UTM Principal signs on to UTMSU demands to speak against postsecondary changes

UTM students join province-wide walkout against Ford government

UTM Principal signs on to UTMSU demands to speak against postsecondary changes

During a campus walkout at UTM on March 20, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull agreed to a demand by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) for the university to take action against changes to postsecondary funding announced by the provincial government earlier this year.

Students marched from the Student Centre toward Deerfield Hall, clutching signs and chanting: “Who are we? We are the students.”

These students gathered at the Student Centre earlier that morning to participate in the province-wide walkout organized by the Canadian Federation of Students, of which the UTMSU is a member. The protest is part of a We the Students campaign against the Ford government’s changes to postsecondary funding, which includes cuts to the Ontario Students Assistance Program (OSAP) and an opt-out option on certain “non-essential” incidental fees, known as the Student Choice Initiative (SCI).

After a free brunch offered by the UTMSU, students were addressed by UTMSU President Felipe Nagata and sessional lecturer in political science Kristin Cavoukian. Cavoukian is also the Vice-Chair of Unit 3 of CUPE 3902, which represents U of T’s contract workers. 

Executive members of the Muslim Students’ Association also spoke to students, as did Middle Eastern Students’ Association President Reem El-Ajou.

All emphasized the importance of campus life in shaping students’ lives, and how the SCI could endanger it.

Students also chanted, “Students, united, will never be defeated” and “Education is under attack, what do we do? Unite! Fight back!” as they walked through the new North Building to the Instructional Centre atrium. They continued to the Communication, Culture, and Technology building before settling in the recently renovated Meeting Place of the William G. Davis building.

“All I want to say is that Ford don’t really care about us” reverberated through the area, before Nagata called for Krull to come to the Meeting Place to listen to the UTMSU’s demands.

“[Number one, sign a joint letter with the UTMSU] address[ing] the cuts to OSAP, grants, and the SCI,” said Nagata to Krull. 

Nagata also called on the UTM administration to speak to Governing Council to discuss how the SCI would affect UTM students and the UTMSU, and called on Krull to attend a town hall hosted by the UTMSU. The final demand called on Krull to sign a petition to be sent to the Ford government.

Krull signed the document containing these demands, to the chants of “Ulli.”

“Thank you, first, of all for taking the time to protest,” said Krull to the crowd. “This is important: if you don’t speak up, in what we have as a democratic society, your messages are not going to be heard.”

“Recognize that the entire university is, in a sense, impacted by what the government is doing, whether it’s OSAP, whether it is the Student Choice Initiative. These are things that are impacting all of us,” said Krull.

Krull explained that though he had “no problem” signing a joint letter with the UTMSU, he could not sign on behalf of U of T. He did however emphasize that the “entire university” would be impacted by the changes and signed the letter “on the basis of supporting you and the initiative to get this heard by the President and by Governing Council.”

On discussing the impacts of the SCI with Governing Council, Krull added that UTM “already had presentations here locally in governance.”

“If this is a general statement, that there is a concern about the Student Choice Initiative, OSAP, no problem at all,” said Krull about signing the UTMSU’s petition to the government. “If this is the type of language, the type of text, that usually is more expansive, that starts demanding, for example, free tuition, that is beyond what we are talking about here, so that’s a petition I could not sign.”

“We’re all in it together,” remarked Krull, “This is something we need to work on together.”

UTMSU election campaign starts today

Key issues could include space issues, health and dental plans

UTMSU election campaign starts today

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections are beginning today, a year after One UTM, an uncontested slate of executive candidates led by then Vice-President Campus Life Felipe Nagata, swept the positions.

Vice-President External Atif Abdullah is running for president and heading the Students United slate. Independents are also running for executive spots, however The Varsity was unable to verify any of them, except for Luke Victor Warren, who is running for Vice-President Internal.

The campaign will run until March 21 at 6:00 pm. Voting will take place in person from March 19–21.

Key issues

Several key issues will dominate the campaign, including the Ford government’s Student Choice Initiative (SCI). The SCI, which was announced by Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton on January 17, gives students the choice to opt out of certain, non-essential incidental fees.

The UTMSU has publicly criticized the announcement as a “travesty for accessible education, student organizing and autonomy,” adding that the union “will not stand for this and will continue to fight for you to ensure that this government’s unilateral decision-making does not go unchecked.”

Another key issue is the newly-ratified separation of the UTMSU from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The two groups have worked closely with each other since they entered into an Associate Membership Agreement in 2008, but discussions started roughly a year ago to formally split.

