public to Governing Council’s University Affairs Board on May 25. The policy is pending approval by Governing Council on June 23.

The policy defines the university’s expectations for student societies to operate in an “open, accessible, and democratic” manner and creates the University Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS or SSCRC), which would hear complaints against student societies that violate this standard or their constitution. 

The CRCSS would be made up of four student members appointed on a case-by-case basis and one chair with experience in conflict resolution appointed to a two-year term. One of the four student members would be drawn from one of the representative student societies, which are comprised up the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the Association of Part-Time students (APUS), the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU). The remaining three members would be appointees from other student societies. According to the policy, “The Chair will consider the type of complaint; and the size, location, constituency and type of organization when selecting the members.”

Currently, complaints against a student society are dealt with by the provost, who has the authority to withhold fees if they believe the student society is not acting appropriately.  This has happened to the Arts and Science Students’ Union back in 2008. According to the proposed policy, if complaints cannot be addressed within the society, the CRCSS would be a forum to discuss complaints but can recommend the withholding of fees to the Provost, who would still have the sole authority to do so.

Opposition to the policy

The policy has been criticized by leaders of several large student societies. Jessica Kirk, president of the SCSU called the policy “a direct attack on the agency of student societies, equity service groups, and student organizations.” She continued, “In the case of student unions particularly, created by and for students, it makes little sense for them to be overseen by the University administration, especially seeing as we have an obligation to be accountable to our members first and foremost.”

UTGSU academics and funding commissioner Brieanne Berry-Crossfield expressed similar concerns, saying, “we feel that this makes all UofT affiliated clubs, groups and societies vulnerable in a way that does not serve their membership or recognize our bylaws.”

APUS president Mala Kashyap also cited a desire to remain independent from the university administration: “As students, we can manage our own organizations and resolve conflicts that may arise.” 

In addition, University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) president Nour Alideeb sent a letter on May 26 to Andrew Szende, the chair of the University Affairs Board. In the letter, Alideeb alleges that the new policy infringes on the UTMSU’s legal autonomy and its exclusive commitment to its members.

“If the University adopts the new policy, which inevitably becomes a tool to attempt to coerce, intimidate or force UTMSU to adopt or abide by the policy, the University will be acting in bad faith and forcing the students’ union to make decisions in contradiction to the mandate of its members,” reads a portion of the letter, “This is a breach of the important and crucial role of the student union being autonomous from the University Administration, so that it could fulfill its role as a watchdog on behalf of its members.”

[pullquote-features]“… the University will be acting in bad faith and forcing the students’ union to make decisions in contradiction to the mandate of its members”[/pullquote-features]

The letter also states that the UTMSU will seek “a legal remedy” if the policy takes effect.

U of T media relations director Althea Blackburn-Evans stressed that the policy does not give additional powers to the Provost and is actually gives more responsibility to students.

“The university sees this as a very positive move for the students and student societies. It’s putting more power into the hand of the students,” said Blackburn-Evans. “The possible concern that something is being taken away from students, I’m not sure where that’s coming from because it actually gives more power to the students than what has historically been the case.”

However, Alideeb disagrees.

“While some may suggest that the new policy does not expand the Provost’s existing powers, I think it does by lending support to the idea that the Administration should approve of every student campaign or initiative,” Alideeb told The Varsity. “This obviously undermines our ability to advocate for students independently on issues, such as tuition fees or fossil fuel divestment where our position differs from that of the Administration.”

[pullquote-default]“The possible concern that something is being taken away from students, I’m not sure where that’s coming from because it actually gives more power to the students than what has historically been the case.”[/pullquote-default]

Representatives from the UTMSU, the SCSU, the APUS, and the GSU also appeared in a video released by the UTMSU, encouraging members to speak out against the policy at the June 23 Governing Council meeting. UTMSU vice president campus life Tyrell Subban also sent an email to UTMSU clubs executives, urging them to attend the meeting and express opposition to the policy.

Conversely, the UTSU executive committee released a statement endorsing the proposed policy, noting that the Provost would not gain additional powers.

“We are not, by endorsing the SSCRC, capitulating to the administration — simply put, the SSCRC will help our members hold us accountable. We hope that our fellow student societies come to the same conclusion,” reads a portion of the statement.

UTSU vice-president internal & services Mathias Memmel told The Varsity that the statement was released urgently in response to Alideeb’s letter: “The UTMSU had made its position clear, and we needed to act immediately.”

Prior consultations

According to Alideeb’s letter, the UTMSU was “not consulted during the development of the policy.”

“It is unfortunate that the University Administration has proposed to move forward with a policy without consulting all the relevant stakeholders that will be impacted by the new policy, and will undermine the watchdog role of student unions, who act in the best interests of their members and not necessarily the University Administration, when it pertains to policy matters.”

The policy was the result of talks between the University and student societies during the Student Societies Summit that took place between 2013 and 2014. The establishment of a university-wide appeals board was one of among the recommendations outlined in the Student Societies Summit report. The UTMSU withdrew before the conclusion of the summit, arguing that the summit was undemocratic and “privileges some student groups over others.”

In February and March of this year, the university released the first draft of the policy and invited students to send feedback. In the first draft of the policy, the SSCRC would have made up of four elected student members and two members appointed by the provost.

Blackburn-Evans said that the university consulted widely while developing the policy.

“Many changes were made in response to student comments so there has been quite a bit of back and forth and redrafting based on student feedback and UTMSU, as with all the societies, they had ample opportunities to provide feedback,” she explained.

Disclosure: The Varsity is a levy-collecting student society and would be affected by the Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations