Curiosity Delivers.

SSMU - page 2

Culture Shock funding dispute reveals deeper discord within SSMU

News/SSMU by
(Ceci Steyn / The McGill Tribune)

In August, the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE) published an open letter condemning the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) decision to cut funding for the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) McGill’s free, annual Culture Shock and Social Justice Days events. UGE is a SSMU service that offers an alternative lending library, anti-oppression workshops, and resources for women’s and queer/trans-friendly healthcare. QPIRG-McGill is a student-run organization independent of SSMU that has a broad mandate to research and take action on social justice issues at McGill and in Montreal. Culture Shock and Social Justice Days aim to educate students on a range of issues, including white supremacy, colonialism, and xenophobia. The conflict over the funding arose from a continued difference of opinion over which organization holds responsibility for the events.

SSMU started Culture Shock, initially titled “Culture Fest,” in the early 2000s. Yet after finding the programming tokenizing of minorities, QPIRG-McGill approached SSMU and offered to help improve the programming in 2006. The events have been treated as a collaboration between the organizations ever since. In previous years, Culture Shock was funded through both QPIRG-McGill’s application for one-time SSMU Funding subsidies and SSMU’s own annual operating budget—the former requiring annual reapplication, the latter serving as a consistent and reliable source of financing. Last year, SSMU provided QPIRG-McGill with $2,040 from its operating budget and $2,682 in grants, as well as logistical support, for Culture Shock and Social Justice Days. SSMU also financially supports other QPIRG-McGill programming, including Rad Frosh.

According to UGE’s open letter, SSMU opted to defund Culture Shock this year due to financial difficulties. Yet, SSMU Vice-President Finance Arisha Khan clarified that while SSMU is no longer setting aside a portion of their operating budget for Culture Shock, the executive committee hopes to continue to support the program financially through other means. Khan and the rest of the executive committee hope QPIRG-McGill will apply for the full amount of event funding this year through the SSMU Funding pot, which serves to support any student group that applies, and often holds a surplus.

“It’s not an irrational thing we’re asking to do because there are specific funds set aside for programming that we can’t use for operations,” Khan said. 

Lucie Lastinger, a member of both the UGE and the QPIRG-McGill boards, found it unreasonable for the SSMU executive team to request that QPIRG-McGill go through the funding application process for an event over which SSMU has historically held partial responsibility. Lastinger also explained that the open letter was the sole initiative of the UGE as a token of solidarity for QPIRG-McGill’s events, but that QPIRG-McGill played no role in drafting the letter.

“Over the years, SSMU has been pushing [Culture Shock] more and more onto QPIRG-McGill, now to the point where it seems like SSMU doesn’t even remember this was their programming,” Lastinger said. “Now it’s like it’s […] somehow unfair that SSMU is helping [QPIRG-McGill].”

Raphaële Frigon, Outreach Coordinator at QPIRG-McGill, expressed disappointment over SSMU’s decreased sense of responsibility for Culture Shock. Given that SSMU contributes $2,040 of their operating budget while QPIRG-McGill contributed $6,500 last year, Frigon was primarily concerned about the implications of the loss of support and partnership from SSMU.

“They don’t want to claim ownership of [Culture Shock],” Frigon said. “Really, what we want is not $2,000. What we want is a partner [in SSMU]. Of course money is good […] but room booking and having the support of the execs is important.”

In Khan’s understanding, ownership of the Culture Shock events was fully transferred to QPIRG-McGill in 2006, and as such, she feels it is most logical for SSMU to switch to a system in which QPIRG-McGill is held accountable for financing and organizing Culture Shock, albeit through SSMU’s funds. She also emphasized SSMU’s continued public support for Culture Shock and Social Justice Days, and hopes to find common ground with QPIRG-McGill.

“We’re working to figure out what a relationship means, for us as well as them, knowing that we’re going through a precarious time in terms of finances,” Khan said. “A relationship does not mean just SSMU gives you a bunch of money when you ask for it, and then gets nothing in return. So we’re trying to piece those together but so far those conversations are going well.”

SSMU and CDN release report on Gendered and Sexualized Violence policy

News/SSMU by
(Hannah Taylor / The McGill Tribune)

After more than three months of consultations with the Community Disclosure Network (CDN), on July 5, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) announced that it had completed the first draft of a SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP). The draft is currently being reviewed by student groups on campus identified as stakeholders for their work against violence in the McGill community. The CDN also released a report summarizing their consultations with survivors and stakeholder groups to the public. The report outlines the CDN’s recommendations for the creation of pro-survivor frameworks for the disclosure of gendered and sexualized violence at SSMU, and lays out a schedule for the creation and implementation of the policy. The CDN plans to finalize the policy in February.

