This article has been updated.
|February 28, 2017 @ 1 a.m.
New statements by Mathias Memmel have been incorporated.
On February 23, UTSU’s vice-president of university affairs Cassandra Williams released a statement on Facebook alleging that the union’s board meeting on February 9 highlighted its racism against the Black community.
The statement claimed that UTSU has not been engaging in “good faith with Black members” and that “past commitments to meaningfully address issues of racism and anti-Blackness have proven to be empty.”
Williams stated that in the union’s January board meeting, a motion was in the process of being drafted, to “commit” UTSU to engage with the Black community regarding anti-Black racism issues, and addressed the lawsuit that the union launched against Sandra Hudson.
According to Williams’ statement, the motion was “erroneously excluded, demonstrating either a deliberate effort to not have it discussed at the board, or abject negligence for issues of racism and for Black students.”
In an email to The Medium, UTSU’s president, Jasmine Wong Denike conceded that the motion did not meet the notice requirements needed in order to be placed on the agenda, as mandated by the UTSU policy.
According to UTSU’s policy manual, the speaker of the board of directors, the executive director, president and vice-president internal and services have to be given a notice of “no less than five business days” prior to the board meeting. Emergency resolutions, or resolutions that do not meet such a deadline may be included in a UTSU meeting if it passes by a unanimous vote upon presentation to the board of directors.
In response to when the motion was submitted to the board, Williams stated that UTSU’s VP internal Mathias Memmel and Denike had the motion in progress by January 27 and had agreed that the motion would be discussed at the February meeting. She added that they had the completed motion in advance of that deadline.
s a result of the exclusion and how an emergency motion would require unanimous consent from the board, the motion was voted on at the February board meeting to be discussed through an in-camera session, which required the Black students and non-board members to leave the room.
Williams wrote, “It is highly problematic that UTSU would attempt to quell criticisms regarding its non-transparency and racism by any means necessary beginning with procedure and ending with personal attacks against those who dare speak up, by calling our comments ‘disgusting’ and citing concerns to ‘comfort’ or safety.”
According to Denike, UTSU included the in-camera session at the meeting following a prior precedence set in a previous meeting.
“The board voted to discuss adding this item in-camera because, at the previous meeting in January, the details of this motion were discussed in-camera,” stated Denike.
Though Denike acknowledged that the statement expressed Williams’ viewpoint, she stated that it did not express the viewpoint of the collective.
Memmel wrote in an email to The Medium that Hudson’s lawsuit was motivated by a “desire to reclaim the $277,508.62, that was […] wrongly taken from the UTSU,” referring to overtime wages UTSU alleges Hudson claimed and paid herself just before resigning. Memmel added that the current lawsuit has not been motivated by anti-Black racism.
In her Facebook statement, Williams added that after she stated in the February meeting that UTSU failed in its duty to students by going in-camera and “avoid[ing] transparency,” Memmel referred to her comment as “disgusting.” In response to this claim, Memmel said that his comment was not directly addressing Williams, but was rather in response to UTSU’s VP equity, Farah Noori, whom Memmel claimed told a disabled director to “stop victimizing [herself].”
Memmel added that Noori being the VP-equity is “by default” the anti-harassment officer, whose role is to “ensure that everyone follows the rules outlined in the Equity statement, including not creating an “intimidating, hostile or offensive environment”, not “tolerat[ing]” behaviour that undermines the dignity or self-esteem of any individual” and “
In an email to The Medium, Noori responded to this claim stating that board members were trying to silence Williams’ comments about wanting to make the in-camera session a public statement.
According to Williams, Elgin also referred to her comments as “disgusting” and added that Elgin “cited ‘comfort’ as a reason for kicking Black students out of the room” during the in-camera session.
“[…] Not only is she (just like majority of the board members in that room) deliberately trying to silence Cassandra, she’s also dodging accountability by not wanting to be transparent,” stated Noori. “As the Vice- President Equity, it is my job to support the most marginalized on this campus, including the most marginalized on the executive committee as well.”
Elgin released a statement to The Medium on February 24 in response to these allegations. She stated that her objection to Williams’ comments about the in-camera sessions was not to “justify keeping Black students out of the conversation,” but to remind the other directors and executives present at the meeting of the difficulty that individuals can face when discussing an issue in a room of 60 people.
Elgin further reiterated the benefits of in-camera usage, such as the ability to use “more frank language” and increased accuracy in terms of note keeping.
According to Williams’ statement, Elgin had said in the past that it is “wrong to criticize the union for its lack of commitment to trans students and trans issues because not everyone feels ‘comfortable’ enough to be an ally and support trans people.”
Elgin declined to comment on this allegation, but added that she could not make a comment regarding a conversation “that did not take place.”