Travis Nguyen/Photo Editor

MSU Service directors talk about their plans for the upcoming hybrid year

While the pandemic certainly took its toll on student life, a group of dedicated student leaders have been working tirelessly to maintain essential mental and physical health support services. There are many services that aim to create a safe(r) space on campus for marginalized communities. The McMaster Students Union has five such student services: the Women and Gender Equity Network, the Student Health Education Center, Maccess, Diversity Services and the Pride Community Center

SHEC is a service for any McMaster University student looking for health-related support, childcare resources and breast-feeding spaces. They also offer free health items such as condoms, pregnancy tests and other external health resources. 

“As MSU SHEC, we are a completely peer-run health advocacy, information and resource connection service. We operate under a broad definition of health, recognizing that wellbeing looks and feels different to each person. We provide free health supplies and educational materials and are dedicated to promoting our four strategic priorities: sexual and reproductive health, empowered bodies, substance use and mental wellbeing,” explained Anika Anand, the director of SHEC. 

Similarly, WGEN offers peer-support services, but these are catered towards survivors of gendered violence and promoting gender equity. 

“WGEN is a community-building and peer-support service run by and for women, trans and non-binary folks, as well as all survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. We focus on creating community and non-judgmental spaces among these folks through our safe(r) space, multi-event campaign weeks and peer groups. A big part of our mandate includes supporting folks through peer-support and free resources,” said Neha Shah, the director of WGEN. 

Maccess, a service dedicated to disabled students on campus, on the other hand, is reorienting its disability activism strategy to not only raise awareness for disabilities on campus, but to actively advocate that disabled students on campus are invaluable to McMaster. 

Maccess, a service dedicated to disabled students on campus, on the other hand, is reorienting its disability activism strategy to not only raise awareness for disabilities on campus, but to actively advocate that disabled students on campus are invaluable to McMaster.

“We are a peer-support, community-building and activism organization, run both and by disabled students. We use the term "disability" to include folks who identify as having a disability, mental health concerns, neurodivergence, chronic health conditions and addiction. Our priority this year is to move away from just the recognition that disabled folks exist on campus, to where we recognize disabled folks are valuable on campus,” explained Emunah Woolf, the director of Maccess. 

Diversity Services is extending the services it traditionally offers and has plans on adopting the long-established peer-support system used in the past by WGEN, SHEC and PCC to further extend its avenues to provide support. 

“Diversity Services works on celebration, advocacy and generally uniting all folks across campus that identify as religious, cultural and other minorities. We are joining Maccess, PCC, WGEN and SHEC in their practices with the pilot of our new peer-support services. These are taking place as community circles that are closed spaces for people to come in and find people with similar intersections of identity as themselves,” explained Sofia Palma Florido, the director of Diversity Services. 

Amidst the uncertainties of an entirely online 2020-2021 academic year and a hybrid 2021-2022 year, these MSU services have been compelled to adapt to these circumstances. They have had to drastically alter how they reach and provide their services to students. Across the services, the directors found offering services with the same engagement, quality and reach to be some of the most pressing difficulties of an online environment. 

“In our workshops we would commonly have events that promote learning and expanding students’ horizons. When we moved to an online setting, everyone involved, be it volunteers, executives or guests at our events, were already so affected by Zoom exhaustion that it was very difficult to execute everything to its full potential," said Palma Florido.

Nonetheless, Palma Florido has strategies to appeal to first and second-year students to get involved with Diversity Services. She hopes that these strategies will engage students who have not had the opportunity to physically or extensively interact with Diversity Services and the other MSU services. 

“Particularly targeting first and second-year students, my goal is to create and facilitate spaces for these new students who have never been on campus to find community. So, allowing for spaces where people can create community with people that have similar lived experiences is something I cherish for myself, and I really want to make that happen for new and returning students,” said Palma Florido.

Services like SHEC have also experienced a shift in their culture and dynamics operating online. 

“We operate using a safe(r) space protocol which is creating that supportive, non-judgmental environment. This aspect has been tough to create digitally, so it did involve a lot of training on digital responsibility for our volunteers and execs to facilitate safe(r) space online,” said Anand.

Anand remains optimistic however, finding brighter sides to the constraints of an online environment and even embracing some of the pros it has to offer. 

“Although operating virtually has placed additional barriers on access and visibility, it has also provided an additional layer of anonymity for service users trying to access our space and peer-support. Service users may feel more comfortable accessing services since they are not seen walking in and out of space,” explained Anand.

