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Open letter demands external investigation on faculty sexual misconduct

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(Leanne Young & Noah Sutton / McGill Tribune)

On April 5, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) held a press conference to discuss an open letter addressed to the McGill administration regarding sexual violence on campus. The letter, which was sent on April 4, accused at least five professors of sexual misconduct within the Departments of History, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, and World Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.

Additionally, the letter demanded the launch of an external investigation into the way the Office of the Dean of Arts responds to complaints against faculty members. Currently, the letter has signatures from more than 2,000 students and over 70 student organizations, including faculty associations such as the Social Work Students’ Association (SWSA), the Department of English Students Association (DESA), and the Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA).

At the press conference, three students delivered speeches, followed by a question period moderated by SSMU Vice-President (VP) Internal Maya Koparkar. VP External Connor Spencer delivered the first speech, stressing the urgency of addressing the culture of sexual violence that exists on campus.

“A few weeks ago, we brought to the attention of the administration our concerns of the safety and well-being of a student who was being targeted by a professor who thought they were behind a guerrilla sticker campaign calling him out for violence,” Spencer said. “We presented a dossier of evidence and no action was taken.”

Spencer emphasized that this incident is far from isolated: Acts of professor-on-student sexual violence occur frequently, and worse, the administration is aware of many of them.

“Common things that are reoccurring are [the] open secret of faculty members sleeping with undergraduate students, or having abusive relationship with graduate students, and inappropriate behaviour during office hours,” Spencer said. “[There are also] folks [who feel] like they are obliged to do extra, outside classroom work that are not related to the content of the class, because they feel like it would affect their academic careers [if they refused to do so].”

Additionally, Spencer cited a warning that she received in her first year at McGill as an example of widespread sexual violence on campus.

“The culture at McGill is one that led […] some older woman in the program I was entering [to give me] a list of professors and [teaching assistants] to avoid, and to never go to their office hours,” Spencer said.

The second speaker, Maeve Botham, student representative from the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), echoed Spencer’s sentiments. In particular, Botham denounced the administration’s silence in response to sexual misconduct allegations against  professors.

“The University knows who these professors are,” Botham said. “By not taking any action, McGill is failing its students. Students have the right to be safe on campus [….] without the fear of experiencing sexual violence. For students to be truly supported, the structure that is used to protect these professors must be torn down.”

Although handling issues regarding the sexual violence policy does not fall strictly under her mandate, Spencer expressed her frustration with procedures for reporting sexual violence.

“We are no longer accepting that the reason for administration inaction in addressing problems they are aware of stems from the students’ inability to file complaints,” Spencer said. “Instead, we wish to focus on the complaint process itself as the problem, as contributing to a culture of folks not wanting to come forward.”

Spencer elaborated that the current process in place to file complaints against faculty members is overly complicated, thereby dissuading victims from coming forward.

“One of the things that McGill likes to fall back on is the policy against sexual violence passed by the Senate on Dec. 1 2016,” Spencer said. “However, the policy against sexual violence actually [points to the procedures within] the Code of Student Conduct, which you can only pursue complaints against students under.”

Spencer also said that the policy on sexual violence has no procedures outlined for complaints against faculty members, creating a huge obstacle for survivors.

“One of the things that I’ve heard very often from folks is that, ‘I didn’t come forward because I didn’t think they would believe me, I didn’t think they would do anything,’” Spencer said. “Another reoccurring thing that I have heard [….] is that the [negligence victims] experienced from dealing with the University afterwards [only] perpetuated that violence even further.”

The open letter accuses the Office of the Dean of Arts of being ineffective in handling complaints. In order to catalyze policy change, the open letter demanded the launch of an external investigation into the Office of the Dean of Arts. The investigation is partly inspired by a similar case that took place at Concordia University in January, where faculty members in the creative writing program were accused of sexual misconduct. Within days, the Concordia administration responded with the promise of an external investigation.

“We have been having the same discussions here at McGill since September [2017,]” Spencer said. “When we looked over to our neighbour and saw that [changes] are taking place there, we just cannot accept [inaction] anymore.”

Beyond an external investigation, SSMU will also produce a report by the end of June 2018, outlining appropriate steps  to improve the current reporting channel in the Faculty of Arts.

“We need to make sure that everything is documented, [including] exactly what’s going [on], exactly what our demands are, exactly what we want to change, and exactly McGill’s response to these things, [in order to] move forward next year as well.”

Responding to the spotlight the letter places on the Faculty of Arts, Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) VP Internal Rebecca Scarra expressed her Society’s support for the letter.

“We also want more action, more transparency, and more effective communication with our administration,” Scarra said. “When the system that has been in place for so long does not work, we need to change the system. We can no longer work within [a] system that has been built against us.”

