Is our campus accessible?

Last week, I was truly disturbed when I found out a student’s residence door was vandalized with homophobic and racist slurs. I immediately assigned our News Editor Katherine to the story. Not surprisingly, many of the people involved did not feel safe giving The Medium a quote. I can’t grasp how anyone attending the University of Toronto in 2010 would think they could get away with such a hateful crime—or stoop so low as to make someone feel unsafe in their own home. Homophobia is a huge problem on many campuses, but it always surprises me when it happens here at UTM.

As we know, U of T prides itself on its diversity. But what good is a diverse campus if we can’t accept each other? Homophobia is not just an issue for the queer community. I’m troubled about the student who was targeted and the others who must feel unsafe, but there are also students who remain hate-filled and ignorant and I hope they’re found.

This week’s cover story lets you know how to help Campus Police with their investigation, so if you have any details, please contact them. Many people on campus will be shaken up about this and it leads me to ask: how accessible is our campus?

By “accessible”, I’m not referring to a convenient bus service or classroom size. I’m talking about circumstances and obstacles that stand in our way of getting a safe and high-quality education from U of T. For some students a huge obstacle is not having a safe place on campus, evidently not even in their own home. For students such as Ms. Comito and Mr. Buczkowski it’s the UTMSU, which is elected to represent every student on campus that has become an obstacle instead of a resource.

If you ask UTMSU executives they will disagree. VP Internal Gilbert Cassar submitted a letter this week sharing how pleased he is with the achievements of the student union this year, along with a list of successful events they’ve held recently. Mr. Cassar’s letter echoed the exact same sentiment that the president, Vickita Bhatt, wrote about last week.

While I agree that it’s important to reach out to your members, it is tedious to repeat the same achievements without considering an actual topic to discuss and engage in. It would have been great to read a letter from the UTMSU about the recent hate crime on campus, or one letting students know what they’re doing to alleviate the lack of parking space.

It would even have been helpful to update students on policy changes or give a rundown of what happened at a Commission meeting for the 10,000+ students who missed it. For the student whose home was vandalized, there was no “call for action” by the UTMSU, no town hall, and no letters of condemnation— UTMSU is very fond of sending letters often “in solidarity” with other student unions in the GTA. So why didn’t anyone from UTMSU speak up for this student?

In their next letter, I suggest they tackle the issues they’ve been criticized on, debating students that disagree with them, and sharing their stance on issues such as last week’s homophobic act. As a former executive of UTMSU, I don’t believe that the organization is as open and accessible as it could be. For example, every year students complain about frivolous spending—and again in the budget $9,000+ is allocated for campaign T-shirts.

The last UTMSU-produced T-shirt I saw, earlier this month, read “No matter how hard you try you can’t stop, you won’t stop us now”. I can’t help but wonder if this was a message to all the students who attempt to change the union by speaking out, like Mr. Buczkowski and Ms. Comito. And while the student union might believe they can’t be stopped, I think Mr. Cassar said it best in his letter. He asks us to “respect, connect, and cooperate with your fellow students”. I ask the same of the student union executives.


Saaliha Malik

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