For a service like Maccess however, an online environment has allowed it to open itself up to more students, namely disabled students, who were unable to access the service in person. 

“We tried to shift our metric of success for events by focusing on quality over quantity. So, if we have a Zoom event that three or four folks got out to and we had a great conversation and we were able to offer them support and community, we consider that a success. In some ways moving online did allow us to have more accessibility, for example an issue we had in the past is that folks’ disabilities would prevent them from coming to the Maccess space on campus,” said Woolfe.

Woolfe also draws attention to the opportunities a newly online community brought to disabled students on campus.

“Previously we were not able to create Discords as an online community created a lot of liability issues, but to have a space where disabled and immunocompromised folks could meet one another from their room or hospitals was a really positive thing we could do. It allowed us to provide captions, extended hours and other accessibility needs,” explained Woolfe. 

Shah is viewing the online Fall term of WGEN as an opportunity for expanding WGEN’s services to meet intersectional and survivor communities’ needs online now, and to plan for a gradual opening to in-person activities. 

“This year, we are planning on providing similar services that we did last year, but hopefully with more options to access these both online and in person.  Julia, the assistant director and I have also planned to increase our focus on two key areas of our mandate: survivors and ease of access. We hope to increase the amount of programming we provide to survivors, especially with a focus on intersectionality — so providing closed spaces within our identity-specific events,” explained Shah.

Like the approaches taken by SHEC and Maccess, Shah is also mindful of student accessibility needs, and has ideas to make the WGEN space even more inclusive to student accessibility needs. 

“We are working to address how it can be really intimidating to enter our safe(r) space, that there are many misconceptions about peer-support, and that there are also some concerns about accessibility about our physical space. We hope to work with other services to address these concerns,” explained Shah.

McMaster students are strongly encouraged to seek out support from MSU services if needed.

McMaster students are strongly encouraged to seek out support from MSU services if needed.

Pandemic restrictions impact student employees of the MSU

Two weeks before the McMaster Students Union closed the Grind Café for the rest of 2020, employees were unaware of the impending closure.

Located in the McMaster University Student Centre, The Grind had been operating on a reduced schedule and with reduced staff due to COVID-19 restrictions and the resulting lack of population on campus. In an email statement on Oct. 30, MSU Vice-President (Finance) Jess Anderson cited low foot traffic on campus and low usage at the Grind as the reason for the closure.

“During this time of transition, the MSU is committed to providing financial assistance to affected staff members, above and beyond the minimum standards defined by the Employment Standards Act. In addition, the MSU has provided guidance to staff in understanding and accessing available government programs related to COVID-19 support,” wrote Anderson.

However, it is unclear what the financial assistance entails.

Micaela Rayment, a full-time student and two-year Grind employee, had been working once per week at the Grind. Rayment, along with other employees, was working three hours per week.

Rayment began work as a teaching assistant at McMaster this semester and cited her reduction in Grind hours as the reason for an additional job.

“I had more hours last year, so I didn't have to have two jobs, right?” Rayment said, 

The teaching assistant position is only for the fall term and Rayment said that she’ll have to find another job for the winter term.

“I think it'll probably be difficult. Especially since I'm in my final year and so I'll be entering into a job, only to leave it after graduating [and getting] into a job in my field. I won't be able to be too picky, but I know people who are trying to look for jobs right now and they're just not hearing anything back from anyone. So I don't know, not excited for that, if that's what has to happen,” added Rayment.

On Oct. 19, Rayment discussed her reduced hours but was unaware that the Grind would soon close. Rayment said that her supervisors had been upfront about reducing hours and had not heard anything about the Grind closing.

An employee of the Grind and TwelvEighty Bar & Grill, who requested anonymity due to conerns over job security, said on Oct. 19 that they believed the Grind would be closing shortly. Though they could not confirm with certainty, they said that they were led to believe that the MSU was looking to either further cut down or completely close the Grind café.

On Oct. 28, both Micaela and the source confirmed that the Grind would be closing on Nov. 2 indefinitely.

 

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The MSU has responded to pandemic restrictions and has created savings across the organization for students. The MSU organizational fee has been reduced, as well as a reduction in paid student employees. 

Debbie Good, full-time manager of Compass Information Centre, explained that Compass normally employs 11 students in part-time positions during the year. Compass has been closed since the pandemic began and has been unable to re-employ any of the 11 students.

Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

Historically, McMaster Students Union presidential candidates often have big dreams to tackle issues concerning marginalized communities. Topics that reappear every year include accessibility, reducing financial barriers and sexual violence support. While these platform points can be well-intentioned, they can often be examples of poor allyship instead. Using people of colour, the 2SLGBTQ+ community, disabled people and survivors as talking points for campaigning can be insensitive if candidates are unable to follow through with their platform points.

There are clear examples of platforms that have done this. In 2018, past MSU president Ikram Farah campaigned on reducing financial barriers by re-evaluating the Ontario Student Assistance Program’s structure and reworking it to accurately reflect tuition cost discrepancies between different programs. This would mean that two students who paid different tuition amounts, and who previously qualified for the same amount of financial aid, would instead receive aid that was proportional to their costs. Although Farah completed her presidential term in April 2019, any advocacy done surrounding OSAP hasn’t had a huge impact on OSAP’s structure.

In 2019, current MSU president Josh Marando promised to hire an additional sexual violence response coordinator to address the lack of support for survivors of sexual violence. Marando still has three months left in his term, but the efforts into hiring a new sexual violence response coordinator seem to be lacking. So far, an additional sexual violence response coordinator has yet to be hired.

In addition to an absence of follow-through, candidates also often fail to consult adequately. This year, MSU presidential candidate Krystina Koc aimed to address student safety due to the Westdale and Thorndale break-ins that occurred last year, and to increase support to Maccess. However, Koc’s consultations about student safety were limited and she failed to consult Maccess regarding how to best improve support.

Incoming MSU President Giancarlo Da-Ré’s plans to improve accessibility by making the MSU website compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and increasing the number of courses that use Echo360 to record lectures. He also wants to implement consent culture modules that would be mandatory for welcome week representatives. Although Da-Ré states he has done 100 consultations and has platform points surrounding accessibility and consent, he did not consult Maccess or the Women and Gender Equity Network prior to campaigning.

Evidently, solidarity with low-income students, people of colour, survivors and disabled people have been a large topic of discussion within presidential platforms. However, these campaign points are rarely acted upon or are executed poorly. This leaves me and many others with questions: if these points don’t result in any visible change, why have them in your platform at all?

During campaign season, presidential candidates are trying to win students’ votes. Therefore, it’s usually important to maintain a good public image. Nothing looks better than advocating for a marginalized population. Regardless of whether these candidates actually care for the marginalized populations they’re advocating for, if they’re coming from a place of privilege and put us into their platforms, it can seem like they’re trying to win brownie points for being good people.

Additionally, this allyship quickly becomes performative if the candidates don’t follow through when it comes to supporting marginalized communities — which they often don’t. Even if you have the best intentions to help others, it is hard to change systemic oppression in a one-year term because these structures have been in place for centuries.

Typically, advocacy movements are initiated by marginalized communities themselves, not presidents. This can be seen with the WGEN, which was created to provide a safe space for women and trans people, as well as students that face sexual violence. WGEN was approved by the Student Representative Assembly because of a community survey that provided statistics of students who faced assaults, misogyny and sexism on campus. Although the SRA did come into play with the creation of this service, consultations and surveys were important in its creation, which is what the presidential candidates have been failing to do. In addition, WGEN was spearheaded by women, trans people and survivors advocating for its existence, proving that marginalized communities have always been at the forefront of these movements — not the MSU president. If the MSU president is serious about advocating for marginalized communities, then they need to consult with the groups who represent the needs of these students.

Despite Koc and Da-Ré’s well-intentioned platforms for improving peer support services and consent education respectively, they failed to consult the communities that are directly affected: Maccess and WGEN. How will you help improve support and remove systemic barriers if you do not talk to those that are directly affected?

Becoming the MSU president doesn’t mean that you suddenly have the ability to support marginalized people. Anyone and everyone can support movements to dismantle oppressive barriers — instead of campaigning on the idea that you will support marginalized people during your presidential term, start by supporting them in your everyday lives. Talk to the people you know and ask them how you can support them. Actually consult the marginalized communities you hope to support, not the institutions that oppress us. Even if you can’t make a huge change during your one-year term, you can still make meaningful change through your individual actions as a person. But if you’re not willing to commit to your platform and actually support marginalized students, please leave us out of it.

 

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In last week’s referendum, full-time undergraduate students voted to uphold the current agreement between Hamilton Street Railway and the McMaster Students Union, which gives students bus passes for 12 months with expanded service on the 51-University bus line.