With the help of the SSMU report, incoming executives will be able to continue pushing for policy changes next year. VP University Affairs-Elect Jacob Shapiro expressed his commitment to work with members of the community on this next year.

“I have already spoken briefly with [Spencer,]” Shapiro said. “I am going to seek out as many opportunities as possible to listen to and learn from those leading this work and anyone who wants to share their experience, insight, and opinion on this. Additionally, I know that we have a skilled group of incoming Senators, some of whom know a lot more about this than I do. I am looking forward to working with them.”

As of April 9, McGill University has not responded to interview requests regarding the letter. Meanwhile, McGill and Concordia student communities are coming together to stage a public walkout on April 11, in front of the James Administration Building at McGill University.

“As students, it really shouldn’t be our responsibility to make sure that we are protecting each other,” Koparkar said in her closing remarks at the conference. “But if this is the kind of work that we need to do [to get change], then so be it.”

What record voter turnout means for the McGill community

(Lauren Benson-Armer / The McGill Tribune)

Voting for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) 2018 Winter Election and Referendum closed on March 21 with a voter turnout of 32.8 per centDespite less than a third of all eligible SSMU members voting, this figure represents the highest voter turnout in the past 14 years.

7,100 of 21,636 eligible electors cast online ballots in the election—a far greater proportion than the 21.8 per cent turnout in Winter 2017, or the 17.5 per cent turnout in Winter 2016 ballots. The referendum questions, which students voted on alongside six SSMU executive positions, included one concerning SSMU’s policy on the implementation of a Fall reading week.

According to Matthew He, Chief Electoral Officer at Elections SSMU, this year’s relatively high voter turnout is likely due to the presence of the Fall reading week question. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, He interpreted a high level of ‘abstain’ votes on questions unrelated to the Fall reading week as evidence that many student voters were interested in only one question.

“While acknowledging [that this year’s election had] the highest turnout we’ve had in the last 15-plus years, we do have to realize that there are a substantial number of people who abstained in every single vote except the Fall reading week referendum,” He said. “I understand that what tends to happen when you combine the referendum with the candidates ballots [is that] people will go vote for the one issue that they are passionate about and abstain from all others because they are not informed enough.”

He also described the new strategies that Elections SSMU used to encourage people to vote, like distributing promotional material, tabling to answer questions concerning the voting process, and collecting feedback from SSMU members who did not vote.

“I sent out an email to those who had not voted by the [final] day of the elections,” He said. “The most common feedback I got was that they simply did not have enough information on the candidates or referendum. They didn’t know what they were voting for. A lot of the feedback was expressing disinterest in the elections.”

Most questions in the Winter Election, including the SSMU presidential ballot, had over 2,000 abstentions. Taking abstentions into account, the underlying voter turnout for executive positions was an average of 19.6 per cent, which is consistent with last year’s low turnout.

This apparent lack of student engagement is mirrored at the graduate level, where voter turnout and candidate nominations have consistently been even lower. In the last McGill Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) General Electionwhich closed on Apr. 1, only 755 members, or 9.8 per cent of the electorate, cast ballots. Moreover, three of the executive positions—Financial Affairs Officer, Internal Affairs Officer, and Membership Services Officer—featured no candidates, and will be voted on in a by-election opening on Apr. 28.

Tre Mansdoerfer, U2 Engineering and SSMU president-elect, identifies a culture of institutional disconnect as one of the potential reasons for voter apathy at McGill.

“For whatever reason, at McGill, there’s a disengagement with the school and a disdain between students and McGill University,” Mansdoerfer said. “I think it has to do with [the administration] and how they interact with students, [and] I think it has to do with the culture they created. For whatever reason, McGill has been founded upon a lack of pride in the school. A good chunk of people aren’t happy being at this school. They’re here for the prestige and not their own happiness.”

Voter apathy and low voter turnout are not problems unique to McGill. Other large research universities in Canada continue to struggle to get students to vote in elections and referenda. The general elections of the University of British Columbia’s student union, the Alma Mater Society (AMS), have voter turnout percentages similar to those at McGill University, with a 20.7 per cent turnout in 2017, and 12.5 per cent in 2016. In 2016, the University of Toronto held a referendum for a fee levy for the campus radio station, with a proposed fee increase from $4.85 to $12.85. The levy of nearly 200 per cent, which represented an increase of over 100,000 dollars in funding for the radio station carried with only 59 members voting.

Zak Vescera and Ryan Jones, student journalists at UBC, investigated the low voter turnout rates for The Ubyssey and found that politically apathetic students tended to fall into one of two categories. They explained the results of their surveys in an email statement to the Tribune.

