Members of the U of T Students’ Union Team Renew released their response to the open-letter resignation of Sana Ali last week. In a two-part video released on YouTube, Renew members spoke about how they felt reading Ali’s letter and the allegations she made.
“We were absolutely taken aback [by] her decision to quit the team and forfeit her position,” said the union’s new president, Munib Sajjad, in an email interview. “We wanted to address things stated in her letter […] and to let Sana know that we were genuinely hurt by her quitting and not speaking to any of us about it beforehand or afterward.”
This sentiment was shared by other Renew members. The members’ emotions were visible in the videos as they expressed confusion, sadness, and indignation at Sana’s letter. Although Ali said both in her letter and in an interview last week with The Medium that she did not wish to malign the team, it was clear that Renew members had taken the letter personally.
“I asked you [to run] because I really liked your ideas. […] I was really looking forward to working with you. I can’t believe you think we—I—asked you because of your race or ethnicity,” said Renew member Yolen Bollo-Kamara in the video, referring to a part of Ali’s letter saying she felt she had only been asked to join Renew to contribute visual diversity.
With regards to the part of the letter saying that Team Renew’s platform was recycled, Bollo-Kamara cited instances where additions and changes were made to the platform based on student needs and requests. “I can’t believe you’d say that this is the same platform from year to year. Like, if sexism is on the platform—and it was on the platform—I’m sorry that we weren’t able to eradicate sexism and all forms of oppression in one year,” she said.
Though these and other instances of direct response to the points in Ali’s letter were present in the 20-minute response, a substantial portion of the video addressed hurt feelings.
When asked for her view on the candidates’ choice of medium, Ali replied, “I don’t think it was a great decision. They reinforced my point about group pressure and hearing but not really listening. […] If they’re truly convinced I was way off base with the concerns I raised in my letter, they have not explained to [students] why I am wrong.
“This is exactly the kind of reaction I expect would have come my way if I had raised my concerns to them in private,” she continued, referring to why she didn’t talk to Renew members before resigning. “Very little solid content, lots of trying to make me feel guilty.”
Ali also denied the claims in the video that she had avoided responding to her former teammates’ phone calls and texts. “I had actually been in touch with them the day before the video was released,” she said. “I’m guessing they’d already filmed it by then and didn’t want to change the parts about me ‘hiding’.”
A petition to have the response video taken down has been circulating around Facebook. The petition was created by Aimee Quenneville, the University College board of directors representative on campus. “I believe it is fairly evident […]that [the videos] are an attempt to discredit Sana and her concerns,” she commented. “A lot of the videos are spent reminiscing on all of the good times that the Renew slate had together before Sana’s departure, seemingly accusing her of betrayal.”
Quenneville took particular issue with the choice of a video response. “Rather than issue a written response that addresses any or all of the considerable concerns that Sana’s letter raised, and which we must not forget are precisely the concerns that students have been raising on campus for years, her complaints themselves are disregarded in favour of 20 minutes of video that serve only to attack her credibility,” she said. “The videos insinuate that Sana is not a responsible person; they draw into question her character and they excessively angle for pity while framing her as a disappointment.
“I don’t think that any student on our campus should be portrayed in such a way by our elected representatives, but perhaps more importantly, I don’t think our elected representatives should conduct themselves in such a way,” she continued. “I don’t think these videos are becoming of the University of Toronto in the slightest, I do not think they paint us in our best light, and I would like to be able to expect better from the union that is supposed to represent and advocate for me.”
When Sajjad was asked about the medium, he responded, “Just like Sana, we have the freedom to express through any medium how we feel about her leaving the team. And we chose a video.”
“I personally don’t have any grounds to demand that Team Renew take down the video, because they have every right to express themselves,” said Ali in regards to the petition. “I did the same thing when I expressed myself publicly through my open letter.” She also said the response to the petition has been “overwhelming”.
Despite her views on its content, Ali has no hard feelings towards the team. “All I would like to respond with is my regret that things had to be this way,” she said. “I can understand that they would be shocked and upset, but I hope they can recognize that my intention was never to cause them pain. I hope they can get past the personal issues and really take a hard look at the truth that is in front of them.”
The Renew slate was voted in last week without Ali, who forfeited her candidacy for vice-president external in the middle of the election.
“When I decided to run for this position with this team, I was under the impression that I would have the opportunity to apply myself in order to create something good for students,” wrote Ali in her letter. “I have now been disillusioned. I was pulled on board this team to fill a space and fulfill a preset mandate, not to bring my brain.”
One of the things Ali questioned was Renew’s opposition to online voting.