Out of five options, 43 per cent of students that voted chose the 12 month expanded bus pass as their top choice on the ranked ballot.

Students also had the option to decide between a 12 month pass without expanded service, an eight month pass with or without expanded service and no bus pass at all.

Prior to 2014, the MSU provided a subsidized HSR bus pass that lasted from September to April. In a 2014 referendum, students voted overwhelmingly in support of a year-round bus pass with expanded 51-University service.

The MSU renews their contract with the HSR every three years. Students voted to uphold the agreement in 2017, and did the same this year.

To establish the agreement for the base fee of the bus pass, the MSU engaged in a negotiation process with the HSR alongside the university, Redeemer college and Mohawk college.

In September 2019, students paid $225.55 for their bus passes. Next year, under the renewed agreement, they will cost $223.92, climbing to $229.62 in 2022. In comparison, an unsubsidized monthly HSR bus pass costs $110 per month, or $1,320 for a full year.

According to a 2017 briefing from the McMaster Graduate Student Association, the city of Hamilton has a vested interest in offering a reduced bus fare. A subsidized bus pass encourages students to explore the city, which can in turn lead to greater population retention.

The HSR stands to benefit from this deal as well. Approximately 12 per cent of the revenue collected by the HSR comes from the McMaster U-pass.

McMaster is one of many post-secondary institutions across southwestern Ontario to provide some sort of subsidized bus pass for undergraduate students. Within Hamilton, Mohawk college and Redeemer college also offer subsidized bus passes for students. Students at Queen’s University, the University of Western Ontario and the University of Guelph also decide via referenda to provide compulsory passes for undergraduate students. The costs vary depending on the university, ranging from $90 to $240.

Now that the McMaster bus pass has been voted on via referendum, students cannot opt out of the fee. This is because, when HSR knows how many students will pay the fee, they can project service levels and secure revenue. In turn, they agree to provide a bus pass at a substantially reduced cost.

After the student choice initiative was announced in January 2019, there was some concern that the bus passes would be designated as non-essential, which would have prevented the MSU from making an agreement with the HSR for subsidized bus passes.

In February of last year, Merrilee Fullerton, then the minister of training, colleges and universities, announced that the bus passes would remain mandatory.

The agreement with the HSR will be renegotiated in 2023.

 

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On Jan. 12, 2020, McMaster University’s Student Representative Assembly met for the first time in the new year to ratify 15 new clubs and to complete their initial review of non-MSU groups on campus. 

Incite Magazine was the final non-MSU group to present their organization’s activities and budget to the SRA. According to Associate Vice-President (Finance) Jess Anderson’s report on Jan. 8, the McMaster Student Union’s Finance Committee has completed their review of all non-MSU groups on campus. These non-MSU groups receive funding from McMaster students but do not fall under the purview of the MSU Club Department. 

According to the report, there are currently five non-MSU groups on campus: McMaster Marching Band, Engineering without Borders, McMaster Solar Car, Incite Magazine and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group McMaster. 

“While there were a few hiccups regarding communication throughout the reviewing processes, the committee was very pleased with McMaster Marching Band, [and] have provided recommendations to Engineers without Borders, McMaster Solar Car, and Incite Magazine,” states Anderson in the report. 

The Finance Committee has yet to come to a decision or provide recommendations for OPIRG McMaster. While a delegation from OPIRG attended the Dec. 8 SRA meeting, the group is still currently discussing salary and administration logistics with their union, Canadian Union of Public Employees 1281.

[pjc_slideshow slide_type="sra-jan-16-2020"]

During the meeting, 15 new clubs were ratified by the SRA after recommendation from Clubs Administrator Aditi Sharma. A list of newly ratified clubs and their mission statements was also provided on Jan. 7. These include cultural clubs such as the Indonesian McMaster Student Association and McMaster Bengali Student Union; social issues clubs such as Blackspace and Glamour Girls; and recreational clubs such as the McMaster Real Estate Society and McMaster Filmmaking Club.

Each semester, potential clubs submit their applications to the Clubs Administrator and Clubs Executive Council. Successful applicants are then interviewed by the Clubs Administrator. Potential clubs are evaluated for their uniqueness, ability to maintain significant student interest and ability to positively impact the McMaster community. Finally, recognition as an official MSU club requires ratification by the SRA.