In our reporting, I’d say we found two primary types of ‘apathetic’ students,” Vescera and Jones wrote to the  Tribune. “The first group simply didn’t know what the AMS does or how it benefits them [….] Others knew what the AMS does, but didn’t feel like the result of an election would impact them in any concrete way. These students were often part of demographics that they felt the AMS doesn’t advocate for enough [….] Students directly involved in ‘campus life’ almost always vote, but [students who are less involved] told us they felt left out of the whole thing.”

These shared difficulties in engaging large student bodies may also stem from characteristics unique to Canadian student unions. According to Alex Usher, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates, Canadian universities tend to be more complex and more concerned with running on-campus businesses like bars and restaurants than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, which are smaller and tend to focus on advocacy and academic affairs.

“In the UK [and other countries], the student unions are very focused on being a part of the quality assurance process,  [….] and somehow that’s never caught on [in Canada,]” Usher said. “Although we have lots of students who are interested in political issues, we tend to define the political issues as being dollars and cents issues, and not [questions pertaining to academic quality and relevance].”

However, metrics like election turnout may not necessarily be the best way to measure a student society’s impact, according to Usher.

“Voting is one measure of engagement, but another measure is simply how many people are involved in the governance structure,” Usher said. “If the central student union is engaging everyone in the faculties and department and [making suggestions and offering support in academic affairs,] I think doing that stuff increases the quality of the engagement rather than the quantity [….] At the end of the day, you’re doing something that matters more to students.”

A number of changes have been proposed by incoming SSMU executives to increase member engagement with the organization. Outlining his plans for next year, Mansdoerfer discussed his intention to refocus SSMU’s efforts on projects that matter to students.

“It really feels like people involved in SSMU are dissociated from what students really want to see,” Mansdoerfer said. “It’s really easy to get focused on your personal projects, and it’s easy to miss out on what really matters [.…] I really hope that I can bring the structural and institutional change that has to happen for good leadership.”

SSMU building closure disrupts campus clubs

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(Natalie Vineberg / The McGill Tribune)

Student clubs and services previously housed within the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) building encountered logistical burdens in their search for alternative work spaces after the building closed on March 17. The closure was the the first step in a long-term schedule of renovations and repairs which are planned to continue into Winter 2019. While the move has left some student groups scrambling, both the clubs and SSMU have made efforts to maintain a cohesive community.

Nineteen clubs, which normally occupy the SSMU building, have relocated to other workspaces in buildings on Robert-Bourassa Boulevard and Peel Street. The Plate Club, a service that lends out dishware for student groups holding events, faced countless difficulties securing a new office before eventually relocating to 3471 Peel Street.

“At first, we weren’t given a new space because [SSMU General Manager] Ryan [Hughes] didn’t know what we do with our office space,” Plate Club Internal Coordinator Doug Lebo wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune. “We told him we didn’t need to move our dishwasher and his very next email essentially indicated that we didn’t have a space because we ‘would need dishwashing capacity.’”

However, after pushing SSMU for accomodation, Lebo has been pleased with the new arrangements.

“Overall […] the physical move was really easy,” Lebo wrote. “[SSMU Building Director] Wallace [Sealy] was kind enough to install a realtor box to keep our keys in since we now operate with locked cabinets in a public space.”

Some displaced groups such as Midnight Kitchen (MK), a non-profit collective known for serving vegan lunches on campus for donations, perform services which need specialized equipment to continue operating. MK employee Wade Walker found the relocation a struggle given the group’s need for a kitchen.

“At one point, SSMU thought they found us a space but it fell through because it wasn’t a commercial kitchen,” Walker said. “The only kitchen we could find is actually in Saint-Henri, so now we aren’t doing lunch servings.”

He also lamented that the relocation planning lacked cohesiveness.

“I really wish [SSMU had] had a complete plan in place before they came to us about the building closure,” Walker said. “They’ve been trying to communicate effectively, but there aren’t enough people working on the project, so they miss and forget things we’ve told them.”

Players’ Theatre, a student theatre company formerly housed in SSMU, was evicted from their office without warning on Feb. 12. Its new office is now on Peel Street and SSMU has given them funding to rent out MainLine Theatre on boulevard Saint Laurent for their productions. Events Coordinator Cheyenne Cranston said that, while the move has been challenging, it has reminded her of the strength of the campus community.

“It has been truly amazing to see the student body be so willing to help us when we need it, and support us through the move!” Cranston wrote in an email to the Tribune.

Jemark Earle, SSMU Vice President Student Life, hoped to prioritize the community of clubs. SSMU often didn’t have solutions to the challenges faced in organizing such a massive undertaking, leaving the clubs in limbo.