Representatives of both unions have endorsed the separation. At the UTMSU’s Annual General Meeting on November 29, Abdullah said that the UTMSU “understands the needs and the wants of the students at UTM better than a student union that is situated downtown.”

Tyler Biswurm, Vice-President Operations of the UTSU, read a statement from UTSU President Anne Boucher that echoed the sentiment. “It is in the best interests of UTM students to be fully represented by a students’ union that is on-site and is therefore in a better place to understand the needs of the students on the Mississauga campus,” read Biswurm.

A main concern of the ratification will be how the UTMSU will take over administration for a health and dental plan, which was previously under the UTSU’s purview.

Another key issue for UTM students involves the lack of space on campus, which was highlighted this year after the campus over-enrolled students, causing a strain on resources.

Recently, UTM Principal and U of T Vice-President Ulrich Krull suggested that the campus may continue over-enrolling international students to offset the potential loss of funding that will come from the provincial government’s plan to cut domestic tuition by 10 per cent.

Norman Finkelstein speaks on rights of Palestinians in Gaza Strip

Controversial scholar draws sold-out crowd at UTM

Norman Finkelstein speaks on rights of Palestinians in Gaza Strip

Controversial Israel-Palestine scholar Norman Finkelstein spoke at UTM on March 5 about the “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in the Gaza Strip. He spoke specifically on the question of whether Israeli soldiers have a right to self-defence when enforcing the “Gaza ghetto” — he argued that they do not under international law.

“I look forward to hearing from those of you in the room who disagree with me on minor or major points,” he began, squinting out into the packed room.

After completing his doctorate at Princeton University and authoring 12 books, Finkelstein is relatively well-known but has not taught in a North American university for over a decade due to the controversy around his scholarship.

His work focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict, centring his analysis from the Palestinian perspective. He is a polarizing figure — throughout his career, he has been accused of antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and being a self-hating Jew.

Both of Finkelstein’s parents were Holocaust survivors. He has alleged the existence of a ‘Holocaust industry’ that exists to exploit the legacy of the Holocaust for Israeli and financial interests. A frequent target of pro-Israel outlets and writers, Finkelstein has been pushed to the margins of academia.

Finkelstein has spoken extensively about the Gaza conflict, and he began his talk by saying, “In the spirit of solidarity with those who are in the midst of resisting, overwhelmingly non-violently, I think it is the most important thing to focus on.”

He then provided a brief overview of the nearly year-long protests held by Gazans near the blockade wall — the barrier separating the Gaza Strip from Israel proper — and the Israeli response.

Background on the resistance in Gaza

On March 30, 2018, tens of thousands of Gazans began to assemble along the barrier between Gaza and Israel. Organizers frequently reiterated the peaceful nature of their protest, though some demonstrators did take violent action, such as throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. In response, the Israeli army deployed tanks and snipers.

According to Amnesty International, various human rights groups and on-the-ground videos have clearly shown that these snipers “shot unarmed protesters, bystanders, journalists and medical staff approximately 150-400m from the fence, where they did not pose any threat.”

The central issue behind the protests is a demand for Gazans’ right of return. Of Gaza’s nearly two million residents, over 70 per cent are refugees or descended from refugees of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. Palestinians refer to this war as the ‘Nakba,’ or the catastrophe, and it displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six-Day War and withdrew from the area in 2005. Since 2007, Gaza has been largely governed by Hamas, which Public Safety Canada describes as “a radical Islamist-nationalist terrorist organization.” Much of the international community views Gaza as still being under de facto military occupation by Israel, but Israel denies this.

The unemployment rate in Gaza is the highest in the world. Despite not having any skyscrapers, it is one of the most densely-packed urban areas on Earth. The water is increasingly contaminated. Some predict that a cholera or typhus epidemic will soon break out. And the population of Gaza is overwhelmingly young — nearly half of all Gazans are under 18.

According to the United Nations, the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020 due to deteriorating living conditions.

Finkelstein on the Gaza conflict

While Israel and most mainstream media outlets call the barrier between Israel and Gaza a “border fence” or “border wall,” Finkelstein rejects this vocabulary.

In an interview with The Intercept last May, he argued that it simply isn’t accurate to call the barrier a border fence, as that presumes two sovereign states on either side. “Is it calling things by their proper names to say that the Palestinians in Gaza are trying to breach a border fence? No,” he said. “Palestinians in Gaza are trying to breach a concentration camp fence. They’re trying to breach a ghetto fence. They’re trying to breach a prison gate.”

Finkelstein’s talk hinged on one central question: “Do the Israeli guards of the Gaza ghetto, do they have a right to self-defence?”

