The election campaigns for the new executive team of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) are imminent with March approaching. This also means that there are two months left until the current executive team steps down at the end of April.
Atif Abdullah, the current president of the UTMSU spoke with The Medium regarding the ongoing initiatives of the union and what the current team hopes to achieve before the end of their tenure.
Abdullah stated that the UTMSU will be focusing on transit and re-evaluating some conversations they’ve been having with neighboring cities, especially Brampton, now that the Student Choice Initiative was struck down.
“Last year we actually had a deal on the table with Brampton and Oakville, however, we were not able to even further negotiate or take it because of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), and how transit passes have been shut off in that,” said Abdullah.
As the SCI makes transit a mandatory student fees, UTMSU and transit organizations were hesitant to confirm on an agreement, especially when UTMSU and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) set out to fight the SCI.
The UTMSU president also stated that their renewed contract with MiWay, the municipal transport operator in Mississauga, included a decrease in the annual fee hike.
“We just successfully negotiated another contract with MiWay that actually did bring down the yearly increase […] in the transit pass,” continued Abdullah.
Academic policies will also be a priority for the UTMSU for the remainder of their term. Ever since they began their election campaign, the executive team has mentioned their goal to implement a permanent self-assigned sick note policy. The policy was piloted in the summer term, however the UTMSU hopes to have it permanently implemented by the upcoming summer.
“[Academic policies have] always been the backbone because [they’re] something that affect every single student. So, we’re keeping the pressure on self-assigned illness notes,” said Abdullah.
Another discussion that the UTMSU will be having with the university administration regarding academic policies is the use of subscription-based services like Top Hat, which results in additional costs for students.
“We’re continuing with Top Hat because we’ve been learning a lot about Top Hat and how U of T’s new agreement with Top Hat is working,” said Abdullah. “Because U of T does have a new agreement with Top Hat that didn’t exist before this year. However, it’s not a contract.”
“We have been in conversations about what it looks like in the long term and how we can incorporate it somewhere along the lines of UBC (University of British Columbia), where Top Hat is accessible for every single professor and classroom [while having] the cost absorbed by the university itself and not [be] a burden on the students,” continued Abdullah.
The UTMSU is also planning on organizing multiple events in the upcoming weeks including eXpression Against Oppression (XAO), which is an annual week-long event that focuses on the different types of oppression and how to fight them.
Environmental activism will be at the forefront of initiatives explored at these events, especially with sustainability week approaching.
“We have XAO which focuses more against oppression. Environmental racism is a big one that we’re focusing on this year. We’ll be helping co-host and collaborate with UTM and with the Masters of Sustainability Program for the sustainability week, and hopefully the last big blowout is the block party,” said Abdullah.
The Medium also asked Abdullah about the union’s plans for increasing student participation in the UTMSU elections and student politics. Abdullah stated that the UTMSU will begin advertising soon to increase awareness and organize informative events for students who don’t completely understand what the UTMSU and the executive team are.
“We’ll be hosting information sessions and we’ll be hosting a couple of them to accommodate for student timings and classes and we’ll be hosting a couple of sessions where there’ll be sort of an open information panel about what it looks like to be a UTMSU executive,” said Abdullah.
“So, people understand what kind of commitment they’re getting into or what things you have to give up in terms of academics,” continued Abdullah. “[As a UTMSU executive member], you can no longer be a full-time student. You’re bound by your policies to have a cap on the number of courses that you take.”
Abdullah stated that these information sessions will aim to help students understand both the fun and challenging aspects of being a UTMSU executive.
“So, understanding how to find that balance between the work, but also not getting stressed or overwhelmed.”