Efforts to develop a SSMU GSVP began last school year after both former SSMU vice-president (VP) external David Aird and former SSMU president Ben Ger resigned following allegations of sexual and gendered violence respectively. Current SSMU VP Internal Maya Koparkar credits the CDN with bringing to SSMU’s attention its serious lack of structure for reporting cases of sexual violence and holding perpetrators accountable.

“We found that there was a lot of confusion in some of the processes for people [who] had experienced sexual violence, not just in a SSMU context,” Koparkar said. “In general, a lot of people would come to SSMU and we didn’t really have a framework to direct people to proper resources, or to help them deal with any issues they might be having if someone was an officer or was involved in the situation.”

According to a representative of CDN who wished to remain anonymous, the group was initially formed to collect disclosures from those affected by Aird’s actions and draw attention to the SSMU’s systemic flaws. After successfully urging SSMU to take action against Aird in a pair of statements and his resignation, the CDN continued to play a strong role in advising SSMU executives as they developed the policy. According to the CDN representative, a strong ongoing response to disclosures of sexualized violence is crucial to ensuring that the McGill community does not become complacent following the resignations.

“It’s really important that we acknowledge that because of what happened, calling out one person isn’t going to fix the problem,” the representative said. “The problem is going to continue to exist and we need to put the procedures in place in order to protect people in the future.”

According to the CDN report, the policy will include a number of means for achieving ongoing and improved justice for survivors. The CDN’s suggestions are organized into three categories:   Pro-survivor Frameworks, Implementation, and Accountability. Among the suggested reforms are training for all SSMU executives and other staff on how to handle reporting and disclosures, a focus on proactive and reactive measures on campus, the creation of a guide to the policy and reporting structures on campus accessible to all SSMU members, and continued lobbying of McGill University to change its existing Sexual Violence Policy.

Community engagement was central to the creation of the GSVP. Forums for feedback, which were used to consult the McGill community during the first round of drafting, will be implemented for the second draft in September. SSMU executives have also been reading responses to an online feedback form which will remain open throughout the summer and into the next phase of policy drafting. According to Koparkar, SSMU is communicating developments of its policy to McGill administration, which has its own sexual violence policy. However, the policy should be created primarily by a community of SSMU members, especially those affected by gendered or sexual violence.

Queer McGill (QM), one of the stakeholder groups identified by the CDN, will be reviewing the first draft of the policy before its public release in the fall. According to QM Administrative Coordinator Mads Motush, some people think it is very important that survivor-based support is central to the development of the policy. Others, however, see it as difficult emotional labour being done for free for SSMU by the stakeholder groups. While Motush is very optimistic about the long-term success of the policy, they admit to having doubts about the implementation and its timeline.

“There are a lot of good ideas going around but it's going to be hard to implement them,” Motush said. “I'd never underestimate the power of student groups, but the timeline they've proposed so far just seems unrealistic to me, to have it all done by the end of Winter semester. I would love for that to happen, but the stakeholder groups are meeting only for the first time [in late August].”

Although the CDN representative believes that the GSVP is an important step towards justice for survivors, gendered and sexualized violence can only be reduced through personal and interpersonal accountability,

“Abusers are trained in the language of consent,” the representative said. “Just because people have taken consent training courses or say they’re feminists doesn’t mean they’re incapable of violence and abuse. We are all capable of violence, and we need to check each other and ourselves.”

Sadie’s permanently closes

News/SSMU by
(Natalie Vineberg/ McGill Tribune)

On April 13, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) sent an email informing its students that Sadie’s, a student-run cafe located in the SSMU building, would permanently close on May 5. The cafe–formerly known as simply the Student Run Cafeteria or SRC–had continuously faced deficits since it opened in 2013, and reducing these losses has been an important goal for SSMU executives year after year. Even so, the email notice came as a surprise to many students because, up until that point, SSMU had shown no signs that Sadies’ closure was probable.

The announcement was particularly poorly received among Sadie’s staff, who, according to Assistant Manager Madison Lowe, had not been involved in the decision-making process. Not only was SSMU’s email on April 13 the first time that Lowe had heard about the cafe’s closure, but it felt especially abrupt considering she had already signed a year-long employment contract to work until February 2018.

“Last year we were open for all of the summer, [but this year] we were given no notice that there would even be the possibility of us closing just for the summer, let alone permanently,” Lowe said.

Although SSMU is still honouring its contracts by helping Sadie’s’ staff find employment in other departments, Lowe pointed out that the lack of forewarning prevented staff from making alternative plans for the summer.

“[The executives] intend on finding replacement jobs for all of us in SSMU […] but they haven’t guaranteed us anything,” Lowe said. “Also, there were positions in the SSMU office I would have applied for, but the deadline [has passed]  and we didn’t know about [Sadie’s closure] until last week.”

