McMaster Lifeline club de-ratified after student petition receives over 3000 signatures 

C/O Silhouette Archives

McMaster Lifeline has been an active and often controversial anti-abortion group on campus, over the past few years. Recently, their Instagram account began to circulate widely on social media and prompted criticisms from students.

Upon learning about McMaster Lifeline and their Instagram page, McMaster student Adriana Hutchins started a petition for the de-ratification of McMaster Lifeline.

“I made sure to include in the petition statement that we are not against free speech by any means, but hateful messages have no place on campus,” said Hutchins.

“I made sure to include in the petition statement that we are not against free speech by any means, but hateful messages have no place on campus."

Adriana Hutchins

Hutchins wrote in the petition description that Lifeline is spreading propaganda and misinformation about reproductive rights. Section 5.1.1.3.2. of the MSU clubs operating policy includes spreading false information as a class A offence, where an action interferes with the abilities of individuals to enjoy the McMaster community.

“5.1.1.3.2. Dissemination of false information with the intent to mislead the general public.”

The McMaster Lifeline Instagram page currently contains a post that reads: “abortion is never medically necessary.” According to the website for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “there are situations where pregnancy termination in the form of an abortion is the only medical intervention that can preserve a patient’s health or save their life.”

Hutchins’ petition gained a lot of student attention.

“[There] was an overwhelmingly good response [to the petition] . . . Within the first 24 hours, [there were] over 1600 signatures,” said Hutchins.

As of publication, the petition has over 3000 signatures. Along with signing Hutchins’ petition, many students also reached out to the MSU Clubs Department directly with their concerns. 

As of publication, the petition has over 3000 signatures.

“The content shared led the Clubs Department to believe that Lifeline had possibly violated Clubs’ policy,” said MSU Vice-President (Finance) Jessica Anderson in an email to The Silhouette. The students’ emails led to a meeting of the Clubs Advisory council.

Shelby Seymour of SRA Social Sciences and a member of CAC, noted that Lifeline has previously violated club policies and faced consequences as a result. 

Seymour explained that in the 2019-2020 school year, Lifeline had tabling events on campus without getting MSU approval. This violation of policy placed them on probation.

Under section 4.1.2. of clubs operating policy, probationary clubs are required to notify the club's administrator about all events. However, according to Seymour, Lifeline was holding events without the permission of the club's administrator. These events were promoted on their Instagram.

Seymour stressed that the decision to recommend Lifeline for de-ratification was entirely on the basis of policy violations.

“We need[ed] to base this [decision] off of policy and not our own political and moral opinions . . . They violated their probation and they were also spreading misinformation,” said Seymour.

"They violated their probation and they were also spreading misinformation."

Shelby Seymour

Anderson was able to shed more light as to why specifically the CAC de-ratified the club.

“Ultimately, CAC found Lifeline in violation of several policies, including the dissemination of false information with intent to mislead the general public, as well as numerous instances in which the group failed to comply with McMaster University Risk Management policy,” said Anderson.

Failure to comply with the McMaster University risk management policy is a class C offence. Under the clubs operating policy, class C offences will always result in a punitive sanction.

“Ultimately, CAC found Lifeline in violation of several policies, including the dissemination of false information with intent to mislead the general public, as well as numerous instances in which the group failed to comply with McMaster University Risk Management policy."

Jessica Anderson

On March 21, the SRA held a meeting in which they formally de-ratified McMaster Lifeline, upon the recommendation of the CAC. Disbandment, or de-ratification, is under sections 5.4.2 and 5.4.2.1. of clubs policy. 

“5.4.2.1. Disbandment: If, in the opinion of the CAC, a Club is either incapable of or unwilling to correct its behaviour and/or the interests of the MSU and student body would be best served by the disbandment of a Club, the Clubs Administrator has the right to recommend that the SRA rescind the MSU’s recognition of the Club.”

The sanction will remain in effect for at least one full calendar year. For the club to be re-ratified, McMaster Lifeline must present sufficient evidence that they have changed.

Update:

According to numerous MSU documents, Lifeline has violated multiple Clubs policies on multiple occasions in the 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. However, the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 policy violations were only recently exposed.

In 2018-2019, Lifeline hosted eight tabling events without submitting the necessary documentation and therefore without approval. At the time, failure to abide by MSU or McMaster policy was a Class B offence rather than Class C.

“Since McMaster Lifeline has submitted all their re-ratification documents in a timely manner and are only in violation of the lack of event forms for their tabling, the Clubs Department concluded that a probationary period would be a more appropriate course of action,” wrote Aditi Sharma and Maddison Hampel in the Lifeline Probation Letter. This letter was dated Sept. 24, 2019.

“The club has been made aware of their infractions, and the concerns regarding their tabling behaviour. Because of the EOHSS approval infractions, it is the Clubs department’s recommendation that this club be ratified contingent on them being on a close-watch probationary period for the 2019-2020 year. Any infraction during this period may warrant the club being de-ratified,” wrote Sharma in the clubs ratification memo.

Their probation also required that the Clubs Administrator be made aware of the time and place of all club tables, events and executive meetings at least two weeks prior to the event via email. The SRA ratified Lifeline and their probation in July 2019.

Yet, despite the close-watch probationary period, Lifeline managed to run at least two unapproved events during the 2019-2020 probation year undetected until March 2021. As a result, Lifeline was ratified for the 2020-2021 school year without incident.

The current Clubs Administrator Jenna Courage sent a memo to the Clubs Advisory Council on March 20, 2021 to recommend that CAC recommend the SRA immediately de-ratify Lifeline due to a number of policy violations from their probationary year in 2019-2020 and this year.

Courage identified that Lifeline did not submit any events through the McMaster Student Events Management Portal after Feb. 28, 2020. However, Lifeline was found to have hosted events on March 4, March 6 and May 15, 2020, as well as on March 4 and March 18, 2021.

On March 21, 2021 Seymour and the rest of CAC submitted a letter to the SRA with the evidence and description of the violations. According to the letter, CAC voted unanimously to immediately de-ratify Lifeline after discussion of their policy violations. The SRA officially de-ratified Lifeline that day.

“While we acknowledge concerns brought forth from the student population regarding the content of McMaster Lifeline’s, the CAC’s opinion on their Clubs Status is solely related to violations of MSU and McMaster University Policies,” wrote CAC in the letter to the SRA.

Both Courage and CAC’s letters included the appeal procedures. The disbandment can be appealed to the Clubs Advisory Board. “A member of the club’s proposed Executive shall notify the Clubs Administrator of their intent to appeal within one (1) week of sanctions,” per section 5.7.1 of the Clubs Status policy.

Lifeline has not responded to our question on if they intend to appeal.

One of their offences was spreading false information to mislead the public. Abortions are covered by provincial and territorial health insurance plans through the Canada Health Act, which requires medically necessary procedures are publicly insured. All provinces and territories have designated abortions as essential services throughout the pandemic.

