A roundup of 2019 college student association elections

Low voter turnout, uncontested positions mark elections period

A roundup of 2019 college student association elections

An average voter turnout of 8.7 per cent and uncontested positions across the board marked this year’s college student association elections — almost every candidate for president, or its equivalent, ran unopposed. The campaign period for the St. Michael’s College Student Union is still ongoing.

Woodsworth College Students Association

The Woodsworth College Students’ Association elections saw 305 votes cast for a voter turnout of around five per cent. Simran Sawhney won the presidential vote against Ali Aghaeinia and Shreyashi Saha. Sawhney previously served as the association’s Vice-President External and International Students Director.

The positions of Vice-President Social Affairs, Vice-President External Affairs, Vice-President Public Relations, Vice-President Athletic Affairs, Vice-President Financial Affairs, Mature Students’ Director, Associate Director of Social Affairs, Associate Director of Public Relations, Associate Director of Athletic Affairs, Off-Campus Students’ Director, Mental Health Director, Equity Director, and International Students’ Director all went uncontested.

Miloni Mehta and Andrea Chiapetta will be the Woodsworth Directors on the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors for the upcoming academic year.

Andrew Gallant won against Victoria Barclay as Vice-President Internal Affairs. Danté Benjamin-Jackson and Katie Bolissian will serve as the Upper-Year Students’ Directors.

Trinity College Meeting

Emily Chu will serve as the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) Chair for the 2019–2020 academic year having run uncontested and receiving 91 per cent of the vote, with the rest of students voting to reopen nominations.

Secretary and Deputy Chair of the TCM will be Sterling Mancuso, who gained 46 per cent and 34 per cent of the vote respectively.

Anjali Gandhi ran uncontested for Treasurer, receiving 90 per cent of preferred votes. The TCM Auditor will be Nicholas Adolphe, who received 107 votes, beating out Mary Ngo’s 88.

Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council

The Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) elections saw 436 votes cast for a voter turnout of 13.2 per cent.

Alexa Ballis went uncontested for President, gaining 370 votes, or 85 per cent, 37 no votes, and 29 spoiled ballots.

The position of Vice-President External Affairs also went uncontested, with Vibhuti Kacholia securing 393 votes. Katie Marsland won in a landslide victory for Vice-President Internal gaining 276 votes, or 63 per cent, over Aurore Dumesnil’s 132.

Cameron Davies won the position of Vice-President Student Organizations with 232 votes, or 53 per cent, over Sayeh Yousefi. Vivian Li was elected Arts and Culture Commissioner with 239 votes, or 55 per cent, over Ashleigh Middleton. 

Positions for Academic Commissioner, Commuter Commissioner, Equity Commissioner, and Sustainability Commissioner all went uncontested, but each candidate received over 80 per cent of votes.

Thomas Siddall will serve as the Victoria College Director on the UTSU.

New College Student Council

The New College Student Council (NCSC) election saw 241 votes cast, making the voter turnout 4.8 per cent.

Manuela Zapata ran uncontested for President, receiving 189 yes votes and 32 no votes. Reinald De Leon was also uncontested for Vice-President Administration, and was able to secure 212 votes at 88 per cent.

The two positions for Athletics Commissioner were won by Diana Subron with 205 votes and Jennifer Lin with 116 votes.

The only contested position was Social Commissioner, which had six candidates for four positions, making it one of the most contested elections among all the college associations. Nicole Ng, Hannah Turcotte, Sarim Irfan, and Fion Yung won the positions over Genevieve Gottschalk and Yi Chloe Guo. 

University College Literary and Athletic Society

The University College Literary and Athletic Society elections saw a voter turnout of 8.5 per cent with 384 votes cast.

Danielle Stella won the presidency with 315 votes, while Thomas Pender won the vice-presidency for next year with 326 votes. Both positions were uncontested. Many of the other positions were contested.

The vote for Spirit & Communications Commissioner was split between five candidates, with Joshua Bienstock inching out opponents with 30 per cent of ballots cast in his favour. Sustainability Commissioner was split between three candidates, with Sophia Fan coming out on top with 149 votes, or 39 per cent.