He paused and looked out into the audience, almost as if expecting a response. Finkelstein looked down at his notes, then back up. Again, he asked: “Do the guards of the Gaza ghetto, do they have a right to self-defence?”

He argued that they do not. Finkelstein claimed that, according to international law, no state has the right to use force in a struggle against a group claiming self-determination. As such, Israel does not have the right to use force of any kind against Gazans on the border — even if protesters were to use violence en masse. In fact, Finkelstein told listeners, Gazans have the right to use force in their struggle for self-determination, but the overwhelming majority choose not to. 

To move forward, solidarity with protesting Gazans is key, said Finkelstein, especially as the March of Return protests approach their first anniversary.

Despite the decades of oppression and increasingly tenuous living conditions, Finkelstein still has hope for the people of Gaza.

Public discourse around Israel is changing, he said, albeit slowly. For one thing, North American Jewry — especially young Jews — feel increasingly distant from Israel. In addition, discussions of disproportionate Israeli influence on US policy are finally being had.

For all his cynicism, Finklestein retains a measure of faith in human responses. “The fact of the matter is,” he said, “if you live in a relatively democratic society, enough of the truth manages to make it into the mainstream, such that Israel’s record being so ugly, the cause has become indefensible.

U of T acknowledges criticism of late UTSG class cancellations at Governing Council meeting

Council approves FitzGerald Building Revitalization funding, Gertler says Boundless campaign could fund additional student aid

U of T acknowledges criticism of late UTSG class cancellations at Governing Council meeting

University officials addressed recent criticisms about U of T’s policies on closing campuses during inclement weather at a Governing Council meeting held on February 28 at UTM.

In response to a question from graduate student member Sandhya Mylabathula, U of T Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr acknowledged recent criticisms about the multiple late closures of UTSG in the last few weeks, saying that there will be new considerations taken when assessing whether or not to close the campus.

Regehr is involved in determining UTSG’s status under adverse weather conditions alongside other university administrators.

Regehr also emphasized that Robarts Library will always be open 24 hours, even during harsh weather, adding that students could stay overnight during snowstorms.

The university has also hired additional staff, said Regehr, with current staff already working overtime to keep streets and entrances clear.

Vice-Provost Academic Operations Scott Mabury, who oversees operations to clear snow, assured the council that 350 workers should have entrances cleared by 9:00 am.

Building projects, Gertler’s report

Governing Council also approved funding for the FitzGerald Building Revitalization project, which would revamp the building to make it more efficient. Construction would start in May 2019, with occupancy expected by October 2020, though demolition and hazardous waste removal is slated to happen this month.

According to the project report, it currently costs around $50 per gross square metre to operate the building, and post-renovations should cost around $10 per gross square metre.

President Meric Gertler, who presented a report at the beginning of the meeting, reaffirmed the university’s access guarantee — which states that financial standing should not affect a student’s ability to attend U of T — and noted that contributions to the Boundless campaign could also be used to firm up student aid, in light of the cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

The dangers of cultural messaging

Reviewing a UTM study on Toronto children’s accent preference

The dangers of cultural messaging

With a rich mosaic of languages and cultures in the city of Toronto, there is an expectation that children grow up unbiased to those who differ from themselves, most notably in their ability to make friends. However, as a recent study by researchers Elizabeth Johnson and Melissa Paquette-Smith in the Department of Psychology at UTM observed, children in Toronto “showed strong preferences for peers who spoke with the locally dominant accent, despite growing up in a linguistically diverse community.”

The study’s participants were asked, “Who would you rather be friends with?” and were given the choice between two children who were made “as indistinguishable from one another as possible; with their accent being the only major difference between them.” No further information was given on personality or background.

Biases play a pivotal role in the way we form social judgments. Studies such as this one have revealed that racial biases are more inherent in children early on in their development than previously thought, playing a fundamental role in their classroom and social settings. It suggests that it is impossible to erase social categorization and stereotypes from our social perceptions and interactions as they allow us to make sense of complex situations and relationships. It is problematic when our reliance on these categories allows generalizations to become ingrained prejudice.

Discussions of discrimination typically centre on appearance as a signifier of racial or cultural differences, often ignoring the effects of accents and speech on everyday lived experiences. In January 2018, The Atlantic published an article titled, “Why Do Cartoon Villains Speak in Foreign Accents?” Sociolinguist Calvin Gidney compared the differences in speech between Mufasa, who speaks with an American accent, and Scar, who speaks with a British one in The Lion King. Scar sounds “monstrous,” Gidney notes, in a way that could not sound as terrifying in another tone.