In an interview with The Silhouette, Elizabeth* shared her experience with a medically necessary abortion. Last year, Elizabeth had excessive pain and bleeding which her doctor initially thought might be due to her intrauterine device being out of place. After typical medical tests, her doctor discovered that Elizabeth was pregnant and sent her to urgent care for an ultrasound.

IUDs are a highly effective form of contraception, with a failure rate of less than one out of 100 users in the first year of insertion. In the case of pregnancy, a doctor will advise that the IUD be removed as it can cause preterm birth or miscarriage.

At the urgent care centre, they found that Elizabeth had a hemorrhaging cyst and sent her to the McMaster Women’s Clinic to speak with a gynecologist. The gynecologist thought that the pain and the bleeding were primarily from the hemorrhaging cyst, in addition to the uterine pregnancy and the IUD. The gynecologist suggested that Elizabeth check back in three days because it was possible that her body was taking care of the cyst on its own.

“That was terrifying. The thought of just sitting at home and knowing that I had no idea or control of what was happening to my body, that could potentially, it could kill me. It could change my entire future and I just would have to sit in that anxiety for three days,” said Elizabeth.

Instead of the waiting option, the gynecologist proposed an exploratory surgery. Elizabeth explained how, while at the urgent care centre, she instinctively knew something was wrong and thought it may be an ectopic pregnancy. She opted for the exploratory surgery and described being lucky because the McMaster Children’s Hospital surgery waiting rooms are decorated with stickers and moons. “Adorable,” she said.

When Elizabeth woke up from the surgery, the doctors told her that they found both a cyst and an ectopic pregnancy growing on her fallopian tube.

Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg attaches to someplace other than the uterus and are life-threatening if left untreated. The embryo is nonviable and cannot be saved or turned into a uterine pregnancy. If the egg continues to grow in the fallopian tube, or anywhere outside the uterus, it could cause serious damage and heavy bleeding that could be deadly. Further, damage to the reproductive organs could cause problems getting pregnant in the future.

For Elizabeth, the surgeons performed a medically necessary abortion and had to remove the fallopian tube.

“The whole situation was almost like a dream because it had kind of felt like my entire existence had stopped in 18 hours and resumed again but flipped on its head,” said Elizabeth.

Elizabeth said she had a lot of support from her family and partner… “When I look at the messages that Lifeline has put out I can’t help but think about people who have been in a situation like mine who did their best to prevent it from happening — it was not my fault it wouldn’t be their fault — and they didn’t have any other option than to get surgery and have the fallopian tube, including the embryo removed,” said Elizabeth.

“I personally am someone who is very pro-choice, I believe that everybody should have the right to decide what they want to do with their body but, I can imagine for someone that doesn’t feel the same way, or at least doesn’t feel that way for themselves and wouldn’t choose to have an abortion themselves. If they see a message like the one that Lifeline has put out saying that “abortion is never medically necessary”, that could cause serious, serious harm for that person who might already be struggling with that experience of medical trauma and may now have to think to themselves, “So, I had a choice in this? If it wasn’t necessary then I just did this because I wanted to, this is somehow my fault.” It can really end up being harmful,” said Elizabeth.

Elizabeth added that Lifeline’s messaging also teaches people how to react to situations like hers.

*Name was changed to preserve identity

This article was updated April 13, 2021

Correction: April 13, 2021

An earlier version of this article included an incorrect quote that Lifeline was on probation in 2020-2021. They were on probation in 2019-2020.

Student concerns after presidential acclamation lead to SRA review of elections bylaws

C/O The Silhouette Photo Archives

The Student Representative Assembly has been discussing possible changes to Bylaw 7/A, which outlines the electoral procedures of McMaster Student Union electoral at-large elections. The change could add a vote of confidence to the procedure instead of acclamation.

The MSU's president-elect for 2021/2022 was recently acclaimed. Bylaw 7/A outlines the procedures for acclamation: “If the number of valid nomination forms submitted is fewer than or equal to the number of available positions, the [Chief Returning Officer] shall declare all nominees duly elected by acclamation.”

Nominees in this circumstance are automatically acclaimed to the position, as there is no vote of confidence available to the student body. The bylaw applies to candidates for SRA, MSU presidential and MSU First-Year Council elections.

In response to the presidential acclamation, the first in at least 40 years, the MSU Board of Directors tasked the SRA Internal Governance Committee to do a review of Bylaw 7/A. The IG committee has completed research on the bylaw and will propose updates at the March 7, 2021 SRA meeting. 

In response to the presidential acclamation, the first in at least 40 years, the MSU Board of Directors tasked the SRA Internal Governance Committee to do a review of Bylaw 7/A. The IG committee has completed research on the bylaw and will propose updates at the March 7, 2021 SRA meeting. 

Over the past month, general students and SRA members have expressed interest and thoughts on what the changes should look like, including the implementation of a vote of confidence for would-be acclaimed seats. 

To specify what this vote of confidence would look like, SRA representatives conducted polls on social media within their faculties to collect data. Most SRA representatives asked students to identify whether a vote of confidence should be implemented, who the vote of confidence would apply to, who the vote of confidence electorate should be and which elections the vote of confidence should apply to and in which circumstances.

Considerations included whether the student body at-large or the SRA, whether it be the incoming or outgoing group, should take the vote of confidence. Further, some SRA members proposed a vote of confidence from the outgoing SRA for each incoming SRA member, including those elected by the student body.

The SRA caucus data results were presented at the Feb. 21 meeting. While each caucus had slightly different results, the majority reported a favour in adding a vote of confidence for MSU presidential elections.

There was a mixed consensus from all faculties on having a vote of confidence on SRA and First-Year Council elections, as well as whether the student body or SRA should be taking part in the vote of confidence.

In the meeting, SRA Social Sciences caucus members explained how some students’ concerns from the data indicated that they should be given more power in the vote of confidence, especially as a step towards building more trust with MSU. This data was collected by a Google Form that was circulated in Avenue groups and social media posts.

25 students responded to the survey. For the results, 84.6% of students wanted there to be a vote of confidence. Out of those who voted, 100% wanted students to have that vote. 50% of students said all elections (would-be-acclaimed and those with a surplus of candidates) should have a vote of confidence, 25% said they did not know, and 25% said they only wanted would-be-acclaimed ones.

Moreover, 83.3% of students said all elections that fall under that Bylaw (SRA, MSU President, and FYC) should have a vote of confidence, and 16.7% said only the MSU President should have a vote of confidence.

There was also a large concern from  SRA Social Sciences members about potential conflict of interests with those running in elections. 

These concerns were echoed by the McMaster Political Science Students Association, who worried that the change would require any incoming SRA member, including those elected by the student body, to undergo a vote of confidence by the outgoing SRA members. 

“There was a universal push back [within our association] against [this] sort of move. We believe that the student voices should remain to the students and that it shouldn't be taken out from them in any capacity,” said Gurwinder Sidhu, MPSSA president.

The MPSSA has started a petition, which all MSU members can sign, against the suggestion of outgoing SRA members conducting a vote of confidence on the incoming SRA members, both elected and acclaimed.

