As the end of the academic year approaches, The Medium spoke with Maëlis Barre, president of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), to revisit this year’s most memorable and impactful events. “One of the main achievements that we had is that we managed to complete every single campaign point that we set forth at the beginning of our term during last year’s election,” explained Barre. “We [also] worked on a lot of things that were not included in our campaign points, but just arose throughout the year.”
This year, the UTMSU successfully pushed for the U-Pass’ digitalization beginning this summer, alongside the elimination of replacement charges and equalization of semester fees. The Food Centre’s activity increased by 600 per cent, and the 2022-2023 academic year saw the return of a fully in-person orientation with over 1,300 attendees. The UTMSU also held its first lobby week, spearheaded campaigns to increase student voting power in provincial and municipal elections, opened the UTMSU’s first housing support clinic, and launched the Black Mentorship Program in collaboration with the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) Black Students Association.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought adverse effects to university life, with many first, second, and third-year students missing out on opportunities to socialize and build meaningful connections. “We tried to do as many fun events as possible, open to students of every year, to create the sense of community that was lost during Covid-19,” stated Barre.
To address students’ concerns over their university experience and the UTM administration, the UTMSU held its first lobby week. Students came together to draft lobby documents and met with the UTM administration to discuss initiatives to improve student life. As a result, the UTM administration has already made several changes and promised to follow up on various concerns.
Regarding follow-ups to lobby week, the UTM administration revealed that staffing issues remain a bottleneck to the opening hours of campus food options. The UTMSU will be exploring potential solutions and will continue calling for action. While the university has promised to increase financial aid and non-academic scholarships, the UTMSU will be working to ensure that the increase is substantial enough for students. The UTMSU will also follow up to confirm that the university has increased co-op, internship, and experiential learning opportunities as promised. Relating to academic matters, the UTMSU will be working with the university’s academic integrity unit to update the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters. The UTMSU has also yet to receive an update on the university’s actions to extend the credit/no credit deadline, and the next team will follow up on this.
With one month left in her term, Barre notes that transitioning the UTMSU to the incoming team is critical. “We don’t want UTM to take advantage of the student leader turnover to ignore issues,” contended Barre, explaining that her team will ensure that the incoming UTMSU team has all the information necessary to carry forward its campaigns and continue lobbying the UTM administration for action.
Implementation of the digital U-Pass will also be handled by the incoming team, as are subsequent renegotiations and contracting. “Campaigns are long-lasting efforts, we do not get victories overnight. We’re setting the foundation for a lot of different things, and [the incoming team] will have to carry that forward,” said Barre. The UTMSU’s campaigns may be altered to align more with the incoming team’s visions but will have good continuity with this year’s work and remain focused on improving students’ university experience.
Additionally, the UTMSU is currently planning the expansion of the Student Centre. Student outreach may take place over this summer, with a referendum held potentially in the 2023-2024 academic year. Should the referendum be passed, the construction of the expansion will take place over the coming years.
All in all, Barre feels proud of her team and what they collectively accomplished during the year. Prospectively, she hopes that the UTMSU will increase engagement with students through social media and improve how the organization addresses online discourse. “We had a lot of great in-person events and initiatives, and it’s a matter of making sure that students in the online world also know about them,” Barre emphasized.
Barre encouraged all students to stay involved with the UTMSU by attending the annual general meeting, commission meetings, or simply visiting the office in the Student Centre. “The Student Centre is the home of a lot of people, and I want it to stay that way. I want it to be open, and I want people to feel welcome there the way I felt welcome when I was in my first year,” concluded Barre. “There’s so much value in coming together as a community and working towards the same goals.”