By Anonymous

Recently, the McMaster Students Union de-ratified the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association due to its “alleged links to the Chinese government” according to the CBC News. The report from the news article was unprecedented for the MSU and alarming for me and other members of the McMaster community. Based on the online meeting notes (2002-2019) of the MSU’s governing body, the Student Representative Assembly, an alleged connection with a foreign government has never been a factor in the de-ratification of a visible minority group. 

While Columbia University and the University of Cambridge had previously banned their CSSA clubs, both universities re-ratified the clubs in a matter of weeks after resolving their violations. Therefore, to the best of my knowledge, it would be one of the first times that alleged connections to the Chinese government have played a role in the de-ratification of any CSSA.

If the MSU is now deciding to factor in an alleged association with a government as a reason to ban a student club, then they need to come up with an exclusion list of “unacceptable” countries. If that list starts with China, where does it end? And what kind of campus environment will it create?

The CBC article may not fully reflect the true process of the Mac CSSA de-ratification — the meeting notes record the decision as being based on a violation of Section 5.1.3. of the MSU clubs operating policy, aka “actions, which endanger the safety or security of any person or property.” The CBC article politicized the de-ratification, demonizing China with absolute certainty. Yet the SRA did not make any public statements to provide a counter narrative

The CBC article politicized the de-ratification, demonizing China with absolute certainty.

As a result, this sent a hurtful and damaging message to the Chinese community on campus. Most of my Chinese friends are angry and confused at this attempt to openly disenfranchise them. Some have discussed their frustration in private with tears in their eyes, assuming that taking pride in China is not allowed in Canada. Some people believe that they have to lie low to abide by Canada’s rules. Some question if they will be able to extend their visa, find a job or apply for immigration if they express opinions different from the MSU. 

As a proud Chinese student who was born and raised in China and decided to make Canada my new home after great consideration, I was shocked at how this decision goes against every value I believe Canada stands for. What the MSU did, in my opinion, is a classic example of racism, even though it is covert. While criticising the Chinese government alone is not racist, disbanding a Chinese student group based on their political expression, free speech and ancestral origin is absolutely racist and unacceptable. 

Here is how: it is almost like dictating to us, you must be anti-Chinese government to become one of us, otherwise you should go back to China. In my view, even the anti-government Chinese students are also affected by such restrictions, as their right to freely determine their political beliefs is also compromised. No one should need approval to hold a lawful political stance. Under the SRA’s rhetoric, members of the Chinese community, regardless of their political stance, have become second-class citizens as we must have our beliefs certified to enjoy the freedom of association.

The real test for racism, in my view, is not in how you treat “model citizen” minority groups who align with your beliefs, but in how you treat those who don’t agree with you, and who do things that make you uncomfortable. 

The real test for racism, in my view, is not in how you treat “model citizen” minority groups who align with your beliefs, but in how you treat those who don’t agree with you, and who do things that make you uncomfortable.

The CSSA incident is precisely the test. At the centre of this incident is the open letter claiming that Mac CSSA notified the Chinese consulate about a public speaker in McMaster who supports Uighur separatism in China — the letter turned out to be prepared by an alumnus without informing Mac CSSA, as the alumnus had instead consulted the prior president of Mac CSSA. Disregarding the fact of who prepared the letter, I would still have great sympathy for their impulse to speak out. As China has gone through centuries of blood and wars, a unified China is precious for many Chinese students and other peace-seeking people on campus. Regrettably, this letter was interpreted by the SRA as extremist, dangerous and instructed by the Chinese government

Additionally, the SRA meeting notes claimed that there would be “no consequences” of disbanding CSSA. What about the thousands of Chinese international students who were denied a service they came to rely on under the MSU? What about the support CSSA provides to the international students who will be “shamefully neglected” if it were disbanded? As stated in the meeting minutes, no one from Mac CSSA was contacted to speak at the de-ratification meeting. Since the SRA effectively barred CSSA from the meeting without telling them about it, no one was left to advocate or to help the Chinese community at McMaster. 

Since the SRA effectively barred CSSA from the meeting without telling them about it, no one was left to advocate or to help the Chinese community at McMaster. 

The SRA's decision to de-ratify CSSA was an example of the racism that Chinese students routinely face. It is assumed that because we are Chinese, we must have the worst intentions. Because we are Chinese, we must be silent and submissive and never “rock the boat”, even when our services are denied. And because we are Chinese, believing in a unified and prosperous China means that we are brainwashed and should not be embraced by Canada. This is the message the MSU sent by this exclusion. 

This is why it is important to tell the Chinese students that McMaster needs their voices. My dear Chinese students, the MSU owes you the right to speak your mind on these issues. My dear Chinese students, whether you support the Chinese government or not, please step forward. In this country, no one should have the power to dictate your beliefs based on your Chinese origin. My dear Chinese students: be independent, be loud and be proud.

