Sana Ali, the vice-president external candidate on Team Renew for the U of T Students’ Union elections, resigned last week with just one day left in the campaign period. Ali was running unopposed. An open letter on her Facebook page states that the decision was brought about by a loss of faith in the team and its alleged failure to accept new ideas.
“I feel like visual diversity was the main reason I was originally approached,” Ali said in an interview, referring to when she first joined Team Renew. “During meetings it never felt like I was able to contribute.”
Part of this feeling stemmed from a perceived lack of direction by the team. Her letter describes the team as working on a “laundry list of points that have changed almost imperceptibly from year to year”.
“Yes, it’s good for a team to all be on the same page, but it’s problematic if the plan hasn’t been arrived at by the team’s own efforts […],” she explained. “A lot of the mandate was suggested by the incumbents. We had such a large list of points and there was no effort made to look through it and narrow it down. The process was too vague and scattered.”
This approach is why Ali doesn’t believe the team will lose much by no longer having a VP external. “I foresee absolutely no problem whatsoever with the Renew team going forward,” she said. “There were no individual roles in the team, just a team plan.”
Another prevalent concern in Ali’s open letter regarded UTSU’s reaction to “the opposition”.
“The ‘opposition’ always consisted of anyone who was critical of UTSU. I wanted to keep communication with these critics open, because by labelling them as ‘opposition’ we were labelling them as unworthy of attention or listening to,” she said.
In her letter, Ali noted that those who have worked closely with UTSU are among its most vocal critics, and saw both this and the lack of anyone runing against Team Renew as calls for reform. This sentiment was not shared by her teammates, she said.
“During campaigning we were told to basically not to waste time with these people and not listen to these people since they won’t listen to you. When we label [critics] as opposition, we’re shutting down communication,” she said. “We were just assuming we were right about everything. There was no opening for compromise, reconciliation, or discussion.”
Nevertheless, Ali stressed that she felt no hostility towards the team. “I’m not saying or doing all of this with the intention of maligning the team,” she said. “They’re really great individuals; it’s just that they’ve failed to recognize that what they’re doing is wrong, and that is why I couldn’t be a part of it.”
Referring to why she waited until the campaign to resign, Ali admitted, “When you’re running for UTSU you’ve put in a lot of work. To have to recognize that you’re going deeper and deeper into something you don’t agree with, you have to have it really strike you before you can act on it. It wasn’t until the second day of elections [that] I could come out and admit to myself that I needed to cut loose.”
UTSU’s president Munib Sajjad originally declined to comment until the team could respond as a group. Since then, the slate has posted a YouTube video (Part 1 and Part 2) of their personal replies to Sana’s letter. The video can be viewed on Sajjad’s Facebook page, and Ali’s letter can be viewed on hers.