This week, I had to make a decision that may on the surface seem unethical. It concerns The Medium and the UTMSU. It also concerns journalism ethics and affirmative action, although the people involved would probably hesitate it to call it that.
For those who haven’t read the article on page 2, here’s a rundown: our Assistant News Editor, Stefanie Marotta, decided to go to the Canadian Federation of Students semi-Annual General Meeting that will be held this coming weekend. She applied on her own, without telling us editors anything, determined to go as a UTM student and not as a journalist for The Medium. VP external of the UTMSU, Henry Ssali, who was aware of her position, supported her in her desire to become involved with the student union. Mr. Ssali registered Ms. Marotta with the CFS, only to have her application rejected on the grounds that: a) she works for us, and: b) it would be too expensive to send her.
These are the facts, confirmed by both UTMSU president Joey Santiago and by Mr. Ssali. Where the facts become blurry is on the exact reason why Ms. Marotta’s application would be more expensive. Members of the executive committee that rejected her application claimed that they didn’t want an inexperienced delegate (even though the union offers delegate training sessions prior to the annual general meeting). It is unclear, however, exactly how training or inexperience would increase the cost of sending a student to the CFS AGM. What is clear is that, as per CFS policy, it costs less for the UTMSU to send students who are “(…) students of colour, francophone students, students with disabilities, international students, mature or part-time students, and students who identify themselves as members of the LGBTQ community” than it costs them to send students who comply with none of these requisites—in Ms. Marotta’s case, a Caucasian, heterosexual, English-speaking student.
This raises, in my opinion, serious issues. And because of these serious issues, I dropped my former editorial topic (Google vs. the Chinese government) and gave the article the green light, well aware of what the critics would say: that we attack the union too often, that we are unashamedly defending one of our own over an issue whose significance escapes most of the UTM population, and that quoting one of our own staff is non-standard to say the least, perhaps even unethical.
Duly noted—and carefully considered. Believe it or not, our intention is not to bash UTMSU. Neither do we mean to automatically spring to one our assistant editors defence. The first reason we chose to cover this incident is because it doesn’t just affect us here at The Medium—it affects all UTM students who may wish to write for this newspaper. Would you still write for us if you knew it would hurt your chances of participating in UTMSU and CFS-organized activities?
More importantly, the whole debacle has exposed what I consider a glaring injustice, one that many UTM students are probably unaware of—that in this day and age, the colour of your skin determines what you get and what you don’t get to do, even among fellow students. The fact that this colour is white does nothing, in my view, to lessen this injustice.
Even scarier is the likelihood of someone being expected to proclaim their sexual orientation in order to increase their chances of acceptance in a student activity. Wasn’t this one of the goals that countless gays fought for—that their sexuality should not make a difference? That they need not discuss it?
I, for the record, qualify as a mature student—an immigrant one to boot. But I would never use my age or nationality to grant me a discount of any kind.
To be sure, I am convinced that these policies do not seek to diminish the odds of students like Ms. Marotta to participate in a student union-organized event. Rather, it aims to increase the likelihood of people with fewer opportunities to do the same thing, and to increase variety in such activities. But this policy, part of a controversial phenomenon known as affirmative action, has in the case of UTM failed, and I cannot help but wonder if it is at all needed in our campus, where students of all races, backgrounds and sexual orientations mingle and make friends and date. The tuition fees, after all, are the same for all, whether of French or English background, gay or heterosexual, black or white, and the fees that all students pay to the union are also identical (except international students, who on the other hand don’t pay taxes here). Should we start paying less based on whether we identify as part of minority group?
The last reason I wrote this article was to praise Mr. Ssali, who did his best to reverse UTMSUs decision and allow Ms. Marotta to go to the CFS semi-Annual General Meeting. It is as easy to cede to a groups pressure as it is to believe that all organizations are composed of like-minded people who act like robots. With his courage, integrity and willingness to act independently, Mr. Ssali proved us wrong on both accounts.
If only we had more leaders like that.