The form states the association’s concern that these vote of confidence changes will compromise student democracy by giving the current SRA members the power to determine the members of the assembly, regardless of student votes.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by The MPSSA (@thempssa)

“The key thing here is that people need to pay attention to what the student government is doing, because at the end of day, this affects them more broadly,” emphasized Sidhu. 

During the Feb. 21 meeting, MSU President Da-Ré clarified to all SRA members that the discussion was not about SRA vetoing someone that was chosen by the student body,  emphasizing that this would be very undemocratic. He explained that the voting body cannot change. For positions elected by students, such as SRA members, the voting body would remain students.  

During the Feb. 21 meeting, MSU President Da-Ré clarified to all SRA members that the discussion was not about SRA vetoing someone that was chosen by the student body,  emphasizing that this would be very undemocratic. He explained that the voting body cannot change. For positions elected by students, such as SRA members, the voting body would remain students.  

The SRA has forwarded the student data to the SRA IG committee for further analysis and interpretation, in addition to their committee research. The IG committee has put forward their proposed changes to Bylaw 7/A along with a memo to summarize and explain the amendments.

Notably, the amendments propose a student body vote of confidence. The changes will be debated and likely voted on at the March 7 SRA meeting.

“We [SRA Internal Governance Committee] are suggesting a Vote of Confidence for FYC, SRA and Presidential Elections when the number of candidates is less than or equal to the number of positions available. The vote of confidence will be conducted by the student body where there would have previously been an acclamation,” wrote Associate Vice-President (Internal Governance) Michelle Brown in the memo

According to the SRA discussion in the Feb. 21 meeting, there cannot be any bylaw changes made to the upcoming SRA elections. However, these could be implemented in the next election cycle.

Prior to the March 7 meeting and likely vote, MPSSA plans to continue their advocacy with their petition and by reaching out to other McMaster clubs and organizations for support. They are also currently in touch with SRA members to encourage them to vote against any changes that would compromise students’ democracy.

“I have good faith that this will be solved in an adequate manner… only time can tell that,” said Sidhu. 

The Silhouette will continue to follow this story. For an in-depth explanation of the 2021 Presidential Acclamation and Bylaw 7/A amendment procedures, read: The election that wasn’t: MSU president acclaimed.”


The announcement of an acclaimed MSU president-elect should raise questions as to why no one is running for MSU positions

Graphic By Nigel Mathias/Contributor

By: Belinda Tam, Contributor

On Jan. 26, 2021, it was announced that Denver Della-Vedova was acclaimed for the position of McMaster Students Union president for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Taking into account both world events and student’s everyday lives, this news may not be on the top of everyone’s mind at the moment. Knowing that this semester is a continuation of a time where the majority of classes are being conducted online — besides a small subset of students being on campus — there’s no doubt that students have been pouring more time into their studies.

Since an acclamation hasn’t occurred within at least 40 years, it's important to discuss the barriers in running an election. There are multiple rules in place for running candidates, which can pose as a potential financial barrier if you get fined.

Since an acclamation hasn’t occurred within at least 40 years, it's important to discuss the barriers in running an election. There are multiple rules in place for running candidates, which can pose as a potential financial barrier if you get fined.

Depending on the position the person is running for, guidelines and rules can vary. Violation of election rules may cause you to be fined unless you go through an appeal process. Furthermore, there is the issue of having financial accessibility if a candidate racks up lots of fines, which in turn may stop them from wanting to run.

With that said, there is actually a lot of work to be done when running for one of these positions. In previous presidential elections, candidates often take time off from class, especially for the campaigning period in order to inform the general student population about their mission and what they are hoping to do when elected.

When taking time off from class and possibly even work, not only does the student have to put in extra time and effort to catch up but this time off may also impact evaluations at work as well as testing in courses. Based on the amount of time required to dedicate yourself to running, this may also eliminate more candidates from applying.

In addition, the candidate also often makes a campaign team and has to coordinate the more minor details such as making sure someone was always present at their campaign table.

With that being said, having a team does alleviate the workload but much work is to be done at the beginning of this process when it comes to planning your campaign, as well as managing the team.

This is a lot to handle in conjunction with coursework and personal life. With this level of commitment and time invested, candidates seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the position.

Another important note is that you may have a better chance of winning the election if you are more involved and connected with people in the MSU.

Another important note is that you may have a better chance of winning the election if you are more involved and connected with people in the MSU.

Previous presidents such as Ikram Farah, Josh Marando and Giancarlo Da-Ré were all heavily involved in the MSU, which may have had a role in them winning since they had connections to others in the MSU. 

As a result, they are more likely to know people who are in positions of power, so it’s easier for them to reach out and build their platform. While opinions may vary, having connections could mean that you have a better chance at winning.

However, we might be missing out on those in the student population who want to run — and might actually be good at the job for that matter — but won’t win because they don’t have those connections. 

If this indeed is the case, this means that there is a bias in the system. Those who choose to run by themselves are at a greater disadvantage compared to those who have connections with the predecessors in the role they are campaigning for.

With Della-Vedova’s acclamation of such an important role within the MSU, it is important to reflect on why this issue may have arisen in the first place. If elections aren’t accessible for anyone to run, we may see more acclamations in the future.

Even on the other side of the globe, students can still play a part in spreading awareness

In 2019, controversy surrounding a now-former McMaster Students Union club known as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association arose. 

The controversy began when activists came to the McMaster University campus to give a speech regarding the Uyghur Muslim camps in Xinjiang, China. McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and McMaster Muslim Students’ Association invited Rukiye Turdush, an Uyghur activist, to McMaster in February 2019.

Xinjiang, officially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is a region in western China populated by a great number of Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities. Since 2017, reports of disappearances of Uyghur Muslims began and there were suspicions about those people being taken away to internment camps.

China initially denied the existence of these camps, but later referred to them as re-education camps aimed at alleviating poverty and extremism

China initially denied the existence of these camps, but later referred to them as re-education camps aimed at alleviating poverty and extremism.

Turdush's speech sparked fury amongst some Chinese students, particularly because Turdush is considered a separatist. Several Chinese students filmed the presentation. The Washington Post directly translated group chat messages, letters, and conducted interviews with three event attendees. The Washington Post's translation confirms that some Chinese students contacted the Chinese Embassy. However, these students were acting independently and not acting on behalf of the CSSA.

Other screenshots, also translated by the Washington Post, showed that the Chinese Consulate of Toronto instructed those students to see whether university officials attended Turdush’s talk and whether Chinese nationals had organized the talk.

A statement signed by various McMaster Chinese clubs and organizations, including the CSSA, further evidenced that the students had contacted the Chinese Consulate of Toronto.

Here is the statement that the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at McMaster University issued after a Uighur young woman gave a talk there about the cultural genocide against Uighurs in China. H/t @ShengXue_ca for posting the original statement. My translation follows: pic.twitter.com/XSj5RT9jeL

— B. Allen-Ebrahimian (@BethanyAllenEbr) February 14, 2019

 

In September 2019, a report was submitted to the Student Representative Assembly in favour of revoking the CSSA of their club status due to a violation of Clubs Operating Policy, committing a Class C Offence under 5.1.3.