Maureen Huang just won the two-person race for University & Academic Affairs Commissioner against Varun Lodaya, securing 182 votes. There was also a fairly high number of spoiled ballots in this election, with an average of 41 spoiled ballots for each position.

Innis College Student Society

The Innis College Student Society election saw the second-highest voter turnout at 12 per cent, with 237 ballots cast.

The positions for President, Executive Vice President, Vice-President Internal, and Vice-President Finance all went uncontested to Nancy Zhao, Paul Kaita, Winston Chan, and Janielle Palmer, respectively.

Of the seven candidates for the two Social Director positions, Breanna Lima Martinez was elected with 91 votes, alongside Tony (Shengye) Niu with 84 votes.

Editor’s Note (April 4, 2:35 pm): This article has been updated with information on VUSAC’s VP Student Organizations and Arts and Culture Commissioner elections.

Editor’s Note (May 17, 4:54 pm): This article has been updated to correct that NCSC has two positions for Athletics Commissioner and four positions for Social Commissioner.

Renaming Ryerson is a starting point for reconciliation

Why students and administration should support VUSAC’s proposal

Renaming Ryerson is a starting point for reconciliation

On February 4, the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) released a proposal to rename the Ryerson Vic One course stream and Ryerson House residence building. The VUSAC proposal echoes Ryerson University’s Indigenous Students’ Association and the Ryerson Students’ Union’s petition to rename Ryerson University in 2017.

These facilities are all named after Egerton Ryerson, who is known for being a proponent of the education system in Canada. However, he also believed in separate, religious education for Indigenous children and became a key figure in the design and implementation of residential schools.

Residential schools subjected generations of Indigenous peoples to cultural genocide, abuse, and trauma at the hands of the Canadian government and churches. Given Ryerson’s complicity, students and the Victoria University administration should therefore support the renaming proposal in the context of Canada’s commitment to truth and reconciliation.

This question of whether historical figures who have contributed to violence against Indigenous peoples should still be honoured by the streets, buildings, and institutions that bear their names is a hotly contested one. The debate has gained more traction since the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

For instance, a motion to discuss changing the names of public schools and buildings named after John A. Macdonald passed at a meeting of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO). The motion cites the name as a contributing factor to an unsafe learning environment for children, as Macdonald contributed to the forced starvation and assimilation of Indigenous peoples, with the goal of “tak[ing] the Indian out of the child.”

Some argue that the push to rename buildings shows a lack of understanding for historical context, maintaining that important figures in Canadian history should not be held to today’s moral standards. But as Indigenous writer Chelsea Vowel points out, to view the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples through a historical lens is really to view it through “a whites-only 19th century perspective.” Indigenous peoples in both the past and the present morally opposed the actions of figures like Macdonald.

In a similar debate concerning renaming schools and parks named for Frank Oliver — a nineteenth century politician known for anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism — Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons argues that, if only perfect people are memorialized, “we soon won’t have anyone to remember at all.”

This concern is misplaced. The movement to remove Oliver, Macdonald, and Ryerson’s names isn’t related to whether they were perfect people in their lives, but rather how their words and actions continue to shape Canada today. The decision to remove a racist historical figure’s name from a building isn’t a process of completing a comprehensive evaluation of that person’s character, argues Regina Rini, an assistant professor of ethics at New York University. Rather, it is a process of asking whether the values that person represents are worth passing on to future generations.

Simons further voices the concern that renaming monuments and buildings is an attempt to erase a colonial past, rather than acknowledge it. However, while we should remember Ryerson’s part in laying the foundation for residential schools, there are still ways to acknowledge his role without having a building or course named after him. For example, organizations on campus like the U of T Indigenous Studies Students’ Union host events for Orange Shirt Day every year as a commitment to remembering the violence of residential schools.

It is paramount that we recognize that Canada was built on, and continues to perpetrate, anti-Indigenous violence. However, buildings are named for those we respect, admire, and hope to be inspired by — not simply people we wish to remember for good or for bad. Keeping Ryerson’s name on U of T buildings and courses not only ensures that he is remembered, but also that he is respected.