Last semester, there were two instances that raised concerns about the process of vetting proposed clubs. On Jul. 21, SRA ratified the Dominion Society, triggering an intervention three days later by MSU President Josh Marando due to the club’s alleged connections to people and organizations with white supremacist ties. Similarly, the SRA passed a motion on Sept. 22 to de-ratify The McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association for violating section 5.1.3 of the Clubs Operating Policy by endangering student safety.

Discussion regarding club ratification lasted under four minutes. The question of the club recognition appeal process for unsuccessful applicants was also brought up at the meeting. 

“One of my constituents wanted to start a club with the purpose of, if I’m remembering correctly, creating a space where the ideas of various faculties (science, humanities, etc.) could be discussed and shared openly together [...] The clubs department did not approve the club for reasons the constituent did not agree with and the constituent claims not [to] have been informed of a formal appeals process in their rejection,” wrote one SRA member wishing to remain anonymous. 

According to the SRA member, the applicant was told that the proposed club fit a niche already occupied by the Controversial Texts Discussion Club, which aims to encourage discussion of academic texts and potentially controversial topics in Science, Philosophy and Religion. However, after reaching out to CON-TEXT several times and receiving no response, the applicant told the SRA member that they believe the club to no longer be active.

Section 4.13 of the MSU Clubs Operating Policy states that club applicants can first appeal to the Clubs Administrator. If still unsuccessful, applicants can make a second and final appeal to the CEC.

“In the email that [an unsuccessful club] got, they have an appeal period. They can send their appeal to the clubs administrator and CEC to be reviewed,” added MSU President Josh Marando at the meeting. 

Lasting just over 42 minutes, this was the shortest SRA meeting so far in the 2019-2020 school year. 

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September 2019 marked the first of possibly many registration periods in which students could opt-out of student union fees deemed non-essential. This change, instituted by the Government of Ontario in January 2019, is part of the widely criticised Student Choice Initiative. In the past, McMaster’s student union fees for all clubs and services have been mandatory. Non-essential fees range from a few dollars, like the $1 fee for Mac Farmstands or $2 for Horizons, to $13.72 for CFMU 93.3FM or $17.50 for Campus Events. As early as  January, student groups have feared the worst and prepared for the inevitable cuts.

Nearly two months after the SCI was introduced, the impact on students and the MSU isn’t entirely clear. Despite other universities having already released comprehensive opt-out rates to their university’s student unions, McMaster’s registrar’s office still hasn’t released final numbers. According to Alex Johnston, the MSU’s vice-president (finance), an official breakdown won’t be released until registration is finalized. The final registration numbers have yet to be disclosed by the university. 

As a result of the Student Choice Initiative, many aspects of what the MSU offers to students will become financially optional between September. 12-20. The MSU encourages students to #ChooseStudentLife. Learn more about how your money is spent at: https://t.co/GdcabjjSMF. pic.twitter.com/EOvrhnB3bY

— McMaster Students Union (MSU) (@MSU_McMaster) September 10, 2019

What we do know is that students opted out of services at a rate of roughly 32 per cent of across non-essential fees. These fees include services such as campus events, Shinerama and Mac Farmstand. How this 32 per cent rate translates into absolute dollar losses for the MSU is unclear, and Johnston says it’s difficult to speculate. Throughout the opt-out period, Johnston states that the MSU prioritized transparency. For example, the MSU created a “Choose Student Life” page to encourage undergraduate students to learn about the MSU services and fee breakdown before opting out.

“We did communicate that this could lead to the potential for a pay-for-service model or a reduction of overall services or just reduction in service operations. So those are things we did communicate. Where we actually end up going right now, again I think it’s a little too soon to tell,” said Johnston.

Despite the MSU’s focus on transparency, some felt that the MSU could have done more. 

Ed, a part-time manager of a student service deemed non-essential that asked not to be identified, said that they were displeased with the MSU’s communication leading up to and throughout the SCI implementation.

“Communication has been fraught. Everytime I would bring it up I would receive a ‘we don’t know for sure yet’. And then no follow ups,” said Ed.

Daniel, another PTM who asked not to be identified, felt that work they had previously done to improve their service’s finances hadn’t been taken into consideration. They felt that the MSU should have encourage more discussion about SCI leading before the opt-out period. 

“I knew for the majority of my role finances are important … which is why I made a lot of changes … I don’t want to say they weren’t willing to have that conversation really early, but I kind of wish we had that conversation early,” said Daniel.

As for faculty societies, whose fees were also deemed non-essential, the SCI’s impact is unclear.

Madeleine Raad, the McMaster social sciences society president, said that the society is being careful about spending, although the alumni society has stepped up to fill their funding gaps. 

