Social Justice Education caucus breaks off from OISE Graduate Students’ Association

Dissociation the result of UTGSU investigation into constitutional violations of OISE GSA

Social Justice Education caucus breaks off from OISE Graduate Students’ Association

The Social Justice Education (SJE) Student Caucus has decided to break away from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Graduate Students’ Association (OISE GSA), following findings of constitutional violations. The SJE Student Caucus is now a course union under the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), which recognized the caucus on October 29.

The SJE course union represents students at the Department of SJE, which is part of OISE.

Dissociation of the association

The UTGSU Executive Committee confirmed to The Varsity that “The SJE Student Caucus reached out to inquire about all possibilities for their fellow members in early October.”

Nolan Fontaine, the SJE Student Caucus’ Internal Coordinator, explained in an interview that the dissociation followed an online referendum among SJE students. The referendum, which occurred that month, showed that a majority of voters wanted to form their own course union with the UTGSU, according to Fontaine.

When asked about the motivation behind the dissociation, Fontaine said that the conclusions of the UTGSU’s investigatory committee that examined the matter were “pretty glaring in terms of constitutional violations.”

The committee found 20 constitutional violations in the OISE GSA’s April elections. As a result, the UTGSU General Council voted to de-affiliate the OISE GSA from the UTGSU in a meeting on September 27.

According to the UTGSU’s documentation, “the OISE GSA executives individually submitted [their] resignations as of October 1st, 2019.”

What does this mean for Social Justice Education students?

In an email to The Varsity, the UTGSU Executive Committee wrote that the “SJE Caucus, like all other course unions, is eligible to receive funding [from the UTGSU] in the form of a head grant.” Head grants are funds distributed by the UTGSU to its recognized course unions and are paid by the annual fees collected from graduate students.

It continued, “[The SJE course union] will also be represented on the UTGSU General Council/Board-of-Directors; the SJE course union will have three seats (votes) on the board of directors as per UTGSU Bylaw.” Fontaine noted that an additional advantage for the SJE Caucus following this move was increased autonomy for its group. However, he said that he is not personally opposed to the OISE GSA.

“Course unions and departmental student associations are more of a community for a lot of students,” he remarked. “For us to just turn our backs, just on the actions of… a few [executives], doesn’t help the greater [student body] from a utilitarianist sense.”

“We really just want to move forward [with a] clean slate, and really see [to the needs of our] students and constituents.”

The Varsity has reached out to the OISE GSA for comment.

Alvin Singh remembered for his kindness, teaching excellence

UTM alum and OISE graduate student died from cancer in September

Alvin Singh remembered for his kindness, teaching excellence

Alvinder Pal Singh, better known as Alvin, was a graduate student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and a teaching assistant (TA) at UTM. He died on September 13 from cancer. He was 30 years old. 

Singh was diagnosed with cancer over the summer and was “left without an income for the foreseeable future,” according to a GoFundMe page set up by Cindy Short, the lab coordinator at the Department of Biology at UTM, to help support Singh while he underwent treatment.  

The fundraiser raised $33,700 from 719 people since it was posted on August 30. Following Singh’s death, Short posted an update on September 14, noting that the funds would be given to his surviving family.

In July, Singh was scheduled to attend a science education conference.

“He was late getting there because he was getting his cancer diagnosis at Sunnybrook Hospital that morning, and he still came to the conference,” Fiona Rawle, an associate professor in the Department of Biology, said to The Varsity. “He said that he didn’t want to let anything dictate what was important to him.”

Singh’s teaching career started in the summer of 2011. He was a TA for 15 courses in the Department of Biology, six in the Department of Mathematical & Computational Sciences, and one in the Department of Psychology. 

He taught a total of 93 sessions, which included tutorials and labs, from 2011–2019, and was also a guest lecturer in three courses at the Department of Biology.

Singh was a TA in Rawle’s courses for several years and worked as one of her research assistants. 

“He wanted to be in charge of what was important to him,” said Rawle. “And he put so much of himself into… what was important to him.”

Singh was awarded the June Scott Teaching Excellence Award for Teaching Assistants for 2013–2014. The award recognizes TAs for demonstrating enthusiasm for a subject, engaging with students, and encouraging them to learn the course material. 

“He wanted to make students feel at ease and he wanted to support them,” said Rawle. “He’s well known for long colour-coded emails and detailed instructions to students that are quite helpful, and also in midterms and exams, he would be the one to do all the announcements.”

The comments on Singh’s fundraiser also attest to Singh’s penchant for teaching. 

Alvin was a warm and supportive TA, and he made me feel like I could succeed. He will be missed so much,” wrote Heba Faroohki, a former student of Singh. 

Faroohki’s comment is just one of 113 from people who have left comments on the fundraiser’s page. 

“The fact that there have been hundreds of grieving students on campus really shows how many people [Singh] touched,” said Rawle. “You could see that in everything he did, in terms of teaching students — he wouldn’t just teach them the content of the course.”

“He was really concerned about how they were learning and what their experience was like, and how he can make it better for them.” 

Christoph Richter, a professor in the Department of Biology who worked with Singh, echoed this sentiment in an interview with The Varsity. Richter teaches introductory biology courses, including BIO153: Diversity of Organisms. 

That happened to be the first course that Singh taught in the summer of 2011. It would also be the last course he would teach, in the spring of 2019. 

“He was really concerned and worried and cared a lot about the students that he interacted with,” said Richter. “He would do office hours until late at night; he would just be totally committed to the… students.”

Singh’s love for education began at a young age.

Short recalled a speech at the memorial service given by Singh’s brother. “At his memorial service, [he]… talked about how Alvin, even at a young age, would teach [Alvin’s brother] and so he put together… different lessons,” said Short to The Varsity. “[Singh] would develop his own courses, and he would put together syllabi for his make-believe courses and he would make tests for his brother to do.” 

According to Rawle, Singh was also known for carrying around a notebook with him with a quote that read: “Wherever you are, be all there. Be present.” 

Rawle knew that Singh liked the quote because she observed that when Singh finished one notebook, he would cut out the quote and move it to the next one. 

“That, to me, is what Alvin was,” she said. “Alvin was present… he would always focus on you and give you his full attention.”

“Alvin really made [students] feel valued, and made them feel important. [He] made them feel like they could succeed.” 

General Game Night

General Game Night

Come on out to OISE for a night of board, card, miniature war, and role-playing games!
Event is open to everyone.
Friday October 4 6:30pm – 11pm
OISE 8201

UTSG: General Game Night

General Game Night
Come on out to OISE for a night of board, card, miniature war, and role-playing games!
Event is open to everyone.
Friday September 27 6:30pm – 11pm

UTSG: General Game Night

General Game Night
Come on out to OISE for a night of board, card, miniature war, and role-playing games!
Event is open to everyone.
Friday September 20 6:30pm – 11pm

UTSG: Autumn Social

University of Toronto Tabletop Gaming Club
Autumn Social
Come on out to OISE for a night of board, card, miniature war, role-playing games, and a prize raffle!

Event is open to everyone.

Friday September 13 6:30pm – 11pm
OISE 8th floor

UTSG: General Game Night

General Game Night
Come on out to OISE for a night of board, card, miniature war, and role-playing games!
Event is open to everyone.
Friday September 6 6:30pm – 11pm
OISE 8201, 8214, 8220, 8280

UTSG: General Game Night

Come on out to OISE for a night of board, card, miniature war, and role-playing games!
Event is open to everyone.
Friday July 26 6:30pm – 11pm
OISE rooms 2295 and 2296
Event organized by the University of Toronto Tabletop Gaming Club.