In children’s television shows such as Kim Possible and Phineas and Ferb, heroes also fight villains who carry foreign accents, such as Professor Dementor and Doofenshmirtz, who are continually ousted by the moral code and intellect of their apparently superior, ‘non-accented’ counterparts. Even without a particular focus on villainy, these foreign accents — which are really more of a convolution of various Eastern European ones — are shown as key features of those lacking the cunning to succeed, and more blatantly, of those with crass demure and goals.

Adult shows also carry these overused stereotypes, extending beyond villains and into the lovable immigrant goofs, who are stupid, lecherous, cheap, and highly one-dimensional. Think Fez from That ’70s Show, or Apu from The Simpsons. These formulations of character have created an ingrained set of affective responses to particular accents, none of which are positive.

This is not a new convention in cinema, television, or literature. Foreign accents are and have long been associated with particular character traits, most clearly demonstrated in children’s media. These depictions reinforce a particular kind of ‘cultural messaging’ among children that affects the ways in which they engage with the idea of diversity, as well as how they function within a diverse community. These depictions of accents are often poor approximations of pronunciation and culture, blurring the lines between various ethnicities, but marking a distinct line between what is considered to be like ‘us’ and like ‘them.’ The less one assimilates to the ideal imperialist model of language and behaviour, the more one is subject to an otherness that conveys a certain deeply repulsive barbarism.

Research has shown that TV is a foundational medium for the acquisition of information on different ethnic groups, as well as the development of one’s own ethnic and racial identity. In addition, it affects perceptions of intelligence and education, based on characteristics of language and competency. Children who consume this content are more at risk of embodying negative perceptions in their own mode of living as they age and as they interact with one another on the playground.

While children are often perceived as being unconnected to what happens on a larger scale socially, ideas are already being ingrained into their senses of self and other that will greatly influence them as they grow older. It is worrisome that despite their exposure to a multitude of peoples, children in Toronto carry biases that have been even more deeply ingrained in them through the cultural messaging of products consumed in a very media-obsessed generation.

While schools are unable to filter what children are exposed to outside of the classroom, particularly on the internet, it is essential for educators to engage in thoughtful ways with these conventional but convoluted generalizations of different identities. This will ensure that children reflect on what they think, and why, in order to mobilize a thoughtful and socially conscious generation.

While it is impossible to totally erase social categorization and stereotypes from our social perceptions and interactions, for the sake of social and moral order, we cannot allow these generalizations to evolve into ingrained prejudices.

Rehana Mushtaq is a third-year English and Religion student at University College.

With Ford’s postsecondary changes, UTM loses too

Student Choice Initiative and domestic tuition cut threaten to undermine student life, exploit international students

With Ford’s postsecondary changes, UTM loses too

Earlier this year, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government announced the controversial Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which will give students the option to opt out of incidental, “non-essential” fees. These may include fees that go toward student unions, clubs and societies, and campus newspapers. While the Ford government highlights the importance of providing students with choice, this policy puts many student services into jeopardy — including here at UTM.

Unfortunately, students may underestimate the importance of student unions, such as the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The UTMSU provides services and a single voice for UTM students in fighting for their interests independently from the university. The prospect of reduced fees means that the union may not be able to effectively function and advocate for change.

UTM students should remember that it is through UTMSU advocacy that they enjoy many important and popular services. For example, the U-Pass is a necessity for many students to affordably commute. Such a privilege does not come out of thin air — it is the outcome of a strong willingness from the UTMSU to fight for its students.

While the government has assured that existing transit passes will not be affected by the SCI, plans for improved passes in the future — such as a GTA-wide pass, which the UTMSU is looking into — will likely be out of reach.

The university administration does not always see student interests as a top priority, but the union exists to ensure that students are heard. The most recent example of this is the Course Retake Policy, which has given students the option of retaking a course and having only the second grade included in their GPA. According to the UTMSU, it had been pushing the policy for seven years. Clearly, getting the university to accommodate administrative changes is not an easy feat to accomplish.

The UTMSU has also been dedicated to tackling food issues on campus. Free Breakfast Wednesdays, which are intended to help fight food insecurity on campus,have been a regular occurrence for the past two years. Similarly, the Food Centre, which provides non-perishable items to students free of charge, is another important student-driven measure that is funded by a $0.50 levy. In 2015, The Medium reported that the centre’s usage had increased drastically from the previous year.

The UTMSU has also declared its struggle against rising food prices on campus. Since Chartwells has a monopoly over campus food, it is arduous to pursue price reductions. The UTMSU may be committed to this fight; however, it is of no avail if its own survival is in peril.