“We tried to make sure that even if we didn’t have much information, the clubs and services within the SSMU building knew everything we knew as soon as possible” Earle said. “The building [on Peel Street] was offered to us originally in August. We had been meeting with groups saying we could house them there, we had set down floor plans by the end of September, and then the administration said, ‘never mind this is off the table.’”

The building is scheduled to reopen in stages: Gerts will likely be back by the start of the fall semester, the first and second floors by the middle of October, and the rest of the building by December.

Ed Talks Episode 1: SSMU

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News Editor Calvin Trottier-Chi and Managing Editor Audrey Carleton sit down with Multimedia editor Tristan Surman to share their thoughts on voter apathy, how fall reading week created single-issue voters, and both the outgoing and incoming SSMU executives.

Photo by Lauren Benson Armer

Heated debate on free tuition dominates general assembly

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(Tristan Surman / The McGill Tribune)

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) convened for its Winter General Assembly (GA) on March 26. Fewer than 350 students—the minimum requirement to meet quorum—attended the GA, forcing the assembly to become a consultative forum. All motions passed by a consultative forum can be added to the agenda of the following SSMU Legislative Council meeting. Attendees the Motion to Organize the Fight for Free Education and Cancellation of Student Debt, the only motion submitted to the agenda.

SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva attributed low attendance at the GA to the nature of the sole motion presented.

“The GA has been advertised on Facebook and publicized widely,” Tojiboeva said. “I think [lack of attendance has] more to do with the non-controversial nature of the motions, which usually attracts people to the GA.”

The motion was drafted by Socialist Fightback’s McGill chapter and mandates that SSMU support initiatives for free education and student debt cancellation. It calls upon the SSMU Vice-President (VP) External to collaborate with student activists across Canada to mobilize a one-day strike in Fall 2018. Additionally, the motion requested that SSMU establish monthly democratic assemblies to engage students in SSMU’s advocacy campaigns.

This motion is preceded by SSMU’s current policy to promote free education, which passed in 2015. Socialist Fightback member Natalia Garcia believes that organizing a strike is the next step in the fight for free education.

“The best way to fight for our rights is mass action,” Garcia said. “It took the 2012 mass strike for the government to cancel the tuition hikes. That’s what the government responds to, not letters, not votes. They respond to pressure. We don’t believe that [the government] will do anything by themselves if it’s not coming from [students].”

During the debate period, SSMU VP External Connor Spencer expressed her support for the motion, predicting that free tuition is potentially on the horizon for Canadian universities.

“The NDP just passed, at their congress a month ago, a motion to endorse free tuition,” Spencer said. “This is something that’s on the agenda for the upcoming provincial election, because students have mobilized. This motion is incredibly timely, and I want to lend my full support.”

Socialist Fightback member Vishwaa Ramakrishnan explained that this motion is only one step in the right direction toward free education.

“The motion is Canadian-centric but it is designed to expand beyond the confines of [Canada],” Ramakrishnan said. “This is a global issue. It’s time we start uniting as students across the country, across the world, for free education. I think only through solidarity, with this resolution as a first step in that greater and broader plan for free education, that we can achieve that.”

(Tristan Surman / The McGill Tribune)

Not all students were in favour of the motion, however. Andrew Figueiredo, U2 Arts, stated during the debate period that he thinks free tuition is too ambitious a goal for a student strike.

“It’s fine and dandy to talk about free tuition, but it’s a bit of a pipe dream at this point,” Figueiredo said. “It would be nice to implement in the long run, but this motion is not the way to get there. A one-day student strike would not only be disruptive to campus life, it would frankly not work.”

Figueiredo further criticized the motion for a lack of fiscal policy details and expressed concern about the long-term repercussions of implementing free tuition.

“We could essentially tank the Canadian economy with this kind of idea, if it goes far enough,” Figueiredo said. “So let’s take a step back and think about these things, not go on strike, have pertinent discussions on campus, take some economics classes, and consult some experts before going about this.”

A majority of the consultative forum voted in favour of the motion. It was then discussed at SSMU Legislative Council on March 29, where an amended version passed calling for SSMU to work toward the implementation of monthly democratic assemblies in Fall 2018.