“Class C Offences are actions which endanger the safety or security of any person or property,” stated the MSU Operating Policy on Clubs Status. Further, 5.1.4 stated that “Class C Offences will always result in a punitive sanction.”

“Class C Offences are actions which endanger the safety or security of any person or property,” stated the MSU Operating Policy on Clubs Status.

The club was de-ratified by the MSU, stripping the club of its official club status.

In a second attempt to host a panel discussion at the university, Turdush and other experts were invited to campus once again on Sept. 27, 2019. Sara Emira is one of the students who attended the second panel. 

Emira shared that during the panel, one of the presenters, Olsi Jazexhi, recounted his experience of being invited by China to visit the camps. Jazexhi had originally believed that Western media coverage of the camps and the cruelty happening inside were untrue. However, Jazexhi was shocked by what he found during his trip to China.

“Reports that China was building internment camps and persecuting the Uyghurs seemed unbelievable . . . I was very eager to go to Xinjiang because I wanted to explore for myself what is going on there. But after visiting, I found that much of what we hear in the West about China is not actually “fake news”,” Jazexhi said in an interview.

"I was very eager to go to Xinjiang because I wanted to explore for myself what is going on there. But after visiting, I found that much of what we hear in the West about China is not actually “fake news”,” Jazexhi said in an interview

In September 2020, reports showed that China built nearly 400 internment camps. China continues to insist that the camps are meant to educate Uyghur people and that it is not a prison. While on a tour of a camp, BBC reporter, John Sudworth, spoke to a staff member.

“Doesn’t a place where people have to come, obey the rules and stay until you allow them to leave, sound more like a prison? Even if it’s a prison in which you can do art?” asked Sudworth. 

“Doesn’t a place where people have to come, obey the rules and stay until you allow them to leave, sound more like a prison? Even if it’s a prison in which you can do art?” said Sudworth. 

In response, the staff member said that he doesn’t know of any prison that would allow people to paint and that the camps are in fact a training centre.

In the same video, Uyghur Muslims can be seen learning Mandarin, studying China’s restrictions on religion and practicing loyalty to the Chinese government, rewriting lines such as “I love the Communist Party of China.”

In October, a House of Commons subcommittee in Canada denounced the mistreatment of Uyghurs living in Xinjiang as an act of genocide. 

In the same video, Uyghur Muslims can be seen learning Mandarin, studying China’s restrictions on religion and practicing loyalty to the Chinese government, rewriting lines such as “I love the Communist Party of China.” In October, a House of Commons subcommittee in Canada denounced the mistreatment of Uyghurs living in Xinjiang as an act of genocide. 

The subcommittee on international human rights said that they have heard from witnesses who survived the camps in China describe their experience as psychologically, physically and sexually abusive. Witnesses said they were subjected to forced assimilation and indoctrination into the Chinese culture. 

In thinking about ways students at McMaster and in Canada, in general, can play a role in the discussion of this situation, Emira noted that it is important to begin with raising awareness and educating people.

“[A]lso a lot of the torture that [the Muslims] are put through are things like drinking alcohol or eating pork and so your average person when you hear that, it's like, “oh, that doesn't sound like torture” and it's kind of like, “okay, well now we have to kind of educate people on why this is bad and what these people's values are”,” said Emira.

“[A]lso a lot of the torture that [the Muslims] are put through are things like drinking alcohol or eating pork and so your average person when you hear that, it's like, “oh, that doesn't sound like torture” and it's kind of like, “okay, well now we have to kind of educate people on why this is bad and what these people's values are”,” said Emira.

Aside from spreading awareness, Emira suggested that in general, people can help shed light on the Uyghur culture and keep their identity alive. 

For example, Emira shared that there are activists such as Subhi Bora who run campaigns to educate others on the Uyghur culture and help preserve Uyghur traditions. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Subhi (@subhi.bora)

“[A]s you can imagine, this is a group that wasn't really known before. News of the camps started to kind of gain traction, so I think it's definitely important to do that and to also acknowledge that there are definitely refugees here as well from these Uyghur camps and a lot of them are running small businesses and things as well. So it would be nice to see people support them financially and have these conversations with them. Get to know them. What have they been through. It really helps to add that personal element to the issue and helps us feel less disconnected from it,” said Emira.

"Get to know them. What have they been through. It really helps to add that personal element to the issue and helps us feel less disconnected from it,” said Emira.

Correction: Dec. 7, 2020

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the McMaster CSSA was de-ratified "due to failure to report ties to external organizations". The CSSA was de-ratified due to Clubs Status Operating Policy 5.1.3 for committing a Class C Offence, action(s) which endanger the safety or security of any person or property. 

 

An overview of the last five months with the SRA

In the summer of 2020, the Student Representative Assembly held a total of three meetings, including one emergency meeting in August. 

On June 14, the meeting focused on closing nominations for multiple committees, discussing online proctoring and the issue of McMaster University’s connections with Hamilton Police Services. 

Members of the assembly stated that there are privacy concerns with online proctoring and discussed the possibility of releasing a public statement requesting the university to follow the guidelines in the supporting documentation when choosing online proctoring software. 

The meeting also resolved that the SRA supports the removal of Glenn De Caire, head of McMaster’s security and parking services.

The meeting also resolved that the SRA supports the removal of Glenn De Caire, head of McMaster’s security and parking services. Other resolved issues of the motion involved calls upon the university including: termination of De Caire from his position, phasing out the majority of the special constables program by Sept. 1 and full removal of the special constables program from McMaster by Jan. 1, 2021. 

In the July 12 meeting, the assembly discussed clubs ratification for the 2020-2021 year, board of director and caucus year plans, as well as security concerns with using the platform Zoom. 

On Aug. 23, the SRA held an emergency meeting to conduct the MSU VP Education by-election. The only nominee, Daniella Mikanovsky, was not elected due to over 50 per cent no confidence votes. 

Since the start of the 2020-2021 school year in September, the SRA has now held two meetings. The first meeting on Sept. 13 had several motions including the official resignation of McMaster Students Union VP Education, Fawziyah Isah and the election of Ryan Tse as the new VP Education. 

In the same meeting, Hargun Grewal and Alison Hacker were ratified as the chief returning officer and the deputy returning officer, respectively, of the MSU elections department. 

In addition, SRA seats on the clubs advisory council and the internal governance committee were filled. 

Several MSU committee seats were closed at the next meeting on Sept. 27. This included the teaching awards committee, clubs advisory council, elections committee, internal governance standing committee and services standing committee. 

On Sept. 27, the MSU committee seats from the previous meeting were closed, leaving MSU seats for teaching awards still open. The seats will remain open for nomination until the next meeting. 

The second meeting of the month also included motions to waive club operating policies. The policies include a requirement that all clubs have to have a membership list of 25 full-time MSU members and a minimum $5 club membership fee. 

The policies include a requirement that all clubs have to have a membership list of 25 full-time MSU members and a minimum $5 club membership fee. 