The UTMSU also supplies a huge amount of funding for clubs and student societies, which offer students the opportunity to meet like-minded people, form a sense of community and belonging, and engage in activities of interest. That is what I have gained from my involvement with the Sociology and Criminology Society. The SCI puts club funding in serious jeopardy. Limiting student clubs takes away many opportunities for campus experience outside the classroom.

The SCI also threatens the student media. Student media crucially hold the university and student governments accountable, keep students informed about campus issues, and provide a platform for free and diverse expression. Campus media also endow students with invaluable journalism experience. I have spoken to UTM alumni who have cited their experiences at The Medium as one of the highlights of their university careers. I’ve been involved with both The Medium and The Varsity, and I find my experience with campus journalism irreplaceable.

Another aspect of Ford’s announced postsecondary changes is the 10 per cent domestic tuition cut. Though it appears to benefit students, it will not come with increased university funding. This means that university revenues will take a hit. In response, UTM Principal Ulrich Krull has suggested over-enrolling international students next year as compensation. If implemented, UTM’s international student population will increase from 24 per cent to 25 per cent of the student body.

While this may not seem like a significant increase, there are several problems with this proposal. Krull has already said that the university has faced issues accommodating so many students. With the Davis and North buildings still under construction, there is limited classroom and study space. If UTM plans to increase the number of international students, it will have to increase its resources and space allocation as well — and there is no indication that they will do so. Admitting more students can decrease the quality of the student experience. Since UTM previously announced decreasing the number of incoming students, this sudden announcement seems to be misguided and abrupt.

Over-enrolling international students is also not fair to international students. It seems that the administration is willing to exploit the fact that international tuition is unregulated and use international students as moneymakers. International students already pay thrice the tuition fees of domestic students, yet they do not receive any special accommodations or specific resources to reflect this hefty amount. Instead, they are likely to face bigger obstacles in adjusting to a new environment with little support.

The Ford government’s approach to postsecondary funding is alarming. The SCI and tuition cut are ultimately against student life and affordability on campuses. UTM students must critically review and challenge these changes.

Sharmeen Abedi is a fourth-year Criminology, Sociology, and English student at UTM. She is The Varsity’s UTM Affairs Columnist.

UTM closing at 5:00 pm

Classes or events that start before 5:00 pm will end at 5:00 pm

UTM closing at 5:00 pm

Due to severe weather conditions, UTM will be closing at 5:00 pm today.

An email announcement was sent out to students shortly after 3:00 pm. All UTM classes, tutorials, labs, tests, meetings, and other on-campus activities are cancelled.

In addition, classes or events that start before 5:00 pm will end at 5:00 pm.

Shuttle buses between UTM and Sheridan College are also cancelled, as are all School of Continuing Studies classes.

This marks the fourth time the campus has been closed this year. UTSC and UTSG remain open.

UTM market showcases Black business owners, entrepreneurs

The Buy Black market, organized by student groups, wraps up February 28

UTM market showcases Black business owners, entrepreneurs

Black business owners and entrepreneurs are showcasing their work this month at the Buy Black market at UTM, a part of ongoing Black History Month celebrations run by student groups.

The Buy Black market is the only recurring event in Black History Month programming at UTM, running every Thursday except during reading week. The final Buy Black market will be on February 28.

The month-long celebrations aim to empower Black members of the UTM community. Events are co-hosted by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the UTM Black Students’ Collective, the Eastern African Student Association, the UTM African Student’s Association, and the Caribbean Connections UTM student group.

“The Buy Black market was an exceptional time to showcase black identified vendors. We wanted to create a space where business owners had the ability to share their passions and culture with the UTM community,” wrote UTMSU Vice-President Equity Leena Arbaji in an email to The Varsity.

Though the event is open to UTM student vendors, Arbaji said that the organizers “didn’t find any students this time around.” Instead, they contacted vendors via Black Owned Unity, an enterprise that connects “the Black community around the goal of economic development.”

The market is located in the Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT) Building. According to Arabji, this location was a strategic choice, writing that the organizers “purposely placed the market in a building with heavy traffic knowing 100’s of students each hour would interact with the vendors.” Due to its CCT Building location, food vendors are not permitted at the events. Instead, a variety of garment and cosmetics businesses are featured.

One of these business is Kallis Oils, a skincare company that primarily sells body oils. Its founder, Alazar Kafle, told The Varsity that his brand was “really well received. We had a lot of exposure, and people were really interested in our ingredients as well.” He later added that he is “super blessed to have had the chance to promote my initiative about responsible and organic skincare.”

Black History Month celebrations at UTM are wrapping up this week, with a Self-Care & Games Night event on February 25 and a closing ceremony on February 27.