“From my understanding, the social sciences opt-out was not as high per say maybe other faculties I might have heard of. However our fee is one of the lower fees, our fee is $16,” said Raad.

Although it may be too soon to see the long term impact of the SCI, changes are already being made to non-essential services. 

To prepare for the possibility of high opt-out rates, all MSU services were asked by the executive board to make pre-emptive cuts to their operating budgets for the 2019-2020 school year

“[We] cut back on things most companies cut back on which is promotions … The last thing you want to cut back on are salaries and wages and actual staffing positions,” said Sandeep Bhandari, the campus radio station’s administrative director.  

In the Oct. 20, 2019 SRA meeting, Johnston gave a report on audited statements from the MSU’s 2018-2019 fiscal year. While optimistic, the numbers reflected deficits across the MSU. Johnson mentioned that the Underground, the Silhouette, and 1280 bar and grill all had large deficits and outlined plans for improving finances going forward. Johnston also said that the MSU is soliciting proposals from an external consultant to assist with financial changes the MSU will need to make going forward as the SCI becomes an annual affair. 

“If we continue the way we’re going, we’re going to deplete our operating funds in two years. So that’s obviously not sustainable so we need to make some changes going forward,” said Johnston.

Johnston also reported that the MSU’s executive board, comprised of full-time staff and SRA members, had also made decisions that impact part-time services. The Executive Board has decided to push back the hiring of PTMs for Macycle and Farmstand into 2020, although they are traditionally hired in the fall. Johnston said this decision was made to buy the MSU more time to figure out a financial plan going forward. While this is a temporary push-back, there are still worries that the PTMs will be expected to participate in the hiring process after their terms without pay or be cut out of the important process it entirely. 

“This is a discussion that happened in close session … but we did decide to delay the hiring for Farmstand and Macycle. Typically those part time managers are hired … but due to the fact that we don’t have final opt-in numbers yet we did decide to delay their hiring so we could re-evaluate then move onwards,” said Johnston.

The executive board also made the decision to pause all operations for the Creating Leadership Amongst Youth conference for the 2020 year. Typically CLAY happens in May, but this year will be the exception. 

“We did decide to put a hold on operations for CLAY 2020 just because we couldn’t delay the hiring and then have the part-time manager start later because the conference just couldn’t function,” said Johnston.

Johnston says these decisions are a part of the MSU’s efforts to develop a strategy to make the union more sustainable going forward. The long term impacts of the SCI are unclear, but the MSU is doing what it can to adapt, including expanding The Grind in an attempt to alleviate 1280’s running deficit and hiring a full complement of staff for the Underground so it can operate at full capacity.

A big concern for most non-essential service employees was job security. 

James Tennant, CFMU program director, and Bhandari stressed the importance of student radio, especially for student staff who can’t get these unique experiential learning opportunities elsewhere. 

“We do have a very small staff compared to some other services on campus. But it’s definitely a concern, and it’s the last thing we would want to do … Because they’re valuable to us and the experience they get in the positions is valuable to the students,” said Tennant.

Bhandari said, “It’s been said for many years it’s giving a voice to those who don’t otherwise have access to the airways. And that is the nature of campus community radio across the country.”

Daniel also reflected on the SCI. He expressed dismay that his efforts to improve his service’s financials weren’t headed leading up to the SCI implementation, despite clearly outlining ways the service could improve financially going forward in the wake of the SCI. 

Ed wished that there had been a bigger push over the months leading up to the opt-out period, not just during it. 

“SCI’s really bad but the MSU’s attitude of not talking about it makes everything worse,” said Ed.

Ed also had hoped for solidarity amongst all MSU services, not just advocacy from the ones impacted. He felt like nearly enough people weren’t talking about it. 

Indeed, when Sandy Shaw, MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, visited campus in February 2019 to talk about the provincial policies impacting students, the MSU gave her a tour of the PCC, Maccess and WGEN—three services deemed essential and therefore not at risk of being impacted by the SCI.

Despite criticism of the SCI’s rollout and MSU advocacy efforts, many PTMs are are just worried for the future of their services. 

Daniel said, “Thats been the biggest impact of SCI: emotionally. The worry for the future of the service.”

Ed said, “If my service doesn’t run its going to affect the people who volunteer for me and it’s going to affect all those people who use my service regularly.”

“I’m sad because I don’t want my service to die,” said Ed.