 

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By Anonymous

On Sept. 22, the Student Representative Assembly decisively voted to revoke club status for the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, ending months of disgraceful inaction from the McMaster Students Union board of directors and clubs department.

As a Chinese student, I applaud the SRA’s decision to stand up for student safety. The CSSA — which is linked to the Chinese Communist Party — has openly admitted to reporting people on campus to the Chinese government. By policing people and reporting them to a totalitarian dictatorship, the CSSA seriously endangered students who criticize the Chinese Community Party — especially Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur students with family in China, given the Chinese government’s extensive human rights violations.

Many of us oppose the genocides in Tibet and Xinjiang, object to police brutality and rising authoritarianism in Hong Kong, and ultimately yearn to one day see freedom and democracy in our ancestral homelands. For us, the SRA’s monumental decision represents a strong affirmation of our right to exist safely on campus, and a rejection of Chinese Communist Party attempts to surveil and intimidate students.

Beyond my own opinion, the SRA has received sweeping praise. Rukiye Turdush, the Uyghur speaker condemned by the CSSA, applauded McMaster student representatives for standing up for our rights. Zhou Fengsuo, a famous Chinese human rights activist, called the vote momentous. Former Canadian ambassadors to China, David Mulroney and Guy Saint-Jacques, strongly commended the SRA’s move.

However, we should not let widespread approval obscure an important nuance: the SRA’s decision to de-ratify the CSSA was long overdue because of inaction from the MSU board and staff.

The SRA’s decision comes seven months after international media first reported on the CSSA in February. However, the MSU board and staff caused most of the delay, as they were occupied with speculation about lawsuits and fretting over potential backlash, instead of actually addressing the issue.

For starters, at the March 24 SRA meeting, then-MSU President Ikram Farah stunningly claimed that there was mere “speculation” about what happened — despite numerous detailed reports from international media and Human Rights Watch.

“We look at federal, provincial, municipal, and university [policies], and … based on the information we currently have, none of that had been infringed upon,” stated Farah in the Mar. 24 SRA meeting, oblivious the reason why international media sounded the alarm in the first place.

Beyond replying to SRA members who questioned them, the MSU board of directors did nothing to address concerns. There was no public response to the international news articles or Human Rights Watch recommendations. Meanwhile, the clubs department took no action either.

Finally, even immediately prior to the vote, the board of directors continued trying to avoid the issue in the SRA meeting on Sept. 22. Alexandrea Johnston (vice president finance) suggested moving the CSSA motion to the next meeting. Sarah Figueiredo (vice president administration) and Shemar Hackett (vice president education) refused to vote on the deratification motion. MSU President Joshua Marando had conveniently left the meeting earlier.

The board’s persistent attempts to avoid touching the CSSA fueled rumours of intentional efforts to hush this issue, or self-censor, due to pressure from university administration and fear of Chinese government retaliation. Although these rumours are speculation, the MSU’s ominous silence on social media so far (in contrast to Marando’s dramatic public statement excoriating the Dominion Society, another de-ratified MSU club) does nothing to reassure concerned students.

Faced with such cowardice from the MSU board and staff, the SRA cut through the nonsense and did what’s right. While the board and staff buried their heads in the sand for seven months, it was SRA members who gathered evidence, made a presentation, and motioned to de-ratify the CSSA.

Moving forward, SRA members should continue to keep the board in check. Evidently, the board’s approach is not always correct, so having the SRA hold the board accountable makes for a better MSU.

Marando, however, needs to show better leadership. Similar to his strong condemnation of white supremacy, Marando should publicly and unequivocally make clear that the MSU will not tolerate attempts to police marginalized students; efforts to surveil and control Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur students on campus; or the hateful ideologies that enable genocide in Xinjiang. His silence so far on these concerns is deeply worrying.

The SRA has taken a bold first step in making campus a safer place, especially for students with family in China. Now it is time for Marando and the rest of the MSU board to stop twiddling their thumbs, match the SRA’s courage, and speak out against the threats and intimidation that students face.

 

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Photo c/o Elizabeth Svyatnenko 

Monday night, a group of McMaster students issued a petition urging McMaster administration to cancel classes and assessments on the afternoon of Sept. 27 so that students, staff and faculty can participate in a climate strike this Friday.

The students organizing the petition are a part of McMaster Students for Climate Change Advocacy (MSCCA), a McMaster-based climate advocacy organization.

The planned climate strike will come as part of a week of mass climate actions from Sept. 20-27, culminating in a global general strike to raise the alarm on the climate crisis.

Climate activists are planning a mass disruption, calling on people from all facets of society to walk out of school and work, thus disrupting business as usual and forcing leaders to pay attention.

“Together, we will sound the alarm and show our politicians that business as usual is no longer an option. The climate crisis won’t wait, so neither will we,” says a statement from Global Climate Strike, an environmental organization coordinating the protests.

