SSMU Council has rescinded its decision to mandate Vice-President Internal Brian Farnan to issue a public apology for an Obama .GIF included in a listserv.
The previous decision, which the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Council made in a confidential session on Dec. 5, was revoked by Council last Thursday. Farnan’s apology provoked widespread debate about equity and the decision-making process in SSMU.
Élie Lubendo, Services Representative and mover of the motion explained the background to the motion.
“I feel that we need to realize that we made a mistake, then move on from there,” Lubendo said. “Then we need to start educating students [….] and start rebuilding with equity.”
David Benrimoh, medicine representative, voiced concern that rescinding the apology would negatively affect those who brought about the complaint.
“[We] are going to be sending a message to those who did feel marginalized and oppressed by the .GIF that […] public opinion rules the equity process and that there is no real protection for them,” he said.
Lubendo said the issue lay in the form of a public apology and not in the microaggression itself. He said that Farnan’s apology was a poor example for the undergraduate student body and created more negative public backlash than the initial use of the Obama .GIF.
Delane Efua Boakye, an executive of the Black Students’ Network (BSN) spoke in favour of the motion and related the student backlash to the public opinion of the SSMU-funded BSN. Although the BSN did not take part in the complaint filed against Farnan, some students wrongly blamed the BSN for the controversy.
“We often deal with the tension of ‘Why does the BSN exist?, ‘Why do we need a BSN?’”she said. “When we have issues like this, it further delegitimizes our organization because people feel that we’re looking for something to do, [that] we’re raising complaints for the sake of doing it.”
Boakye said the motion would attempt to counter the issues created by the apology.
“[There is a] line between offering an apology to an individual who was hurt and offering a public apology,” Boakye said. “[The public apology] decreased our credibility […] and we are a part of SSMU.”
The motion to rescind the apology passed.
Council also voted in favour of a motion that will require the Equity Complaints Investigation Committee (ECIC) to prepare a written explanation of their recommendation that mandated Farnan to publicly apologize.
Lubendo, one of the movers of the motion, gave an overview of the motion and highlighted its importance.
“[They] should be able to know what the background is and how [the ECIC has] come to the conclusion that they have,” he said.
SSMU President Katie Larson also spoke in favour of the motion.
“I think any way that we can encourage governance transparency, especially when we demand it so often in university, is a good example to set among ourselves of asking for explanations when we are not clear,” Larson said.
The motion also mandates that explanations of such nature become a part of the equity procedure in the future.