It is important that we stop honouring anti-Indigenous figures in this way. But it is only a first step — the easy work, as some historians have described. In response to the ETFO motion concerning schools named after Macdonald, Indigenous entrepreneur Robert Jago wrote in The Globe and Mail that “reconciliation is not about earnest and well-meaning non-natives beating the drum for the one and only Indigenous issue that’s made it through to their political consciousness.”

Students should support VUSAC’s proposal, but we should be wary of focusing solely on this issue. Reconciliation requires, and deserves, hard work as well. Non-Indigenous students, like me, should also support funding for more Indigenous spaces on campus, hiring more Indigenous professors, pushing for Indigenous teaching to be offered in more disciplines, and most importantly, listening to Indigenous students, staff, and faculty.

Renaming buildings does not absolve Canada’s collective guilt, nor should it be supported as a way to make us more comfortable with our history. Instead, we should reflect carefully on the historical figures who we choose to revere and on the impact of their legacies. We can’t erase history, and we shouldn’t attempt to, but we can hope for positive change in the present.

Amelia Eaton is a second-year Political Science and Ethics, Society and Law student at Woodsworth College. She is The Varsity’s Student Life Columnist.

Victoria students’ council attempting to rename Ryerson residence building, Vic One stream

Ryerson was proponent of residential school system, VUSAC says removal would be step toward reconciliation

Victoria students’ council attempting to rename Ryerson residence building, Vic One stream

The Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) has undertaken an initiative to rename the Ryerson House residence and the Ryerson Vic One stream, in an effort to move toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

These two Victoria College institutions bear the name of Egerton Ryerson, a figure notable for his many contributions to free and public education in Ontario. However, his advocacy for education didn’t end there — Ryerson was also a prominent supporter of the residential school system.

Regarded as a tool of cultural genocide against the Indigenous peoples of Canada, the residential school system remains a dark blot in this country’s history. These government-sponsored schools were used to separate Indigenous children from their families and communities in order to assimilate them into Western society.

These schools often set the stage for cruelty and exploitation, with many residential school survivors coming out today with stories of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

In an 1847 letter, Ryerson provided a key endorsement of the residential school system. This letter may have played a role in ultimately convincing Canada’s first prime minister, John A. MacDonald, to expand residential schools on a national level.

VUSAC sees continuing to honour Ryerson as a barrier to education for Indigenous students.

In a report that is set to be released to the public on February 4, VUSAC Vice-President External Affairs Devon Wilton and President Jayde Jones wrote that during their consultation process with Indigenous student groups, “each response reaffirmed [their] commitment to pursuing a name change — every single one was in favour.”

“We learned through this process that allowing the name to remain would be to continue the insult and harm caused by Ryerson to Indigenous peoples.”

In a statement to The Varsity, Wilton remarked that this issue of renaming the Ryerson house and Vic One stream “has been a topic of consideration and conversation at Victoria College for years,” and that so far VUSAC has been “fortunate to receive lots of positive feedback and excited reactions” for this proposed move.

However, the process of renaming, and in recent years, statue removal, often comes under fire for being too politically correct or an attempt to erase history.

In response to these sentiments, Wilton said that “the irreparable harms caused by residential schools can never be explained away by changing ‘moral standards.’ We know that what Ryerson did in support of the residential school system was wrong, and we know that honouring his name at Vic is wrong too.”

This report calls on the Victoria University Board of Regents and the Victoria University Senate to rename the Ryerson House and Ryerson Vic One stream by September 1.

The report also includes recommendations for an alternative name: Dr. Cindy Blackstock, a notable Indigenous rights activist. Currently, six out of the eight Vic One streams are named in honour of white men.

Ryerson University underwent its own campaign to remove Ryerson’s name in 2017. While these renaming efforts never came to pass, other Canadian institutions have been active in removing names associated with colonialism from their campuses.

In BC, the University of Victoria renamed Trutch Hall, one of its residence buildings, after a student campaign called out Joseph W. Trutch’s racist attitudes toward Indigenous peoples.

Similarly, McGill University’s student body voted to change the name of their varsity men’s team from the Redmen, a racist slur against Indigenous peoples, though this was non-binding.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also renamed Langevin Block to the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council in the spirit of reconciliation, as Hector-Louis Langevin was also a proponent of the residential school system.

