Two slates are going head to head in this year’s UTSU elections to determine the executive team and board of directors for the 2016/17 year. Both slates and independent candidates responded to questions from campus media at an executive debate at the William Doo Auditorium at U of T last Wednesday.
The Medium, The Varsity, and The Newspaper moderated the event, asking questions to the candidates for each position. The floor was then opened to a Q&A from the audience. Questions from the media were screened in advance by UTSU.
Plans for UTM
In an email to The Medium, both slates addressed their plans for how they will represent UTM students.
“Our team will have a different approach to UTM than UTSU had this year,” said a statement from 1UofT, which is being led by presidential candidate Madina Siddiqui. The slate’s statement also explained plans to work with UTMSU to fight for free tuition; work on getting a universal student Presto card rate; look into a multifaith space in new buildings at UTM; and push for a 24-hour mental health service at UTM. “We will work to include UTM in all major decisions we take as a union. That includes working hand-in-hand with UTMSU”.
“The only UTM executive candidate, Farah Noori, is running on our slate because she believes that the UTSU can help UTM students and enrich their experience at U of T,” said Hello U of T in an email to The Medium. The slate also explained they are interested in advocating for UTM student rights and also assisting UTMSU if they need assistance in advocacy efforts.
Hello U of T’s presidential candidate, Jasmine Wong Denike, is currently UTSU’s VP external, while 1UofT’s presidential candidate is Madina Siddiqui, who is currently president of the Afghan Students’ Association and is the co-founder of the tri-campus snowball fight held for the past two years.
A question was raised by an audience member on transparent hiring processes in the UTSU to prevent favouritism. Denike said that in her position on the UTSU executive this year, she was not the only person considering the applicants and that there was another “impartial” person who looked at them as well.
Siddiqui, the presidential candidate for team 1UofT, said that she did not know that UTSU was hiring associates this year, commenting on the need to increase advertising for job openings. “I honestly would have applied,” she said.
“It’s important for us to talk about a better process, […] but talk to students to come to a fair process as to how students can be hired,” said Siddiqui.
Both candidates also responded to a question by The Medium regarding the challenges UTSU is facing.
Denike referred to UTSU’s reputation as “wonky”, saying that this year, UTSU has focused more on updating its policies and bylaws more than communicating with students, adding that this is something she wants to change for next year.
“In order to UTSU to function properly, we need to listen constantly to members and make sure they share with us their problems,” said Denike while Siddiqui expressed that “a lot of students feel disconnected” and it is important for executives to go out and listen to students.
In Denike’s plan to fight racism, Denike said that UTSU has not been doing the “best job” dealing with racism, but she plans on building a framework to fight for black rights. “It’s incredibly important for UTSU to be always there to provide the support.”
Siddiqui promised to listen to both students affected by racism and UTSU.
“It’s part of UTSU to do its part for the black community because black lives matter,” said Siddiqui.
Candidates from both slates addressed questions regarding their intentions about the support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel.
Malkeet Sandhu, VP equity candidate for team 1UofT, stated the necessity of supporting what Palestinians are going through while VP equity candidate Farah Noori from team Hello U of T, talked about the importance of mobilizing and creating awareness.
Regarding how both plan on engaging students who do not find equity a major concern, Sandhu said this can be done by trying to show students that issues do matter even though the issues may not directly affect them. She also said open conversation would play an important part.
When addressed by Noori, the importance of open conversation was also discussed.
“Equity is also about education, not just activism,” said Noori who added that she will be open to having conversations with students from all three campuses.
Also discussed is the issued of accessibility which Noori said she hopes to address by making the electoral process better in the way students feel “safer and more comfortable” including when participating in forums such as the candidates’ debate.
When addressed by Sandhu, the candidate explained accessibility as something which should be looked at as part of people’s lives, and that U of T’s administration must be held accountable when it comes to accessibility issues.
VP internal and services
When asked about their experience in policymaking and their goals if elected, Mathias Memmel from Hello U of T explained his experience stems from his two terms as co-president of the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association and the Faculty of Music director on UTSU’s board.
Memmel also explained that if elected, he aims to increase and provide more transparent policies not just for UTSU executives, but for UTSU’s directors, too.
Carina Zhang from 1UofT explained her priority would centre around having more jobs on campus with a minimum wage of $15 and her experience on the Arts and Science Council and being a Curriculum Committee Representative will assist her if elected to the position.
When asked what UTSU should do next to assist students in attaining affordable education, both candidates running for VP external offered differing ideas to address the issue.
“[U of T has] the highest tuition,” said 1UofT candidate Andre Fast who compared the cost of education to other countries who maintain lower tuition fees. “We should invest in education,” he said.
Lucinda Qu, Hello U of T’s VP external candidate, stressed that in addition to actively lobbying for affordable education, students should have access to basic necessities on campus including food.
VP university affairs
Hello U of T’s candidate Shawn Williams expressed interest in lobbying the provincial government for improved health care.
“The university doesn’t seem to have students’ trust it when it comes to mental health needs,” said Williams.
1UofT candidate Andy Edem expressed interest in analyzing U of T’s policies to see how they affect students and added that the credit/no credit policy is something worthy of being lobbied for. Edem also wants to makes students aware of the resources they have on campus and also work to have 24-hour mental health resources on campus.
VP campus life
All three VP campus life candidates addressed a question about music artists being brought to campus as part of the UTSU annual orientation week.
Shahin Imtiaz, Hello U of T’s candidate for campus life said that increasing the budget for the artist is not “feasible”.
“U of T is a big school and we should be able to have good events,” said Lera Nwineh, 1UofT’s candidate who said that if elected, he would make sure to have a better concert and better artists, by proposing to double the budget for the artist by increasing collaboration for other events.
Alessia Rodriguez, an independent candidate and current interim VP campus life, expressed dissatisfaction about U of T students’ school sprit.
“We don’t have a strong spirit,” said Rodriguez who added that she will work on improving frosh orientation and on bringing a better artist.
VP professional faculties
VP professional faculties is a new position being elected on the executive committee of UTSU. Candidates for VP professional faculties were questioned on the issues facing professional faculty students.
Charlotte Shen, 1UofT’s candidate explained that these issues include insufficient study spaces and an inadequate exam deferral process, adding that some students have to stay for another year in the event that something happens and they have to defer their exam. Shen also talked about holding private monthly meetings with the professional faculties and hosting more career fairs for them.
Ryan Gomes, Hello U of T’s candidate and the current UTSU VP internal, said that the high tuition fees that go up every year are among issues affecting professional faculty students. Gomes also explained that students in professional faculties do not have equal access to Arts and Science courses because they don’t easily fit into their schedules. Gomes also mentioned that they do not feel represented by UTSU.
Voting for the UTSU executive and board of directors will take place from Tuesday to Thursday at polling stations at both U of T and UTM. Voting online will also be available at www.utsu.simplyvoting.com.