SSMU Legislative Council votes in favour of student strike for free education

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(Catherine Morrison / The McGill Tribune)


At its meeting on March 29, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council passed the Motion to Organize the Fight for Free Education and the Cancellation of Student Debt. Council also passed the Motion Regarding the Adoption of a Sustainability Policy and the Motion to Amend the Internal Regulations to Improve Accessibility, Impartiality, and Stability of the Board of Directors (BoD)


Council votes to support free tuition and debt cancellation

McGill’s Chapter of Socialist Fightback (SF)—a group advocating for a societal transition to socialismhas campaigned to pass the motion at both the General Assembly (GA) and at Council since March 16. Vishwaa Ramakrishnan, U0 Arts, a member of SF, presented the motion, which councillors discussed in an extensive question period.

SSMU Vice-President (VP) Connor Spencer explained that both the Quebec Student Union (QSU) and the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ) would have major roles in lobbying the provincial government for the right of students in Quebec to strike. Councillors raised concerns about the legality of a student strike in Quebec after the passing of Bill 78, which was passed following the student strikes in 2012 and prohibits protests on school grounds.

“The best avenues for us to address this is through [QSU] and AVEQ,” Spencer said. “So both of them at their congresses were talking about what specific needs their members want them to bring to the provincial governments to do with the legal rights for students to strike.”

After the question period, Medicine Representative Andre Lametti proposed an amendment to the motion, replacing the call for SSMU to immediately establish monthly democratic assemblies with a call for SSMU to “work towards” establishing monthly democratic assemblies.

“The modalities have not been established yet and this motion taking effect, right now, would mean we would have to start having monthly democratic assemblies, at this present time, which I suppose is what the movers want, but we still have to decide how we are going to do it,” Lametti said.

Following the introduction of this amendment, councillors engaged in heated debate over the accountability and integrity of next year’s SSMU Executive.

“‘Work towards’ has been what has been put in the prior SSMU resolutions for the last 2 years,” Ramakrishnan said. “In those resolutions, there is no concrete action.”

While councillors quickly came to the defence of next year’s SSMU Executive, SSMU VP University Affairs (UA) Isabelle Oke acknowledged students’ general mistrust of SSMU and expressed her support for the inclusion of a firm timeline in the motion, rather than mandating SSMU to take action in an indefinite period of time.

“The issue at hand isn’t necessarily one of questioning the integrity of the [SSMU Executive], but […] it seems like there is little trust in SSMU as an institution,” Oke said. “If we’re being asked to stick to this higher standard, I would speak against the amendment just in terms of taking the small steps [toward increased accountability] that are required to have that relationship with a membership where we can make these changes and they’re taken for what they are.”

Ultimately, the amendment passed with the addition of a line stipulating that the monthly democratic assemblies must take place by Fall 2018. The motion also passed, with 13 in favour, nine opposed, and two abstentions.


Council votes to revamp the BoD

Council passed the Motion to Amend the Internal Regulations to Improve Accessibility, Impartiality, and Stability of the Board of Directors. The motion stipulates that the chair of the BoD must be a non-voting member who will not be counted toward the quorum at BoD meetings. It also requires the BoD to include two alumni representatives in an advisory capacity.

SSMU President-Elect and current Engineering Senator Tre Mansdoerfer presented this motion following concerns raised about lack of transparency from this year’s BoD due to meetings being scheduled on Sunday evenings in the SSMU office, when both the University Centre and the Brown Building require keycard access to enter. To address this, one the motion’s amendments specifies that the agenda for all BoD meetings must be made publicly available at least 48 hours in advance.


Support for SSMU VP External-Elect Marina Cupido remains divisive

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(Tristan Surman / The McGill Tribune)

In the 2018-2019 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executive election, Vice-President (VP) External-Elect Marina Cupido received 1,645 “No” votes—a substantially higher number than the candidates for other positions received.  Her candidacy was opposed by the group McGill Students for an Inclusive SSMU, which condemned Cupido for expressing solidarity with former arts representative Igor Sadikov and allegedly disregarding President Muna Tojiboeva’s mistreatment at SSMU.

Last February, while in office, Sadikov sparked outrage with his controversial tweet “punch a zionist today.” He was further criticized when he claimed at a Legislative Council meeting that Jewish people do not constitute a homogeneous ethnic group. While many accused Sadikov of escalating anti-Semitic sentiments, Cupido publicly defended him. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Cupido elaborated on her reasons for supporting Sadikov.

“I understand Zionism as a form of settler colonialism,” Cupido said. “It was my understanding that [Sadikov] was expressing opposition to Zionism as a political movement, and the violence that it enacts [….] Based on my discussions with Jewish people, I believe that his statement about homogeneity was true.”

Though Cupido acknowledged the lack of nuance in Sadikov’s statements, her stance was met with backlash during her campaign. As a Jewish person, David Naftulin, U1 Arts, found Cupido’s view on Zionism and Judaism particularly troubling.

