Following the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union elections at the end of the winter term in March, the team in charge of operating the union for the 2020-2021 academic year was voted in. The newly appointed members in their executive roles are President Mitra Yakubi, VP Equity Noha Farawi, VP External Lily Pan, VP Internal Fahad Dayala, and VP University Affairs Anushka Sokhi.
The Medium spoke with President Mitra Yakubi, as well as VP University Affairs Anushka Sokhi over email, regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on the UTMSU’s plans and the initiatives currently available to students in response to the physically distancing restrictions.
With campus closures, the UTMSU has been forced to move their events to a virtual platform, with Frosh, International Orientation, and SaugaFest all having taken place this past week in the new online format.
“Throughout the summer, we were fully online and have now manipulated this to a hybrid of online and in-person services for the fall semester,” said Sokhi. “We have ensured that our staff and volunteers are trained on proper codes of conduct and practices if they’re working in the office. We have also worked with our Health and Safety Committee to establish and maintain a safe environment in the UTM Student Centre for our members.”
Concerning the events that were on the initial planned budget for the year, “the last three events of the [previous academic] year: International Women’s Day, XAO, and the Campus Groups Gala were cancelled. [But] the allocated budget had already been spent on various costs associated with the events,” explained Yakubi.
One of the primary UTMSU campaigns is the Education for All initiative that promotes equal access to education for all students.
The Education for All campaign is divided into seven platforms:
- the immediate reduction of tuition fees for all students
- fairness for international students
- increased non-academic scholarships for all students
- increased awards and grants for indigenous and black students
- increased paid experiential learning and internship positions for all departments
- stand-alone mental health counsellors within all departments
- the improvement of accessibility services.
“With the Education for All campaign, we have been and will continue to lobby the University of Toronto administration on these seven demands,” continued Yakubi. “In addition, we plan on holding workshops and seminars about access to education as well as working towards creating more support systems and opportunities for our members.”
The union has also emphasized the importance of providing adequate training for frontline workers of mental health services and making the safeTALK training program accessible to more students.
With student mental health on the forefront during this time, Sokhi stated that “the UTMSU has [been working the last few months] in collaboration with Stella’s Place to create a Mental Health Peer Support Program where students are trained to provide online peer support, wellness, and recovery services.”
International students make up a large portion of the UTM student body and are additionally heavily affected by the pandemic. With uncertainty surrounding global travel and the premium paid on international tuition fees, these students are facing multiple difficulties.
“The university is interested in recruiting and retaining international students. However, services and supports do not replicate this,” stated Sokhi, who is an international student herself. “The university needs to represent and tend to all students. We demand fairness for international students.”
With all the uncertainty surrounding how the rest of the school year will play out, it is clear that the UTMSU, along with other student organizations, will be actively working to provide students with an encouraging educational environment.