The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union has been very active this past month with its campaigns Education for All and Academic Advocacy.
Following the Peel region’s lockdown on November 23, the UTMSU has closed down its campus offices and suspended all in-person services. The union will continue to provide students with U-Pass cards via mail and limited pick-up availabilities.
The Education for All campaign is built around the students’ demands for sufficient accessibility services, equitable resources for international students, and reduced tuition across the board. Moreover, the campaign advocates for increased opportunities for grants, scholarships, and paid internships.
“High tuition fees have discriminatory and detrimental impacts on students,” states the UTMSU in its September 2020 lobby document on the issue. “In Ontario, students are faced with the highest tuition fees in the country and the financial burden that accompanies them, which leaves many students with huge amounts of debt for decades.”
The lobby document also addressed the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts on post-secondary education. Many students are displeased with the current situation and miss attending in-person lectures with their friends and studying on campus. However, virtual education has become a significant obstacle for some students and faculty, especially for those with learning disabilities.
“Too often, the curricula and lesson plans used in the institution are not designed or delivered based on principles of accessibility,” stated the UTMSU. “Considering the shift to online learning and a rush to train faculty and administrators on these new tools, there is a fear that students who need accommodations will be left behind.”
Accessibility has been a significant topic of concern at UTM for a few years now, with major renovations installed throughout campus buildings to improve wheelchair accommodation.
Vinney Wong, the previous Arts Editor for The Medium, wrote a poignant op-ed article in 2019, exposing UTM’s inadequate efforts to create a fair and accessible environment for all students and staff.
“As a person with a disability, I strive for independence,” wrote Wong. “I am unable to be independent at my job because of these restrictions and accessibility issues.”
It is essential that the UTMSU continues to demand the university administration dedicates more funds and staff to improve accessibility. However, it is also imperative that the union also does its part in promoting equity within our community.
As stated in its non-consolidated financial statements from 2019, the UTMSU had an increase of $1,709,159 in assets following its separation from the UTSU. The 2019-2020 Vice-President Internal of UTMSU Sara Malhotra stated that the funding redirected to UTMSU from UTSU is allocated for health and accessibility initiatives.
“These are funds that the UTSU used to collect on our behalf before, but due to the separation, we are collecting the funds for health and dental and wheelchair accessibility,” stated Malhotra. “These funds are restricted because they’re supposed to go to those specific reasons.”
Since the UTMSU remains separate from the UTSU and continues to receive these restricted funds, it is only reasonable for the student union to observe the appropriate improvements in health and accessibility services.
Vinney Wong argued that this wasn’t the case as she struggled to reach The Medium’s second-floor offices with difficulty due to the Student Centre elevator’s limitations.
“If the UTMSU is unable to solve these issues in a timely manner, the university must step in and help, otherwise shame on both parties,” concluded Wong.
The union continues to demand improvements from the UTM administration by organizing virtual town halls and publishing a detailed action plan for its Education for All initiative in January 2021.
UTMSU expects its recommendations from the plan to be put into effect by the next Fall term.
“As an educational institution, it is our duty to provide proper access to resources and services that benefit all students and not just a few,” stated the UTMSU. “These demands are integral to creating a post-secondary education system that prioritizes Education for All students.”
The UTMSU will host the Education for All Town Hall on Monday, November 30.