“Judaism and Zionism are not the same thing necessarily, but they are […] very important to most people of Jewish identity,” Naftulin said. “It is not about the Zionism. It is about the veiled targeting of Jewish students.”

Regarding the claim that Jews do not make up a single peoplehood, Naftulin criticized Cupido for not understanding Jewish identity.

“Judaism is inherently not evangelist,” Naftulin said. “Jews do not make an attempt to convert others [….] There are individuals who are not members of the Jewish ethnic group. However, […] Jewish people are a peoplehood which results from a single ethnic group.”

However, Hani Abramson, U2 Arts and Jewish member of Cupido’s campaign team, argued in favour of Cupido’s understanding of Judaism.

“There are Jews by choice who are just as Jewish as people who were born Jewish,” Abramson said. “I think that referring to the Jewish people as a homogeneous ethnic group […] lends itself to associations with racial hygiene and eugenic theory that has been mobilized against Jews by anti-Semites.”

Inclusive SSMU also claimed that Cupido was dismissive of gendered violence that Tojiboeva experienced during her tenure. This accusation largely stems from an article published in the Bull and Bear on Oct. 20 in which Tojiboeva wrote about opposition within the SSMU executive, of which six of the seven original members were women. In a statement to The McGill Tribune, Inclusive SSMU warned the public to be informed.

[Cupido’s] lies don’t change the fact that she continues to deny the lived experiences of Muna Tojiboeva,” Inclusive SSMU, whose members chose to remain anonymous, wrote. “[Cupido] has directly attacked survivors of gendered violence and encouraged violence against students.

However, throughout her tenure, Tojiboeva never highlighted gendered violence, with no mention of it in her article, in her response to declarations of no confidence, in the suspension of VP Finance Arisha Khan, or in the divisive debates of the Fall 2017 General Assembly. Her critics did not mention gendered violence either. In her response to Inclusive SSMU’s allegations, Cupido emphasized that Tojiboeva never used the term “gendered violence” to describe her experiences within SSMU.

“What the No campaign is doing is imposing the language of gendered violence on one woman to slander another woman who is a survivor of gendered violence,” Cupido said. “It is so hard to even articulate how harmful and disingenuous the campaign is.”

Despite the close election results, Cupido affirmed that she has received a democratic mandate from SSMU members to properly represent all interests on campus. Further, some “No” voters indicated their willingness to collaborate with Cupido.

“Truthfully, my ‘No’ is not necessarily to defeat her, but to make her understand that her rhetoric has harmed students,” Naftulin said. “[Now] she has an opportunity to internalize those concerns […and] to be a constructive, understanding voice for all students.”

SSMU adopts revoked EU working definition of anti-Semitism

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The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has been plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism since its General Assembly (GA) in Fall 2017, where students failed to ratify a Jewish student to the Board of Directors (BoD) allegedly based in part on his pro-Israel affiliations. In response to these accusations, SSMU Legislative Council approved a motion at its March 15 meeting to implement a series of recommendations designed to make the GA a more inclusive space for Jewish students.

Among these recommendations was the adoption of a new definition of the term ‘anti-Semitism’ to address instances of prejudice against Jewish students within SSMU institutions. Other suggestions included education for McGill students and mandatory training for SSMU executives on anti-Semitism.

The recommendations came from the SSMU Anti-Semitism Committee, a BoD committee commissioned to address instances of anti-Semitism and propose preventative mechanisms within the McGill community. The committee includes representatives from the Jewish Studies Students’ Association, Chabad at McGill, Israel on Campus, Am McGill, Hillel McGill, Independent Jewish Voices, a SSMU Director, and a SSMU Councillor.

Of their recommendations, one of the most contentious was the adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism in accordance with the European Union (EU) Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) definition.

Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” the FRA definition reads. “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

Though the definition was widely accepted and reaffirmed by both the Ottawa Protocol and the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism, neither the FRA nor the EU ever officially adopted it. In 2013 the FRA website dropped the working paper which included the “working definition of anti-Semitism” following controversy regarding a clause which some claimed silenced criticism of Israel. SSMU’s definition includes this clause.

“Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include […denying] Jewish people their right to self-determination, defined by the UN Charter as ‘the right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,” the clause reads.

This clause drew the most controversy at Council on March 15. Though Palestinians’ right to self-determination was addressed in a footnote on the motion, those who support groups that advocate for human rights in Palestine—such as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR)—raised concerns that this footnote was not included as a clause.

“I think there’s a lot of issues as to whether [criticism of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism] can be separated,” Social Work Students’ Association representative Matthew Savage said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “I would have prefered to see the full UN definition instead of half of it in the clause and the rest in the footnote just because without that […] we can’t have an actual conversation about what it means to peacefully protest government abuses of people in their land.”