News of these membership requirements for clubs led to dissatisfaction from many, as evidenced by social media. 

https://www.facebook.com/macconfessionss/posts/377807706947621

Many students believe that requiring a membership fee will put smaller clubs at a disadvantage. The membership fee will make it more difficult for clubs to recruit members and thus make it even hard to have a membership list. 

The motions were moved by MSU President, Giancarlo Da-Ré and seconded by MSU VP Finance, Jess Anderson. Following voting across the assembly, both motions were passed. 

Both Da-Ré and Anderson expressed that due to the circumstances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs would not have been penalized for not implementing such requirements this year either way. However, because of the concerns and confusion that had arisen, a formal motion to waive the policies should help to clear things up. Although the operating policy has been waived for the 2020-2021 year, the policies are still in place for future years.

Although the operating policy has been waived for the 2020-2021 year, the policies are still in place for future years.

During the meeting, two groups who are a part of the bylaw 5, Incite Magazine and Engineers Without Borders, also gave presentations to speak about various plans for the year and details of their budget. The next SRA meeting will be held on Oct. 18 at 5 p.m. Meetings can be viewed live on the SRA Facebook page.

Clubs will be required to have a minimum $5 fee and 25 general members to be ratified for the 2021-2022 academic year

The McMaster Students Union recently made changes to the MSU Clubs policy which has sparked outspoken anger and frustration. Approved on March 26, 2020, the MSU Clubs policy was modified to include several notable revisions. Among those revisions were a mandatory minimum $5.00 membership fee for every general member, a minimum of 25 general members and the creation of the Clubs Advisory Council.

Current MSU Clubs Administrator Jenna Courage sent an email on Sept. 25 to club presidents in light of a Mac Confessions Facebook post released on Sept. 23 and other uproar from students. In the email Courage wrote, “[Y]ou [club presidents] are all aware that Clubs Department policies underwent major updates and revisions last year, prior to the COVID-19 shutdown and the start of online classes.”

https://www.facebook.com/macconfessionss/posts/377807706947621&sa=D&ust=1602100456184000&usg=AFQjCNH9mANFmouSbJo9fzA34XybIOABWQ

Contrary to what Courage wrote, these policy amendments were passed by the MSU Executive Board after the COVID-19 shutdown and start of online classes. McMaster cancelled all classes and moved to an online learning format on March 13. These policy amendments, including the mandatory minimum $5 fee and the 25 general members, were passed at the Executive Board meeting on March 26.

In a memo to the Student Representative Assembly dated March 8, then-MSU President Josh Marando outlined a staffing change to the Clubs Operating Policy that was to be voted on at the next SRA meeting. Marando wrote, “[The updated operating policy] does not highlight the changes to any aspect of the policy other than the staff as those changes will be coming to the next SRA meeting.” The motion to create three new clubs staff passed unanimously on March 8.

The clubs amendments were not on the agenda for the March 22, April 18 and 19 or April 26 meetings. The March 22 meeting was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. The new amendments were also not in the meeting minutes for April 18 and 19 as well as the April 26 date. The April 26 meeting was the last for the 2019-2020 SRA.

In addition, the current 2020-2021 SRA did not ratify the policy amendments. “These policy changes were months in the making, ultimately vetted and approved by the Student Representative Assembly,” Courage wrote in an email sent to club presidents on Sept. 25. However, the assembly as a whole did not approve the amendments. The 2019-2020 Executive Board passed these amendments on behalf of the SRA.

The motion to approve the amendments passed with eight in favour and one abstention. The Executive Board was composed of the 2019-2020 Board of Directors and five SRA members.

Then-MSU President Josh Marando released a statement on the MSU website on April 16, which highlighted some of the clubs amendments. “Additionally, clubs will now charge a single, standardized membership fee," wrote Marando.  The policy of 25 minimum members is not included in this statement.

On April 17, then-MSU Clubs Administrator Aditi Sharma sent an email to 2019-2020 Clubs Presidents. This email included a document entitled Clubs Policy Changes FAQ. The email also linked Marando’s press release on the MSU website.

The FAQ document does not include the minimum $5 fee but does include the minimum 25 members. The MSU press release does mention a new mandatory fee but does not specify the minimum value of that fee. Both the FAQ document and Sharma’s email stipulate that there would be no changes to the ratification process for the 2020-2021 school year.

In August, Courage sent the same FAQ document to club presidents. The document stated, “there are no changes for the 2020-2021 academic year. However, in December of 2020, as part of the 2021-2022 application cycle, all clubs (new and renewal) will require a minimum of 25 members to receive recognition. These 25 members exclude the president and executive members. All members must have valid McMaster email addresses and student numbers.”

Courage’s email did not link to Marando’s press release.

According to Christina Brinza and Febby Pandya, co-presidents of the International Women in Science Day Conference, current club presidents weren’t made aware of the $5 fee until clubs training began at the end of September.

Brinza and Pandya wanted the conference to be free this year and to increase accessibility, and they believe that the $5 fee to be part of the club contradicts those goals.

Forcing our members to pay $5 just to continue to receive information about this event that's still going to be free. It doesn't seem fair to them or to us . . . It really contradicts our intention or our objective of accessibility,” said Brinza.

"It doesn't seem fair to them or to us . . . It really contradicts our intention or our objective of accessibility,” said Brinza.

Pandya explained the concerns of the $5 specifically on their club, which would culminate in the conference in the winter term. She said, “Since we are hosting such a large event later in the semester we kind of have to allocate our sources to be able to support that kind of large event and we can't really have too many miniature events to, you know, pique interest in to keep students wanting to come back.” 

Both Pandya and Brinza are worried about the classist undertones of the $5 fee, including for students who may want to try new clubs or who want to join multiple. In the March 26 Executive Board meeting, SRA member Eric Sinnige asked about the membership fee and cited concerns of a financial barrier to students. Then-VP Finance Alexandrea Johnston responded that if a student couldn’t afford the fee, they could work with the Clubs Accounting Clerk.

Both Pandya and Brinza are worried about the classist undertones of the $5 fee, including for students who may want to try new clubs or who want to join multiple.

However, that information was not included in this year’s MSU Clubs training module.

Julia Wickens, current VP administration and former president of jack.org McMaster, also expressed frustration and surprise at the policy changes.

“One of our biggest things as a mental health club is that we want people to feel that they can commit as much as they want to. So we have some people that attend a couple of our events and we have some people that are really, really involved. So I feel like putting a dollar value on that kind of hurts that idea a little bit and then from a student perspective, I think that $5 means a different thing to different people,” said Wickens.

A reason for the $5 minimum fee was that clubs would have more money in their budgets. In response, Wickens believed that there is a better way to reduce the amount of funding that clubs are requesting. 

“Make it easier for clubs to have cheaper options for things like food . . . but also for room-booking and stuff like that. In the past, we felt pretty limited about what our options are,” said Wickens.

“Make it easier for clubs to have cheaper options for things like food . . . but also for room-booking and stuff like that. In the past, we felt pretty limited about what our options are,” said Wickens.