In a statement to The Varsity, Liz Taylor, Communications Officer for Victoria, wrote, “Victoria University welcomes the report and thanks VUSAC for its thoughtful work on an important issue. The Board of Regents and Victoria’s academic and administrative leaders look forward to working together to examine the important questions raised in the report, in consultation with the Vic community.”

A motion to endorse this report outlining the renaming initiative passed through VUSAC unanimously at its February 1 meeting. A public letter of support will be published bearing the names of VUSAC members.

Wilton told The Varsity that there will also be an online petition for students to sign in support of this move.

Victoria College criticized by student council over “complete absence of sustainability”

Lack of environmental action in the president’s priorities, says VUSAC

Victoria College criticized by student council over “complete absence of sustainability”

The sustainability commission of Victoria College’s student council is criticizing the college’s administration for what they view as a lack of action on environmental sustainability. Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council’s (VUSAC) sustainability commission sent a letter on February 28 to Victoria College’s President, William Robins. “Not only is sustainability not a priority within the administration, but it would appear to barely even be given consideration,” reads the letter.

The letter was in response to Robins’ presidential priorities document, which was sent to VUSAC to ask for their feedback, according to VUSAC Sustainability Commissioner Jared Connoy.

The commission writes in the letter that there is a “complete absence of sustainability in [Robins’] presidential priorities document,” which they described as “incredibly disappointing.”

“As it is now within the administration, there’s not a single initiative or person that takes care of sustainability,” said Connoy. “Every single environmental initiative has fallen upon the shoulders of students, which in my opinion isn’t right and shouldn’t [have] been that way, especially considering that [Vic’s] student body is very environmentally conscious.”

In response to the criticism, Robins sent a letter to the Commission on March 16, stating that the presidential priorities document “intentionally focuses on the academic mission of Victoria University.”

“As the document acknowledges, there are many areas of our operations which this document does not directly address that nevertheless remain important priorities for the university,” wrote Robins. “Thus, while issues such as environmental sustainability… are not directly encompassed in the document, that does not mean that they are not priorities for Victoria University. I assure you that they are.”

In regards to VUSAC’s criticism that Victoria does not have anyone dedicated to the sustainability portfolio, Robins wrote that, “Importantly, the hiring of Mr. Vikas Mehta as Vic’s new Director of Physical Plant is a strategic decision to bring to Vic a professional with extensive experience working with students, faculty and staff on sustainability, zero carbon, and greening initiatives.”

Robins also cites a number of the college’s sustainability initiatives, including installing new technology to reduce energy and water use, as well as new drinking fountains “to assist in waste diversion, reducing plastic bottle waste.” The latter began as a joint initiative with student groups.

In an email statement to The Varsity, Connoy said that while Robins’ response does address some of his concerns, “sustainability is still not a responsibility of anyone in the administration. There is no mention of improving Vic’s sustainability being a part of [Mehta’s] job requirement.”

“Furthermore, all of the sustainability initiatives are of benefit to [Vic] (in terms of saving money on lost water, heat, electricity, etc.), and not particularly indicative of environmental concern,” wrote Connoy. He also added that there was no mention of composting at Victoria in Robins’ letter.

“Student-led initiatives are great, but given the structure of the college, it’s just not feasible to just have students running all of the environmental initiatives,” said Connoy. “I think it’s really important that sustainability becomes a responsibility of someone in the administration and not just perhaps a consideration of the administration.”

Robins responded to The Varsity’s request for comment by citing his letter to VUSAC’s Sustainability Commission.

Keeping your financial house in order

To prevent theft, fraud, and mismanagement, student leaders must enact changes to policy and institutional culture

Keeping your financial house in order

Over the past few years, stories of financial mismanagement within student societies at U of T have regularly appeared in the pages of The Varsity. For example, it is suspected that money was stolen from the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) office twice in two years, and money was recently believed to have been stolen from a locker rented by the Undergraduate Earth Sciences Association. Alongside these alleged thefts, there have been concerns over potential misspending and discrepancies in financial disclosures by the Cinema Studies Student Union, as well as ongoing concerns regarding the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU).