With the SCI mandated for the next two years, with possibility for renewal, the long-term implications could be dire. Without a clear path forward, part-time student staff, volunteers and services users are left to worry for what is to come. MSU advocacy may have mitigated what could have been worse opt-out numbers, but future efforts will be essential to keep services afloat. 

 

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Photo C/O Kyle West

By Anonymous, Contributor

As a non-Chinese faculty member, I have been following events unraveling around the Student Representative Assembly’s decision to de-ratify the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association. As an associate chair of my department, I interact with undergraduate students on a daily basis, which is why I was troubled to hear about how the Student Representative Assembly proceeded with the de-ratification of a student-run group on campus. Recent reports reveal that SRA representatives believed that they had placed Mac CSSA on probation for six months, while the group itself was not notified. Furthermore, Mac CSSA was de-ratified during a meeting on Sept. 22 for which the club was not given due notice. 

From reading the SRA meeting minutes and watching live streams of the SRA proceedings, I was struck by the unanimity of it all. Many questions were raised but not discussed and many comments were made but not challenged. Some SRA members even mentioned the absence of Mac CSSA or any rebuttal document at the final de-ratification meeting. Yet, no one in that room tried to table the motion to de-ratify Mac CSSA. What would have changed if the proceedings had been delayed to allow for a chat with the Equity and Inclusion Office, to consult a lawyer and, at the very least, to allow CSSA members to attend the de-ratification meeting? By not properly engaging with opposing voices in the SRA chamber, the rush to judgement that occurred with the de-ratification of Mac CSSA seems to have emerged from a groupthink mentality. 

Given my experience as an equity-seeking person myself, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, watching this unfold has made me extremely emotional. By speaking with one voice, rushing to judgement and bypassing the regular procedures, the SRA’s actions threatened not a single group on campus, but the entire institution. This type of prosecution, though clearly not at the same level of magnitude, has shades of the Lavender Scare or even McCarthyism. In those times, as the guilt of the accused was decided prior to the public accusation, any irregular process to convict them was sufficient. Never mind that once accused, there was no chance of defense. Only after the Sept. 22 de-ratification and after Mac CSSA had initiated an appeal process themselves did the SRA give Mac CSSA a chance to answer questions regarding the allegations put forward to de-ratify them. The evidence presented by Mac CSSA in their appeal was dismissed and the SRA denied their appeal.

I’m not defending the actions of Mac CSSA and I’m not even saying that the MSU is wrong to censure a club. But I strongly believe that the cornerstones of our democracy are the right to a fair trial, the right to defend oneself and the right to be presumed innocent. In a fair system, if your arguments are valid, your evidence is sound and your process is unbiased, there is no reason to fear the presence of the accused. Particularly when dealing with an equity-seeking group, it is imperative to ensure that all the necessary steps of a process have been taken with care so there is no questions about the outcome. Even if the outcome may not be different, a fair and transparent procedure is necessary. The process is what protects our values. It is what protects us from fear-mongering, from undue influences and partisanship. 

Joshua Marando has admitted that he made such mistakes with regards to CSSA “not being informed at the meeting” as well as the miscommunication of the “initial probation”. While he referred to them as “big oversights,” they were downplayed as “not intentional by any means,” implying to me that even a compromised process can be justified.

The SRA should not be allowed to get away with this. When we compromise procedural justice, even the most righteous of intentions can lead to significant unintended consequences. In this case, the irresponsible management of Mac CSSA’s de-ratification has had profound consequences. Due to my position as an associate chair, I interact with many Chinese undergraduates, graduate students, staff and faculty colleagues, all with varying views. This incident has led to the alienation of a large group of people who may have differing political views, but who are still important members of the McMaster community. 

As a student government body that represents people with diverse backgrounds, it is critical for the MSU to maintain an impartial political stance, and treat everyone equally and fairly, which includes international students. The MSU should not forget that Mac CSSA is a club of their own fellow students. They are not some nameless and faceless foreign government entity that some SRA members may have implied in the height of their groupthink euphoria. 

The Mac CSSA de-ratification reveals the kind of power the SRA has — in terms of club de-ratification, they are able to act as witnesses, judge, jury and executioner in a decision-making process. It must be made clear to them that such power comes with the trust of the McMaster community, which should be used to strive for equality and inclusivity, instead of dividing the campus by abusing it. 

