The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) came together on January 23 to discuss student rights and activism.
The meeting began with a question from Atif Abdullah, president of the UTMSU, directed towards the participants, asking them why they were at the meeting.
One student expressed his thoughts with the statement, “we don’t like Doug Ford,” while another participant stated that they were at the meeting because “a lot of students are suffering with OSAP cuts and tuition fees, and we want to try and make a change to that.”
After a brief discussion amongst the participants, Abdullah explained the premise behind the coalition meeting in his speech, as well as the problems facing current and future Ontario students.
“We’re here today because we saw a lot of cuts happened a year ago,” said Abdullah. “I know we’ve had this conversation multiple times in our campuses, and it’s not the first time you’re hearing about these cuts, but the reality is that the impact still exists even a year later.”
“Even more so now because students are getting their funding and realizing how much of an impact that has made on their finances and their ability to continue their education without having the overburdening reality of having to pay your tuition when you cannot afford it,” said Abdullah.
The meeting continued with a presentation by Kayla Weller, national executive representative for the CFS-O.
“In 1981, students across this country saw a need for a national student movement to help organize and unite and mobilize students across this country [to] fight for a free education system that is public,” said Weller.
“Over the past 40 years, we have grown so much. We represent over 550,000 students across the country.”
“Ontario university students actually pay the highest tuition in all the country,” continued Weller. “Whether that is domestic students paying on average $8,000 or international students studying in Ontario paying on average $38,000. So, we know that the education system is highly expensive and inaccessible for people.”
Weller concluded her presentation with a personal and motivational message, highlighting the importance of student action.
“There’s people in the past who fought for the rights that I have now, and that means that I want to continue to fight for the rights for future students, but also for students who are currently studying in school and are struggling with high tuition fees among the multitude of different issues that students have to face,” said Weller.
“When it comes to building a movement, you always have to start small and start where people are at and then grow it and get bigger,” continued Weller. “And a part of that conversation starts tonight with your coalition meeting here.”
The second half of the coalition meeting was dedicated to brainstorming sessions where participants grouped to discuss the different components of student activism including workshops, teach-ins, action, and an international student approach.
After the brainstorming sessions concluded, group representatives presented the ideas that were discussed in their respective groups and reported it back to all the participants. The meeting wrapped up with a call to increase participation in coalition meetings and to bring more people to the next session.