Student societies are not treating finances with sufficient professionalism. Much attention is often understandably focused on the most egregious allegations; stories about hidden bank accounts and lawsuits over $277,000 in alleged fraud are exciting, while petty theft of $500 is not. However, the repercussions of ignoring more minor issues of mismanagement are just as pressing as those stemming from higher-profile stories.

During our tenure on VUSAC in the 2016–2017 academic year, we investigated the theft of revenue from the Code Red semi-formal event, and we implemented financial management policies in response. We believe that theft and mismanagement can be countered through strong policies and professional culture, both of which are often lacking in student groups.

The recent suspected theft from the Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) from within the VUSAC office is similar to last year’s theft of ticket revenue from Code Red. VCDS is its own autonomous group at Vic, and thus it is not bound by VUSAC’s new policies. However, the repetitiveness and similarity of these occurrences, both at VUSAC and elsewhere, have led us to believe that there are root causes of financial malpractice across all student societies, with solutions that are equally applicable across campus.

After investigating the Code Red scandal, in which roughly $500 in ticket sales went missing, we concluded that there were two central problems with money management at VUSAC. First, the fact that money was stolen so easily from a cash box demonstrated fundamental flaws regarding how money was stored after events. Second, poor record-keeping resulted in our inability to identify exactly how much cash should have been on hand given the number of tickets sold.

To ensure money was handled more responsibly, we put together a policy document mandating that the member of council in charge of any given event be responsible for the storage and security of cash revenue generated, and we laid out a step-by-step process for how to secure cash generated through in-person sales. We also put together record-keeping guidelines for ticket sales in order to ensure accountability and accuracy if theft does occur.

The lessons we learned at VUSAC last year have broad applicability, even beyond issues of petty theft. In 2017, the University College Literary & Athletic Society (UCLit) was faced with a budget shortfall after unpaid expenses from their orientation week were discovered. UCLit dealt with the outstanding expenses via a contingency fund designed for precisely that kind of financial misstep. Better record-keeping may have prevented these expenses from being unpaid in the first place, and, at minimum, could have allowed for the people involved to recognize their mistake earlier.

The UC Orientation Co-Chairs took responsibility for their actions and should be commended for their accountability. Despite the numerous precautions that can prevent deliberate malfeasance, mistakes will inevitably occur, and it is thus important for those involved to be accountable and transparent when mistakes happen.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as prepared as UCLit appeared to be. From our time at VUSAC, we learned that even well-intentioned people can make mistakes. With so many moving parts of a large organization, it took a few weeks for us to find out about the theft and investigate. We also found that the budgeting process was inflexible to unexpected changes from individual components within the budget, resulting in little room to manoeuvre when reconciling the budget projections with the financial realities.

This is not, however, to suggest budgeting processes should be looser. Rather, constraints on the ability of students to reallocate money are essential, as they ensure financial transparency throughout the budgeting process. Student leaders at other societies should expect these limitations, and they should plan for the eventuality of financial complications.

Moving beyond policy, student societies faced with financial mismanagement also require a culture shift to actually achieve the operational changes we have highlighted. Ideally, a more engaged student population can hold its leaders accountable. The reality, however, is that students lead busy lives and often do not have the time to pore over budgets and policies. In absence of more extensive student involvement, it is incumbent on student leaders to create an institutional culture that promotes financial accountability and best practices.

Enforcement of student society policies remains weak, and student leaders face few — if any — repercussions for breaching them. But firmly establishing operating policies can have positive effects in terms of institutional culture and allow future generations of students to learn best practices and establish norms that carry over year to year.

Losing or misplacing student funds should always be taken seriously. If mismanagement escalates, the repercussions may range well beyond the financial. Student societies that continue to engage in financial malpractice may see a loss in their independence. One need only look as far as SMCSU to see the result of continued malfeasance: the requirement of co-signing authority of administration on all financial decisions over $500. If student societies hope to retain their independence, it is essential that they keep their financial houses in order.

Peter Huycke is a graduate student in the School of Public Policy and Governance. He graduated from Victoria College in 2017 and served as VUSAC’s interim Finance Chair from January 2017 to the end of the 2016–2017 academic year.

Stephen Warner is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science. He graduated from Victoria College in 2017 and served as Vice-President External of VUSAC during the 2016–2017 academic year.