While organizers hope that this will be Hamilton’s largest climate strike, it is not the first. Since March, young people from schools across Hamilton have been organizing regular protests to bring attention to the climate crisis. In collaboration with Fridays for future, young people from around the world have been walking out of classes on Fridays to demand immediate, far-reaching action on the climate emergency.

By making sacrifices to their education in order to attend the climate strikes, the activists are demonstrating that the climate crisis is an immediate priority.

“You’re really going to show that these people are in it for the long haul and especially if you’re missing work [or] you’re missing school. You are taking consequences and showing the fact that . . . if you don’t take care of this now, you won’t have a job, you won’t have school,” said Kirsten Connelly, MSCCA founder and co-president.

The urgency of the climate crisis was highlighted in a 2018 report from the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change. According to the report, it is of critical importance to limit global warming to 1.5°C within the next decade. It is very likely that failure to do so will result in catastrophic changes including mass extinction, floods, wildfires and the spread of infectious diseases.

Earth Strike Canada, the organization coordinating the Canadian climate strikes, asserts that the climate crisis is a result of an economic system that relies on indefinite growth, requiring unsustainable resource use and thus diminishing future quality of life. Earth Strike Canada’s demands include investments into green technological advancement, resource management reform and economic reform.

MSCCA’s role has been to encourage McMaster students to participate in the climate strike. To accomplish this, they are urging the university to cancel classes and evaluations on Friday afternoon so that students, staff and faculty can participate without penalty.

“Students shouldn’t have to choose between global citizenship and McMaster citizenship,” stated Connelly.

On Sept. 13, Concordia University announced that they would be cancelling classes the afternoon of Sept. 27 to allow students to attend the climate strike. McMaster students are urging the university to follow suit.

Last week, McMaster issued a statement saying that the university would stay open on Sept. 27 so that academic and research activities can continue as scheduled.

However, MSCCA members are still hopeful. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had over 2,100 signatures on Change.org, and the numbers are growing.

Organizers are pushing for a mass climate strike around the world. Hamilton’s climate strike will be held on Sept. 27 at 12:00 in Gore Park.

 

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Photo c/o Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance

As post-secondary students across Ontario begin to experience the impacts of the updated Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) has launched a province-wide campaign encouraging students to express their concerns with the OSAP cuts and demand change.

Earlier this year, Premier Doug Ford’s Conservative government announced several alterations to OSAP. Some changes include the removal of the six month post-graduation grace period in which student loans do not accrue interest, cuts in funding and grants going to low-income families, as well as an update to the definition of independent student.

While the Ford administration claims that the decision to cut tuition by 10 per cent keeps  Ontario’s most vulnerable families in mind, many students are unconvinced. 

“I work two part-time jobs on campus, work full-time during the summer and still rely on OSAP grants,” said one McMaster student in OUSA’s campaign video on OSAP cuts.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7meTavY8DnY[/embedyt]

On Sept. 10, 2019, OUSA announced a letter-writing campaign in response to recent changes made by the provincial government to OSAP. 

Formed in 1992, OUSA is a provincial lobbying organization that represents 150,000 students at eight student associations across Ontario, including McMaster. It aims to effectively lobby the provincial government for change and to ensure that Ontario students receive an affordable post-secondary education. 

In response to their call for participants, OUSA received over 200 letters from students across the province who shared how they would be impacted by the OSAP changes. 

The cuts to OSAP have caused Adam Yu, a second year McMaster student in integrated biomedical engineering and health sciences, to rethink his post-graduation plans.

"It's one less safety net for me when I graduate, which really makes me worry about my financial outlooks. It dissuades me from pursuing my aspirations of medical school,” said  Yu in his letter.

Others have had to take on take on additional work hours, which affects the amount of time they can spend on school and extracurriculars.

"OSAP has had a huge effect on my student life this year. As a result of OSAP cuts I have had to actively look out for part time jobs which will have an effect on the amount of time I can spend on extracurriculars that I enjoy doing,” wrote a student who wishes to remain anonymous. 

Students also expressed worry about paying off their student loans. Previously, there was a six month period post-graduation in which interest was not charged on student loans. The removal of the grace period was another cause of concern that students mentioned in their letters.

“I am scared that I won’t have the grace period before interest starts once I graduate,” said Jessica Lim, a student in their last year at the University of Toronto Scarborough. 

OUSA has now called for the provincial government to reverse the changes made to OSAP and consult students for a framework that meets their needs in a public letter sent to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano.

“The adverse effects of these changes have already been felt by students across the province who rely on financial assistance to access post-secondary education and enter the workforce,” said OUSA in their letter. 

The letter continues to say  that some students have been forced to postpone or withdraw from their post-secondary education because they no longer have the financial assistance required to continue with their studies. 

OUSA has asked that all students affected by or concerned about the changes made to OSAP sign the letter and, if comfortable, add their own personal story to send to Premier Ford, Minister Romano and their local member of provincial parliament.

 

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