On Sept. 27, the SRA formalized the policy exemption to all clubs for the 2020-2021 school year. According to SRA Arts and Science representative Adeola Egbeyemi, clubs will not have to charge the $5 fee or have a minimum of 25 general members for this school year. However, the policy will be in place for the 2021-2022 school year unless further action is taken by the SRA.

The MSU website has every MSU policy and by-law, including the MSU Clubs operating policies. However, as of Sept. 29, the Clubs Operating Policy is not up-to-date. Section 8.1.3 still states that “[a]n MSU Club shall . . . determine its own program membership and membership fee, consistent with the policies of the MSU.” The updated Clubs policies can only be found through the Executive Board documents.

Section 8.1.3 still states that "[a]n MSU Club shall . . . determine its own program membership and membership fee, consistent with the policies of the MSU."

Photo C/O Silhouette Photo Archives

On June 2, Black Lives Matter — Toronto posted a livestream series on Twitter of students protesting the “violence that Black and racialized Indigenous students face” on McMaster University’s campus.

“McMaster also silences students when we protest, we get ignored and we get ticketed for speaking against basic injustices that happen here on campus,” a student on the livestream stated.

At the end of the livestream, they call for McMaster to remove the presence of special constables from campus and to cut ties with Hamilton Police Services and to immediately terminate Glenn De Caire’s contract — the former Police Chief for the Hamilton Police Services who has been employed as the Director of Security and Parking Services at McMaster since 2016.

Background:

Much debate and controversy over De Caire’s tenure as police chief came to light while in the role. In 2010, De Caire introduced the Addressing Crime Trends In Our Neighbourhood team, five high-profile groups of officers tasked with lowering crime in the downtown-core. These officers were the only ones who conducted “street checks,” a practice also known as carding.

However, in June 2015, seven members of the ACTION team were arrested, with five members being charged after it was alleged they falsified tickets. The provincial government cut ACTION’s funding in half and sparked the government to enact regulations to stop carding within all police services across Ontario.

In response, De Caire sent a letter to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services outlining his worries that Hamilton could be at risk if carding practices ceased, citing “officer discretion” as being paramount to “stop, investigate, identify and record information of individuals in the appropriate circumstances.”

“Information must be gathered before it can be analyzed and interpreted . . . [t]he result of reduced officer-community engagement can lead to increase, crime, violence, injury and death” stated De Caire.

In a response to De Caire’s letter, Ruth Goba, Interim Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission classified the police chief’’s position on carding and street checks as a “textbook description of racial profiling”.

“Racial profiling in street checks has a corrosive effect on Black and other racialized communities. As the OHRC has said repeatedly — it must be stopped,” stated Goba.

Around the same time, De Caire forwarded an email to all police members that included an anonymous note commending the HPS for their work on a case involving a Black teenager being killed downtown.

“I also wanted to say that I believe it is time for these Black kids to stop blaming the police for the problems and take responsibility for the actions of the youth,” read the anonymous note.

Included on the bottom, De Caire hand wrote: “All of our officers that responded to the recent homicide did a great job. Keep up the good work.”

In an interview with the Hamilton Spectator, then-city councilor Matthew Green, Hamilton’s first Black councilor, expressed his concern over the email. “Does the Chief not understand how that . . . might create a culture of us-versus-them when it comes to community relationships?” said Green.

City Councilor Terry Whitehead, a member of the police services board, also shared his concerns with the Spec. “When you look at that line it looks like an endorsement that the Black community is blaming the police for all their issues . . . I think that’s a dangerous ground to walk on,” said Whitehead.

In late 2015, De Caire was initially set to continue his role as police chief when the Hamilton Police Services board unanimously voted to extend his contract by an additional two years. A month later, De Caire announced that he would be retiring from his position, a move that puzzled the board as well as the mayor.

“McMaster has offered me an opportunity to contribute to their organization over a long term, and my opportunity here with the Hamilton Police Service has been limited by the contract term,” said De Caire during a press conference.

Calling for accountability:

The June 2 protest at McMaster parallels the worldwide public outcry following the deaths of several Black people at the hands of police officers, notably the murder of George Floyd, who died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd’s death is one of several publicized deaths of Black people in the United States (including Breonna Taylor, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton) that sparked protests in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement internationally. In Canada, the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and D’Andre Campbell, among others, have also led to public demands for justice and accountability from police departments.

As a result, there have been many protests and riots against police brutality against Black people internationally. On a local level, students have been calling McMaster to address the racism that occurs at the university, as shown by tweets and comments by Mac students and alumni.

Oh cause I thought a school that hired a racist ex police chief as head of security said something https://t.co/LwEHixziXo

— 🌻 (@ItsIeshaa) June 1, 2020

how about doing what you already said you would over four fucking years ago now? https://t.co/x6a1qayWXi

— death to canada ✨✨ (@dah0nggou) June 3, 2020

https://www.instagram.com/p/CBWXVN6jN9y/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

One group that has been advocating for De Caire’s removal is De Caire Off Campus. The group was established by Black women studying at McMaster when De Caire was hired in 2016 and exists to advocate for the removal of police on campus. Although the surge of support has benefited this group, they want to ensure that this movement against police is sustainable.

“This isn't a temporary outrage. It has been present for decades and will continue to exist as long as police are on our campus,” said De Caire Off Campus in an interview with the Silhouette.

Among demands for De Caire to be removed by McMaster, the McMaster Students Union has also taken heat.

“The MSU can and should keep to their abandoned commitments — that is, to do the work necessary to remove De Caire and special constables from campus,” the group said.

In March 2016, the Student Representative Assembly passed a motion to call on the university to remove Glenn De Caire as the director of security and parking services and a call to end the university’s campaign of increasing police presence on campus. However, the execution of the SRA’s call to remove De Caire and special constables off campus remains to be seen.

On behalf of the board of directors, MSU president Giancarlo Da-Ré assured that the concerns regarding De Caire have been heard “strong and clear.”

On June 14, Da-Ré moved a motion to call on faculty offices to permanently terminate all ties to the Hamilton Police Services, Halton Police Services, and any other police service. This includes internships and training or co-op placements that involve police services. In addition, an amendment was made to the motion where the MSU will consult any relevant groups or stakeholders that hire private security firms in replacement of campus constables.

Both the motion and the amendment were passed during the meeting. This motion will be binding for the 2020/2021 SRA term.

Da-Ré also mentioned that the vice president (administrative) team is developing “Equitable Hiring Best Practices & Guidelines” in order to address the underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour within the MSU.

“These practices will include changes to application processes, hiring committees and promotional strategies, and be created upon consultation with [the Equity & Inclusion Office], [President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community], the [Student Success Centre]’s Diversity Employment Coordinator and various other stakeholders,” Da-Ré explained.

The Silhouette asked McMaster University about the growing concerns students had and while providing a statement, did not directly address the concerns about De Caire.

“Equity, diversity and inclusion are critical to the university. McMaster denounces anti-Black racism and violence and supports the ideals expressed by the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Wade Hemsworth, the Manager of Media Relations for McMaster University.

