Facts first, suspicions second

Re: “UTSU votes against seeking second legal opinion on Hudson lawsuit”

Facts first, suspicions second

The UTSU has decided against seeking a second legal opinion on the lawsuit involving former executive Sandy Hudson. The vote was prompted by the Black Liberation Collective (BLC), who demanded that the UTSU seek legal advice on the proceedings from a lawyer who identifies as Black.

Outcries against alleged racism toward Hudson have sparked much debate over her case. Some, like the BLC, perceive the lawsuit to be race-motivated, and by extension, anti-Black. Contrary to this perception, however, the UTSU made the right decision in light of the facts.

There have been many allegations of racism against Hudson, but there is no actual evidence to support them. No proof of discrimination against Hudson has been brought forward — neither within the lawsuit itself nor in general on the part of the UTSU.

Lacking this proof, there is no basis for seeking another legal opinion. Putting funding toward rectifying unsubstantiated allegations is not an effective use of student resources, especially given the extremely high costs associated with legal help. Additionally, involving a second lawyer only brings unneeded complication to the lawsuit. Although some might argue that hiring a Black lawyer would counteract the UTSU’s alleged racial bias, if that bias has not been shown to exist, there is nothing to counteract.

This already complicated lawsuit will not benefit from additional layers of analysis based on unfounded suspicion. The focus should be on the facts of the case itself; only then can matters be effectively resolved.

Andrea Tambunan is a first-year student at University College studying Life Sciences.

Last year was a pressure cooker — this one doesn’t have to be

A bit of distance from campus controversies might provide us with the perspective needed to work towards solutions

Last year was a pressure cooker — this one doesn’t have to be

The Varsity had its work cut out for it in 2016–2017. Allegations of financial mismanagement at the St. Michael’s College Student Union, ongoing conflict between the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the Black Liberation Collective regarding the former’s lawsuit against Sandra Hudson, and debates about “political correctness” and “free speech”  provided ample breeding ground for tension and hostility.

Though it is important to see these conflicts to their conclusions, there is a case to be made for at least attempting to avoid repeating the firestorm of drama that occupied the campus last year.

For starters, being a student can already be a highly stressful experience. The pressures associated with maintaining good grades, sorting out housing crises, and coping with towering financial burdens mean that many people on campus are already in precarious mental health situations. Constantly having to weave through a thicket of campus tension can hardly improve matters in that regard, especially at a university where mental health supports remain lacklustre by many accounts. Verbal and digital sparring can also escalate to the point where students start to internalize negative comments.

We should also keep in mind that many campus conflicts are small manifestations of larger, more complex debates, many of which have been ongoing for decades. Though things may have come to a head this past year with the Jordan Peterson controversy and the formation of Students in Support of Free Speech, the constitutional principle of freedom of expression has a robust political and legal history, both on and off university campuses. In the latter part of the twentieth century, The Varsity covered a variety of controversies surrounding freedom of speech: in 1980, students fiercely debated The Toike Oike’s right to publish satire deemed offensive to women; in 1993, controversy erupted on campus following the presence of white supremacist groups on a U of T radio show.

The UTSU, in turn, has a long and exceedingly thorny relationship with many of its constituents; debates about inclusivity and transparency, as well as its ongoing ties to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), are not new additions to the roster.

This continuity should give you a sense of the often drawn-out and painstaking nature of campus conflict resolution, as well as how easy stalemates become when all sides are steadfast in their beliefs. When concrete solutions are virtually impossible to obtain within the span of a single academic year, are we willing to put our education and well-being on the line in pursuit of the answers?

It’s not that these issues don’t matter ­— ­­certainly, the level of passion that emerges during campus debates demonstrates how strongly people have been affected them. But they also don’t necessarily have to be defining moments of your time at the university. If you’d rather troll the library than the deepest, darkest corners of the U of T subreddit, there are things you can do to maintain distance from messes that might not be worth your time.

To first-years, it might prove valuable to exercise caution or pick and choose your battles when choosing to get invested in campus controversies, especially given that you’re treading on new territory. Meanwhile, upper-years might benefit from a bit of reflection over the events of past years and considering how much of it they are willing to carry through to the new academic year. While these controversies can go on for decades, most of us are only at the university for a few years — the trick to putting things in perspective might simply be to consider how comparatively little time there is before graduation.

