The current executive team of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students Union (UTMSU) was elected in March last year and has been active since May 1, 2019. The team had run as a full slate under Students United with no competitors other than two independent candidates.
Atif Abdullah, the president of the UTMSU spoke with The Medium regarding their performance so far and what they have accomplished in their first term.
“That’s something that we went through in December, doing a full review of where we stand, especially on our campaign points,” said Abdullah. “Have we completed them? Are we in progress? Have we started them? So, I think that’s always a tough conversation because there’s always places you can do better.”
The main focus of the UTMSU president during his campaign was fighting the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) and government cuts to OSAP funding. The UTMSU has been having conversations with other student groups like the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and the York Federation of Students since their election.
“It was obviously the focal point of our start of the year, figuring out how to deal with a new situation,” said Abdullah regarding their resistance to the SCI.
“We had some good news that came at the end of the first semester when the courts unanimously ruled that the government had overreached, and this was not a mandate of the ministry and the minister’s decision was wrong,” continued Abdullah. “And that’s why in the second semester, as of now, it is on hold. [But] we do not know what the future looks like.”
However, Abdullah went on to state that the fight against the government changes to OSAP funding is still ongoing and that they would continue to work with student groups.
“When it comes to the OSAP, that’s a little bit of a longer-term because it’s not an easy one to challenge but at the same time, it is probably the one that is most impactful for students,” said Abdullah.
“I think people didn’t realize the impact that it would have until they saw their first-semester funding, and their estimates, and realized how much in grants and loans they’re actually losing,” continued Abdullah.
One of the major objectives discussed by the current executives during their campaign was free access to post-secondary education.
“That’s one that doesn’t have a timeline. It doesn’t have an end date, but it is something that we will never forget and will constantly fight for,” stated Abdullah.
“We don’t want to let people forget that free education is a possibility. It’s something that we need to continue talking about in this country.”
The executive team’s campaign points also included pushing for changes in academic policies such as the implementation of a permanent self-assigned sick note policy and limits on the penalties surrounding late assignments.
The self-assigned sick notes policy was piloted this summer and is an ongoing initiative of the UTMSU, who hope to have it implemented permanently across all departments.
Although they don’t expect any significant changes to the academic policies in the current academic term, the UTMSU hopes to see the self-assigned sick notes policy implemented permanently in the 2020 summer semester.
The UTMSU has also been fighting to enforce limits on late assignments and finding a cap for the penalties that students can receive.
“We have started the conversation with a few departments. It is a touchy subject as every department is a little independent and has their own sort of idea of how late penalties should be subjected to students,” continued Abdullah.
“Some believe that they shouldn’t get one at all. So, it is a tough conversation because everyone is on different pages,” continued Abdullah. “But we have started conversations with departments and the Dean of Academics and the registrar to see what the policy could look like.”
The final major initiative that the UTMSU had emphasized during their campaign focused on issues of racism, homophobia, anti-Indigenous racism, and other forms of oppression.
“That is an everlasting campaign that should not even have an end goal because the second we stop talking about it or forget to talk about it is when we will notice these problems being more prevalent in existence,” said Abdullah.
“We’ve been working with the registrar and with different departments across the campus to make sure that their frontline staff have also gone through trainingto help identify certain issues, and how to not be a bystander.”
Abullah also discussed eXpression Against Oppression (XAO) which is a week-long event that focuses on key ideas that challenge oppression and increases public awareness surrounding equity.