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) McGill asserted the ways in which discussion surrounding Israel-Palestine is integral to ensuring that no voices are left out.

“IJV McGill wholeheartedly opposes these assertions,” IJV wrote in a statement published to their Facebook page. “Most of the Jews, Palestinians and others who support BDS and/or identify as anti or non-Zionist, act not out of anti-Semitism, but out of an urge to seek justice for the oppressed. Calling these political positions anti-Semitic limits the scope of Jewish identity, as well as the discourse surrounding Israel-Palestine, marginalizing Jews and non-Jews alike who support peace in the region.”

The Anti-Semitism Committee emphasized that the definition was created to reflect the diversity of voices within the Jewish community.

“In regards to those involved in BDS activism, it is important to note that a Jewish pro-BDS activist sat on the committee,” the Anti-Semitism Committee wrote in a statement to the Tribune. “We believe it is imperative that the diverse cross-section of Jewish students represented on this committee are allowed to mobilize their lived experiences to define anti-Semitism. The product of this committee does not define BDS activism as anti-Semitic. Rather, the definition provides ways in which activism regarding Israel can veer into anti-Semitism, and cautions against it.”

Tre Mansdoerfer wins SSMU Presidency by 69 vote margin

News/SSMU by
(Audrey Carleton / The McGill Tribune)

U2 Engineering student Tre Mansdoerfer was elected Students’ Society McGill University Presidenct on March 21 with 50.7 per cent of the vote. Mansdoerfer received only 69 more votes than his competitor, U2 Arts student Corinne Bulger, who garnered 49.3 per cent of votes. 32.8 per cent of the undergraduate student body voted in this year’s election, an 11 percentage point increase from last year’s voter turnout of 21.8 per cent.

Vice-President (VP) Internal Matthew McLaughlin, VP Finance Jun Wang, VP External Marina Cupido, VP University Affairs Jacob Shapiro, and VP Student Life Sophia Esterle will join Mansdoerfer on the executive team.

Mansdoerfer ran on a platform focused on accountability and advocacy. His campaign promises included to improve mental health services, build relationships with faculty executives, and lobby the university for a Fall reading week. In the immediate future, he plans to focus on SSMU’s more pressing needs.

“I’m literally shaking and beyond excited to be the next SSMU president,” Mansdoerfer said. “I’m looking forward to getting to work right away […] I’m going to be focusing on making the GA online and being a part of facilitating the building closure. But for the next month and a half, I want to meet all faculty executives and create those relationships for the year.”

In a statement to The McGill Tribune, Bulger expressed gratitude for the experience she gained during her campaign.

“I think that this year’s campaign season showed support, and had a positive nature to it that I think will be reflective of the years to come,” Bulger said. “A big congratulations to Tre, Marina, Jacob, Sophia, Matthew, and Jun. I wish you all the love and luck! This opportunity gave me the chance to meet new people, share ideas, and really engage with students on our campus—which at the end of the day matters most to me, and I will continue to do during my time here at McGill.”

Mansdoerfer is the only executive who ran opposed. Despite a vocal “no” campaign against her, Cupido won the election for VP External with 62.9 per cent of students voting in favour and 37.1 per cent against.

I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone who supported me through this process,” Cupido said. “I truly couldn’t have gotten through the past couple weeks without my campaign team and my friends, particularly given the toxic nature of some of the opposition to my candidacy.”

Coming into the position, Cupido plans to put more resources into the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, partner with a provincial student federation, and work with other Quebec universities to lobby against unpaid internships.

“I’m looking forward to the transition process a lot,” Cupido said. “I need to get up to speed with some of the organizing going on on campus, particularly around the indigenous affairs portfolio. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t give nearly enough space in my platform to the work indigenous student leaders are doing as we speak. Moving into the transition, I have to do a lot of listening and de-centreing of my own voice”

Currently a first-year student, McLaughlin will come into the position of VP Internal as the youngest member of the SSMU executive. Going forward, he plans to meet with representatives from faculties and the First Year Council (FYC) to ensure a smooth transition into his role.

I’ll be hitting the ground running,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve already met with a number of executives from faculty student societies, and I’ll be meeting with many many more over the coming weeks [….] I’m excited to form a group to explore the best way to create the SSMU centralized calendar. I’ll also be focusing on working with the current FYC executives to prepare for a smooth transition to next year.”

Shapiro’s victory follows a candidacy based on ensuring continuity between SSMU executives each year and making SSMU more engaging for the average student. Noting his lack a competitor, he emphasized the importance of remaining open to students’ thoughts and concerns going forward.

