U of T’s St. Michael’s College Student Union’s vice-president Kevin Vando agreed to resign from the union following an Islamophobic video that he shared online.
On December 2, Toronto-based poet Zeinab Aidid shared two snapchat videos of a party at St. Michael’s College on her Facebook page. Partygoers attending were shown openly mocking Muslims.
With a snapchat geo-filter reading, “SMCSU Presents” on both videos, one of them showed a person reading Islam for Dummies and the other showed someone dancing to “Islamophobic” remixes to songs, according to Aidid.
“The racism and Islamophobia at the University of Toronto is so real […],” wrote Aidid. “These videos were recorded and shared by St. Michael’s College Student Union Vice-President Kevin Vando. I’m not sure if I’m missing the punchline or if my brain isn’t wired to understand racist jokes, but this is messed up.”
Aidid criticized SMCSU for being built “on the backs of people of colour,” yet “[continuing] to marginalize its most vulnerable students.”
“The fact that a party like this can happen on campus under the name of U of T and St. Michael’s College is unacceptable,” she added.
Aidid’s post reached over 1,300 likes, and was shared approximately 800 times, sparking debate on the situation.
The Muslim Students’ Association at U of T released a statement on Facebook on December 4, condemning the videos.
“While the context for the videos is unclear, the MSA would like to condemn in the strongest terms the behaviour of the campus student leaders who were at this party,” wrote MSA.
MSA also highlighted the role of student-elect leaders to serve all students that are part of their constituency, including Muslims. According to their statement, what happened in the videos will result in many Muslim students feeling “uncomfortable and alienated” by the people who should instead be representing them.
MSA added that they have spoken with the SMCSU’s administration, to which the union assured them that the “matter will not be taken lightly.”
In a Facebook statement on December 4, shortly after MSA’s statement, SMCSU wrote that the video footage was taken at a private off-campus function.
According to SMCSU, Vando apologized and “expressed his regrets” for participating and recording the videos. The union also denied affiliation with the content of the video and expressed that they oppose what happened.
“We condemn in the strongest words the discriminatory content expressed in these videos,” read the statement. “Our Council does not support this kind of behaviour and we sincerely apologize for the hurt that this has caused everyone, especially those within the Muslim Community.”
SMCSU also addressed the filter present on both videos, clarifying that it was a “common moniker” used at many of their events, but the union denied having a Snapchat geo-filter and that their official handle was not the one used on the videos.
“This specific geo-filter was not created by a member of our council, and our identity was inappropriately used without our knowledge or consent,” the statement read.
SMCSU encouraged anyone who wants to discuss their concerns, to visit them in the office. It also stated that they are going to ensure that their union is properly equipped to “adequately respond to concerns”.
“Above all, we want to ensure our students feel safe and welcome on campus,” the statement added. “We encourage the students of St. Michael’s College and students of the broader U of T community to always practice tolerance, attentively listen to their peers, and work towards establishing a loving and inclusive learning environment on campus.”
A mandatory comprehensive equity training will also be enforced to all SMCSU’s council members, according to their Facebook statement.