Admittedly, it would be unwise to encourage inaction or apathy on the part of the student body, but self-reflection and conflict resolution are not mutually exclusive. And in light of how quickly tensions flared last year, often to no discernable compromise, perhaps our best hope for coming to solutions is to step back and clear our heads.

We at The Varsity know, perhaps better than anyone, that solutions to campus conflicts hardly come that easy. This year will be no exception: the UTSU continues to face allegations of anti-Black racism, “free speech” remains a hot-button issue in campus discussions, and talk  of CFS decertification are more salient than ever. But so long as campus remains under siege, here’s hoping this year’s battles are milder than the last.

The UTSU should listen, know when to stand its ground

Resolving recent board meeting disputes requires communication and principled decision making

The UTSU should listen, know when to stand its ground

On April 29, 2017, members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) 2017-2018 Board of Directors were welcomed into their new roles with protest. At the board’s transition meeting, members of the Black Liberation Collective (BLC), alongside supporters of CUPE 1281 and the ‘Save our Services, Support our Staff’ campaign, protested the UTSU’s ongoing lawsuit against Sandra Hudson, former UTSU Executive Director and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO). 

The BLC claims that the UTSU’s continuation of the lawsuit against Hudson perpetuates anti-Black racism and that the ongoing legal proceedings have inflicted serious harm on Hudson’s public image.

In the midst of this conflict, the UTSU must take a balanced approach to dealing with the unrest it currently faces. Such a balance requires cooperating with and listening to disgruntled students while simultaneously taking a principled stance that protects students’ interests.

The magnitude of students’ dissatisfaction can be attributed to the UTSU’s past ineffectiveness at listening to and collaborating with dissenting voices. Board meetings have been held during times that were inviable for many students, while other meetings have prohibited livestreams, preventing students who could not attend from seeing the events that transpired. In November of 2016, the UTSU hosted a poorly-publicized Anti-Black Racism Town Hall, which Black students did not attend, drawing criticism from the BLC.

The BLC is not the only group to critique the union lately, either. Supporters of CUPE 1282 and the ‘Save our services, Support our staff’ campaign have also been highly critical of the UTSU over proposed cuts to services. These groups have substantial strength in numbers and the potential to influence newer members of the UTSU board.

As these groups gain strength, it is in the best interest of the UTSU to listen to them.

The UTSU must foster an ongoing dialogue between the union and its members, and any issues that arise should be addressed properly and in a timely manner.

Regarding what transpired at the transition meeting, it is encouraging that UTSU President Mathias Memmel — after voting to give speaking rights to everyone in the room — encouraged the board to listen to the protesters that were speaking. Although the protesters mocked him for this, it was a necessary step in trying to bridge the divide between the opposing groups. Suppressing dissenting speech only gives more ammunition to those trying to oppose you.

However, while the UTSU must listen to these groups, it must also stick to its principles and prioritize the best interests of students. Being open to dissenting views and taking strong stances are certainly not mutually exclusive, but it is still important to recognize that sometimes there is nothing you can do about disagreement.

It is difficult for the union to compromise with the #ImWithSandy campaign given that the campaigns primary goal is for the union to drop the lawsuit. What the UTSU should do instead is work to better define and communicate the reasoning behind the lawsuit, ensuring that it is transparent in its motive in order to gain further support and traction. Communication is key, and the actions taken by Memmel at the board meeting are only a first step. The UTSU must present the facts of the case to the student body and do so without engaging in the character assassination of Hudson — a method achievable by separating the good that Hudson has done within student life circles and BLMTO from the allegations of financial fraud that have been made against her.

Moreover, the UTSU can effectively foster dialogue with Black students by reaching out to other organizations and student groups on campus like the Black Students Association and the Black Ties Association.

Communication is just as important internally as externally; individual UTSU board members should not feel pressured into adopting certain political positions or stances, and should act and engage in conversation in a manner that is congruent with their roles as student representatives.

The problems that the UTSU will face in the coming year are not going to be easy to solve — but by keeping a line of communication open while sticking to its principles, the union can save itself from further unrest.


Haseeb Hassaan is an incoming fourth-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science. He is a former Associate Executive Vice-President of the UTSU, and a current Arts and Science Students’ Union executive. The views expressed here are his own.