Hemsworth outlined ways in which McMaster was addressing anti-Black racism and violence, such as a PACBIC and the EIO hosting a virtual check-in and conversation for Black students on June 11, the EIO hosting a virtual discussion called Let’s Talk About Race for BIPoC students, staff and faculty on June 18 and several statements made by McMaster.

What’s next:

Moving forward, De Caire Off Campus demands that McMaster “completely severs ties with Hamilton Police Services.”

“The removal of special constables cannot be followed with the hiring of private security or the enshrinement of surveillance against students,” the group said.

In addition, they demand that the budgets for special constables and security be released for transparency, to remove the university’s freedom of expression guidelines and that the MSU ensures that clubs are not forced to collaborate with security services.

As the 2020 fall term approaches, McMaster students continue to call for change on campus, holding the university and MSU accountable for their past actions and their next steps.

 

[thesil_related_posts_sc]Related Posts[/thesil_related_posts_sc]

Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By: Sarun Balaranjan, Contributor

Before I begin, I must acknowledge my conflict of interest as a member of the Board of Directors for OPIRG. This year has been troubling for OPIRG in many respects. The Student Choice Initiative forced us to terminate all of our staff. The new Board of Directors had almost no prior experience with OPIRG. Oh, and the McMaster Students Union decided to threaten our very existence.

OPIRG McMaster is a unique group on campus in that it is not a service provided by the MSU, but the MSU plays a role in the process of funnelling our annual budget from students. Because we are autonomous from the MSU, we are able to provide a platform for students who want to engage in activism that the MSU may not condone, potentially for bureaucratic reasons. We are currently supporting new groups like Divest McMaster, a student-run initiative aiming to push McMaster administration to sell the investments tied up in the extraction of fossil fuels through McMaster University’s endowment fund. A group like Divest McMaster would likely have no clear place in advocacy through the MSU, since intuitively, the MSU would protect the interests of the university. By putting OPIRG McMaster to referendum and potentially defunding this organization, the MSU is limiting the extent of student activism.

 On Nov. 29, 2019, the Student Representative Assembly proposed sending OPIRG to referendum. A major reason was that we were spending too much money on staffing and administration. Granted, this was fair given the preliminary budget received by the finance committee showed that roughly 87 per cent of our funds were allocated towards staffing and administrative costs. However, upon receiving our opt-out rates, we updated our budget to reflect that only a reasonable 30 per cent of our costs would be allocated towards staffing. Despite this change, the MSU continued to cite this 87 per cent figure in proceeding OPIRG referendum documents.

On Feb. 9, The board of directors were brought in a second time to delegate on the topic of being sent to referendum on the grounds of bylaw infractions. By this time, the previously cited staffing cost issues were pushed into the background in favour of bylaw infractions. At this point, it was clear that the MSU had an agenda to push and that moving goalposts was well within their capacity. One of the broken bylaws cited by the MSU was a late budget submission. Yes, we were four days late in submitting our budget, but we had only received the opt-out numbers near the end of September with an Oct. 15 due date. In addition, our treasurer, the primary point of contact with the MSU,  had been taken out of commission with serious personal issues and we were still negotiating with our Union regarding budgeting limitations. Some leniency would have been appreciated in receiving our updated budget, but we admit that there were communication issues due to these external circumstances. 

In terms of the other infractions, the associate vice-president (Finance) and their committee ruled, without any consultation with the SRA, that we broke Bylaw 5, article 3.1.2 on financial transparency. Some of these bylaws are fairly vague in phrasing and describe only general tenets that must be followed. I would like to remind you that, originally, the vote to send us to referendum passed by only two votes. On Feb. 23, we returned to delegate to the SRA in the hopes of reconsidering the motion to send OPIRG to referendum on Feb. 9. The motion to reconsider the original referendum decision had seven SRA members in favour, nine members opposed, and the final six members abstained. The ambiguity and uncertainty in the room was palpable each time. It seems inherently unjust that this decision on a bylaw violation was determined by a small subset of the elected body that is supposed to prioritize student interests. 

Democracy is a process. The continual reforming, reshaping and restructuring of practices are based on a common understanding of what works and what fails society. A major issue ingrained in democracy is that democratic leaders need flashy campaigns for upward mobility. Sure, whoever spearheads this movement gets to say on their resume that they managed to create “tangible corrective action” against a “financially opaque group.” Or, maybe on their next election platform, they get to flex themselves as proponents of financial transparency. Again, maybe the SRA should provide their own input as to what constitutes a bylaw violation, rather than leave it in the hands of a small, potentially biased group to act as arbiters. 

We as a board are deeply aware of the importance of student choice. This is why we advertise students’ choices so that students can opt out of our fees should they feel that they want to. A referendum sounds like the MSU is putting power back into the hands of the students, but, in reality, the opportunity is being provided for the majority of McMaster students to take a platform of free speech and social justice away from a marginalized minority. Even if the majority of students do not believe in the value of OPIRG, the organization remains an important outlet of free speech and support for alienated students who want to engage in activism. 

The punishment that has been carried out doesn’t quite reflect the crime.

[thesil_related_posts_sc]Related Posts[/thesil_related_posts_sc]

By Sarun Balaranjan, Contributor

Note: Sarun Balaranjan is a member of the Board of Directors for OPIRG. 

Before I begin, I must acknowledge my conflict of interest as a member of the Board of Directors for OPIRG. This year has been troubling for OPIRG in many respects. The Student Choice Initiative forced us to terminate all of our staff. The new Board of Directors had almost no prior experience with OPIRG. Oh, and the McMaster Students Union decided to threaten our very existence.

 OPIRG McMaster is a unique group on campus in that it is not a service provided by the MSU, but the MSU plays a role in the process of funnelling our annual budget from students. Because we are autonomous from the MSU, we are able to provide a platform for students who want to engage in activism that the MSU may not condone, potentially for bureaucratic reasons. We are currently supporting new groups like Divest McMaster, a student-run initiative aiming to push McMaster administration to sell the investments tied up in the extraction of fossil fuels through McMaster University’s endowment fund. A group like Divest McMaster would likely have no clear place in advocacy through the MSU, since intuitively, the MSU would protect the interests of the university. By putting OPIRG McMaster to referendum and potentially defunding this organization, the MSU is limiting the extent of student activism.

On Nov. 29, 2019, the Student Representative Assembly proposed sending OPIRG to referendum. A major reason was that we were spending too much money on staffing and administration. Granted, this was fair given the preliminary budget received by the finance committee showed that roughly 87 per cent of our funds were allocated towards staffing and administrative costs. However, upon receiving our opt-out rates, we updated our budget to reflect that only a reasonable 30 per cent of our costs would be allocated towards staffing. Despite this change, the MSU continued to cite this 87 per cent figure in proceeding OPIRG referendum documents.