Despite the positive results of this campaign, at the end of the day, I received the votes of a mere 17 per cent of the student population, and this, crucially, is without having had a challenger,” Shapiro said. “I must continue to seek out and engage the feedback and opinions of others if I am to be successful and if I am to play a positive role in taking a step to build a stronger student union.”


Vote breakdown:
President Tre Mansdoerfer: 50.7 per cent

VP University Affairs Jacob Shapiro: Yes, 90.5 per cent

VP External Marina Cupido: Yes, 62.9 per cent

VP Internal Matthew McLaughlin: Yes, 87.3 per cent

VP Finance Jun Wang: Yes, 82.6 per cent

VP Student Life Sophia Esterle: Yes, 88.4 per cent

SSMU Council accepts recommendations from committee on anti-Semitism

News/SSMU by
(Catherine Morrison / The McGill Tribune)

At its March 15 meeting, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council passed the Motion Regarding the Policy for the Implementation of a Fall Reading Break, renewing SSMU’s mandate to lobby for the institution of a Fall break at McGill. Council also passed the Motion Regarding the Joint Board of Directors and Legislative Council Special Committee on Anti-Semitism, enacting the committee’s various recommendations to combat anti-Semitism on campus. Senior Director, Planning and Resources Diane Koen and Trenholme Dean of Libraries C. Colleen Cook also presented more information about the Fiat Lux library project.


McGill librarians discuss Fiat Lux project

The Fiat Lux library construction proposal, currently in its planning phase, proposes renovations to the Redpath and McLennan Libraries to fit the modern needs and desires of McGill students. The project leaders for the creation of a “library of the mid-21st century” informed Council of the project’s current status and on soliciting feedback from the student population.

“This project really is about students and your needs,” Cook said. “So we want to hear from you […and] get some of your input.”

Cook and Koen spoke about planned improvements to the library such as better lighting and air conditioning, greater selection and flexibility for individual and group study spaces, and additional seating.

“The whole thing, in the best of all possible worlds, [would be finished] within five to six [years],” Cook said.


Fall Reading Break motion goes to referendum

The motion resolved to continue the Society’s push for implementing a Fall break. It would renew SSMU’s stance on the issue and mandates the Vice-President (VP) External, VP University Affairs (UA), and members of the Senate Caucus to lobby the provincial government, administration, and Senate to establish a Fall Reading Week at McGill.

“[This composition] implements a three-pronged approach,” Bryan Buraga, the incoming Arts and Science senator and a representative from the motion’s “yes” campaign, said. “[As a result,] this would apply the maximum amount of pressure in order for this to be implemented.”

After acknowledging the need for special considerations for certain faculties such as Engineering—whose professors must lecture for a certain number of hours per semester as mandated by the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec—and Medicine, which doesn’t have two-semester academic years, Council passed the motion to be voted on as a referendum question during the Winter 2018 voting period.


Recommendations from the Special Committee on Anti-Semitism passes

After a presentation from a member of the committee, Council deliberated a motion to enact each of its recommendations. These include renewing the committee’s mandate for the 2018-2019 academic year, adopting a working definition of anti-Semitism, and having new SSMU executives undergo a mandatory training session on anti-Semitism. The committee also recommended additional mandates for the VP UA, including hiring a special researcher on anti-Semitism on campus, organizing open workshops to educating students on relevant issues, and working with the McGill administration to implement their recommendations.

The proposed definition of anti-Semitism, one of the motion’s two clauses that passed through the committee without consensus but was addressed by a footnote within the motion, drew the most attention from Council. The motion proposes adopting the European Union’s (EU) Fundamental Rights Agency’s (FRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, though no such definition currently exists. In 2013, the FRA controversially removed an unofficial working paper from its website that included a “working definition of anti-Semitism” which many had taken to be the EU’s official working definition of anti-Semitism.

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” the definition read. “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

One councillor raised concerns about the definition potentially being too broad.

“As […] someone that is pro-[Boycott Divestment Sanctions] BDS, I’m a little worried that I will automatically be labelled as anti-Semite under this definition, without it being fully explained in the section,” Social Work representative Matthew Savage said.

Shira Mattuck, a committee member from Chabad McGill, reasoned that considering the committee’s composition and the included footnote, the proposal should not be modified.

“It’s really important to understand that these clauses were voted on by a majority of Jewish groups on campus,” Mattuck said. “It’s really important that we hear the lived experiences of Jewish students on campus and let Jewish students define anti-Semitism, and I think that [those concerns] are valid, but they are addressed in the footnote.”

After adding a friendly amendment for the committee to revisit its terms of composition during the Fall 2018 semester, Council passed the motion.

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