This should really be a wake-up call for the MSU that undue procedures can be a slippery slope that you cannot come back from. The step to de-ratify a club that consists of fellow students is a serious one and deserves thoughtful action. With that being said, this Mac CSSA-gate fiasco could provide an opportunity to establish precedents and norms to prevent it from happening again, similar to the development of the Miranda rights for people accused of criminal actions. 

The MSU should really reflect on why they were so quick to compromise their own processes — what was their justification and what would have been the harm of following the correct procedures? The MSU should take measures to counteract groupthink by assigning a devil’s advocate or equity champion, by consulting a specialist before making a decision, by involving third-party members to get impartial opinions or by setting up a rule that the leadership should be absent from discussion to avoid overly influencing decisions. 

The MSU should also be aware of the systematic barriers and implicit biases that may have played a role in their flawed procedures. They have an obligation to reach out to the less privileged groups of students to help them be a part of the community, to have a voice at the table, to communicate and connect and to be valued. 

As David Farr, acting president of McMaster, recently said, “Equity, diversity, and inclusion are critical to our academic mission and vital for innovation and excellence.”

The MSU should play a leading role in that mission, rather than acting against it.

 

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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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The Student Choice Initiative has placed many students in a difficult position. How much choice is there when students are forced to compromise supporting student services so that they can save money to mitigate the consequences of OSAP funding cuts and increased financial stress, or vice versa?

The answer is that there isn’t much choice, and unfortunately, it’s still one that students across Ontario will have to make.

The Silhouette has been deemed a non-essential service under the Ontario Government's Student Choice Initiative, putting our funding in jeopardy. As McMaster’s independent student newspaper, we have made a commitment to providing a platform for student voice, expression, criticism and celebration for 90 years.

As students make decisions about which fees to opt-out of, we ask that our McMaster community take into consideration the effects their choices will have on services.

 

Ontario government releases Student Choice Initiative guidelines

 

In the wake of the Student Choice Initiative

 

Vital services, campus activities at risk as Mac students choose what fees to pay | CBC News

The fate of many of McMaster University's clubs hangs in the balance over the next week as students decide whether to fund the clubs and other student activities. Student leaders say the process endangers important student services and could fundamentally change the nature of student life. From Sept.

Photo C/O Catherine Goce

By: Neda Pirouzmand

Graduating students should not have had an equal say on these decisions in comparison to returning students. As changes regarding student fees are implemented in the following academic year, graduating students will not be paying for them.

This line of reasoning can be extended to graduating students’ influence over the MSU presidential elections. The actions and views of the MSU president only become relevant during and following their transition period into office.

Chukky Ibe won the McMaster Students Union presidential election in 2017. In March of the same year, students passed a referendum to add $95 to their Athletics and Recreation Activity fee in order to build the Student Activity Building and expand the Pulse fitness area.

Last year, Ikram Farah’s winning election was accompanied by a referendum that reduced the Ontario Public Research Group’s funding at the university from $8.07 to $5.50 per student.

Josh Marando will officially take office in May. While he is currently in the process of transitioning into the role of MSU president, his responses to recent events, such as Doug Ford’s changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program, and any future implementations will directly impact incoming and returning students.

At most, graduating students may be indirectly affected by the MSU’s advocacy efforts at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. This possible indirect impact still does not warrant graduating students to have as much influence as they currently possess.

An alternate system may involve weighting votes, where graduating students’ votes are weighted less than those of returning students. The logistics of the weighting amount could be decided by the MSU.

Those against changing the voting system may state that graduating students have unique and relevant experiences that allow them to make informed votes. Additionally, as graduating students pay the full MSU fee it can be argued that they have the right to exercise their vote.

These concerns could be addressed through adjusting the weight of votes from graduating students, rather than removing their vote altogether. If necessary, this could also be coupled with lowering the MSU fee for these students.

Would reweighting graduating students’ votes have changed past elections and referenda? This information is not publicly available and therefore no concrete conclusions can be drawn.

Elections should allow for a candidate to be selected who is in agreement with the majority of the relevant student population. Thus, the influence that graduating students have in this mix should be decreased.

Following this line of reasoning, incoming first-years should have a chance to vote. Many referenda and elections cannot accommodate this due to their timing in relation to admissions.

However, in some cases, this could be accomplished through implementing appropriate communication channels between incoming students and the MSU.

If this were to be pursued, it would need to be preceded by large-scale exposure and encouragement of voting in high school students.

Once April passes, graduating students will no longer fall under the umbrella of the MSU. As such, they should not influence future MSU decisions as much as they currently do.

 

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