On Feb. 9, The board of directors were brought in a second time to delegate on the topic of being sent to referendum on the grounds of bylaw infractions. By this time, the previously cited staffing cost issues were pushed into the background in favour of bylaw infractions. At this point, it was clear that the MSU had an agenda to push and that moving goalposts was well within their capacity. One of the broken bylaws cited by the MSU was a late budget submission. Yes, we were four days late in submitting our budget, but we had only received the opt-out numbers near the end of September with an Oct. 15 due date. In addition, our treasurer, the primary point of contact with the MSU,  had been taken out of commission with serious personal issues and we were still negotiating with our Union regarding budgeting limitations. Some leniency would have been appreciated in receiving our updated budget, but we admit that there were communication issues due to these external circumstances. 

 In terms of the other infractions, the associate vice-president (Finance) and their committee ruled, without any consultation with the SRA, that we broke Bylaw 5, article 3.1.2 on financial transparency. Some of these bylaws are fairly vague in phrasing and describe only general tenets that must be followed. I would like to remind you that, originally, the vote to send us to referendum passed by only two votes. On Feb. 23, we returned to delegate to the SRA in the hopes of reconsidering the motion to send OPIRG to referendum on Feb. 9. The motion to reconsider the original referendum decision had seven SRA members in favour, nine members opposed, and the final six members abstained. The ambiguity and uncertainty in the room was palpable each time. It seems inherently unjust that this decision on a bylaw violation was determined by a small subset of the elected body that is supposed to prioritize student interests.

Democracy is a process. The continual reforming, reshaping and restructuring of practices are based on a common understanding of what works and what fails society. A major issue ingrained in democracy is that democratic leaders need flashy campaigns for upward mobility. Sure, whoever spearheads this movement gets to say on their resume that they managed to create “tangible corrective action” against a “financially opaque group.” Or, maybe on their next election platform, they get to flex themselves as proponents of financial transparency. Again, maybe the SRA should provide their own input as to what constitutes a bylaw violation, rather than leave it in the hands of a small, potentially biased group to act as arbiters.  

We as a board are deeply aware of the importance of student choice. This is why we advertise students’ choices so that students can opt out of our fees should they feel that they want to. A referendum sounds like the MSU is putting power back into the hands of the students, but, in reality, the opportunity is being provided for the majority of McMaster students to take a platform of free speech and social justice away from a marginalized minority. Even if the majority of students do not believe in the value of OPIRG, the organization remains an important outlet of free speech and support for alienated students who want to engage in activism. 

The punishment that has been carried out doesn’t quite reflect the crime.

This article has been edited as of Feb. 11, 2019

A previously published version of this article misquoted Ikram Farah. The quote has since been updated.

Students are often at a standoff with the MSU president. A commonly held belief is that the President cannot get things done, while presidents themselves often feel that they are misunderstood by the student body. Looking back at former presidents, we can see the difficult realities of their jobs. However, each MSU president has many opportunities to enact change, and it is their responsibility to work within their limitations.

It’s hard to keep all the eggs in one basket

“When someone is running for president they are running on 12-15 platform points, but that is not your only priority, you are a CEO, you are a manager of the whole institution,” said Ikram Farah, former MSU president for the 2018-2019 school year.

Every MSU president has and will continue to struggle with balancing priorities. Consulting past presidents and critically examining a previous year’s struggles is meant to help incoming presidents plan for the year ahead. New president-elects are given the opportunity to do this during their training period under the current MSU president, which lasts from February to April of each year.

Even with this transition process, neither Marando, Farah nor Monaco-Barnes were prepared for how much time would be taken up by priorities unrelated to their platform points.

“I didn’t realize how much of my time would be taken up with chairing various meetings, SRA, clubs, committees, events, and other things that you don’t really see the president do until you are in the role yourself,” said Marando.

During the transition period, outgoing presidents still have their own responsibilities and incoming presidents have their academics. It is unclear exactly how many hours are spent orienting.

“[After March] you’re out, and the new person’s in, and it’s up to them and their team to carry on their objectives but also carry on ongoing projects to full term,” said Justin Monaco-Barnes, former MSU president for the 2016-2017 school year.

Limitations of the transition period may negatively impact a president’s future ability to establish continuity, balance priorities and prepare for unpredictability. Farah faced the impact of the Ontario Student Assistance Program cuts and the Student Choice Initiative. Responding to these events took up much of her team’s time.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” said Farah.

Continuity is key

Longevity, according to Monaco-Barnes, can be an issue with a one-year term. A president must continue previous presidents’ work while attending to their own platform points and responsibilities. Marando, Farah and Monaco-Barnes highlighted the added pressure that comes from students wanting tangible results.

“. . . A lot of people probably don’t know I sit on groups that improve the university IT plan, or work on mental health support in classrooms. People don’t see all the time and energy that goes into working with our full-time staff and supporting business operations of the MSU. I think that if there isn’t a big promotion of something, people think nothing is happening. In reality things may span over a years — such as our new student space expansion — requiring a lot more resources than one might think,” said Marando.

The student space expansion came from Monaco-Barnes’ platform, whose Pulse expansion plans eventually evolved to include a new student center, the Student Activity Building.

“And then here we are, two years later, and it’s being built which is pretty cool,” said Monaco-Barnes.

Monaco-Barnes took an unpaid leave of absence to run two student-wide referenda and help secure funding for the expansion plans. During the second referendum, Ryan McDonald, the VP (Finance) at the time, also took an unpaid leave.

While the Student Activity and Pulse expansion are underway, future MSU presidents must see them through. Not all projects will survive this process.

At the end of Monaco-Barnes’s term, plastic water bottles were replaced with boxed water in Union Market. Union Market reverted back to plastic water bottles the following year. 

“I don’t know how you control that. You hope that the continuity pieces that remain in the MSU leadership wise, you hope they will continue your original messages and ideas, but once you’re gone you can’t really control those things,” added Monaco-Barnes.

If this is a known problem, incoming and outgoing presidents should prevent it from happening as much as possible. Starting from scratch, as Monaco-Barnes noted, is a waste of time.

Who do you want in the room?

As Farah said, it can be easy to forget the significant impact that an MSU President can have in advocating for students. Advocacy could result in change that students may not link back to MSU, as such changes happen over the long-term.

“We need people with ideas and strategic vision. That’s where the Pulse expansion or student activity building becomes impactful. But we don’t always need that large action. Advocating for policies that enhance student life are incredibly important too; however, policy takes time though,” said Farah.

A president will have several opportunities to advocate for students. But it is not easy to get the job done. Monaco-Barnes said that higher-ups can wait out a president that they disagree with. There is also an intimidation factor at play, as the MSU president will interact with older and more experienced counterparts.

“It’d be very easy for a president to go in and do a lacklustre job if they are not motivated,” said Monaco-Barnes.

MSU presidents will make mistakes and struggle with their jobs. Their role is difficult to fully appreciate from an outside perspective. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out their mistakes and challenge them to work around limitations. If we do not hold them accountable, then we may see less work being done. Is being MSU president hard? Yes. Does that mean that they cannot accomplish anything? Absolutely not.

 

[thesil_related_posts_sc]Related Posts[/thesil_related_posts_sc]

Subscribe to our Mailing List

© 2022 The Silhouette. All Rights Reserved. McMaster University's Student Newspaper.
magnifiercrossmenu