In an effort to gain clarity about the decision to close, Lowe spoke to Sadie’s Kitchen Manager Simona Trunzo and SSMU Food and Beverage Director Alessandro Sangiovanni. Yet, neither of them claimed to have been consulted about the decision, which only added to Lowe’s confusion and dismay.

“[Sadies’ closure] is very strange because, if […] Sadie’s wasn’t making enough money, don’t you think they would’ve talked to [Trunzo and Sangiovanni]?” Lowe said. “Because those are the two people who are [at Sadie’s] all the time, who order the inventory, [and] who are in charge of sales.”

Former SSMU vice-president (VP) operations Sacha Magder also implied that Sadie’s made promising fiscal improvements during his tenure. In Winter 2017, he rebranded and advertised Sadie’s in order to increase its visibility and business. In an interview on March 30, he claimed that he improved Sadie’s financial circumstances significantly, estimating that the deficit was cut by 30 to 50 per cent over the course of the year as a result of his efforts.

“The rebrand for Sadie’s seemed to be really well received,” Magder said. “We’ve doubled our sales numbers almost every single month, we posted a profit in the month of February, we’ve broken even a couple other months, [although] we’ve still been posting deficits in a number of other months.”

Despite this progress, Magder was only cautiously optimistic about the future of Sadie’s, and acknowledged that it was difficult to justify supporting it given its ongoing history of deficits.

“The issue is that [Sadie’s is] still posting a fairly significant deficit and this is the fourth consecutive year that it’s posting a significant deficit,” Magder said. “Given the fact that the base fee failed last year, it does set us up for a position where we’re thinking on this critically.”

Following the announcement of Sadie’s closure, former SSMU VP finance Niall Carolan explained the financial considerations that went into SSMU’s decision. Seeking a definitive solution to the deficit, SSMU intended to prioritize improving Sadie’s throughout the 2016-2017 academic year, and then reevaluate the numbers at the end of the school year to see if the cafe was worth saving into the future.

“Sadie’s has posted operational deficits since it opened in 2013,” Carolan wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “Having a student-run food operation was deemed a priority for the SSMU, and in 2016 the Legislative Council made a decision to keep the operation running for one additional year.”

Sadies’ financial success at the end of the 2016-17 academic year was in line with what had been budgeted for the cafe at the beginning of the year. The 2016-17 budget provided room for Sadie’s to run a deficit of $100,000, which would be an improvement from the $120,000 deficit of the previous year. Carolan estimated that, in the final budget report on May 31, Sadie’s would have run a deficit between $80,000 and $100,000, which was slightly better than expected, but not enough in his eyes.

“While I am saddened by losing Sadie’s, we can no longer justify continued investment into an operation that is detrimental to the financial health of the SSMU and the range of services it provides,” Carolan wrote.

When trying to understand the decision to close Sadie’s, Lowe theorized that all the money spent on improving Sadie’s misleadingly increased its deficit, making it seem like Sadie’s was a failing business when it was actually only incurring temporary costs. Many of SSMU’s investments into Sadie’s rebranding were expensive, but Lowe explained that they were only one-time costs. To Lowe, the decision to close Sadie’s was premature and unfair because if it had been given more time to operate, these costs would only comprise a fraction of  the revenue that it would make over several years.

“I feel like it could almost look like we’re not making money because they haven’t looked at what they’ve invested,” Lowe said. “The only numbers I want are just Sadie’s [to see] if [sales] are going up, and I’m 95 per cent sure they are.”

There is still no official statement on what SSMU plans to do with the space that Sadie’s once occupied on the second floor. In interview, Lowe cited rumours that the old SSMU executive team had considered moving Midnight Kitchen—a free, non-profit, student-run lunch and breakfast service—to Sadie’s former location. The current SSMU executive team has made no official statement to support this claim.

“SSMU cannot confirm whether Midnight Kitchen will be moving into Sadie’s space,” current SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva said. “We will be clearing up space issues come September.”

Anuradha Mallik resigns as SSMU Vice-President Operations and Sustainability

News/Private/SSMU by
(Noah Sutton / The McGill Tribune)

On August 15, Anuradha Mallik resigned from her position as Vice-President (VP) Operations and Sustainability of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). Mallik declined to provide the specific details of the reasoning behind her resignation, but emphasized that stepping down was a mutual agreement with the rest of the executives and that it was a consequence of discordance with the institution rather than a response to a particular individual or event.

“This afternoon, I sent in my resignation as VP Sustainability and Operations of the SSMU,” Mallik wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune on the day of her resignation. “After working at the SSMU for two and a half months, I realised the vision I had of the position was not in line with the reality of the SSMU workplace. I feel that this decision would be the most beneficial for both the SSMU and myself, and wish the best for the amazing executive team.”

At the end of the Winter 2017 semester, the previous SSMU executive team elected to give the VP Operations position the responsibility for managing sustainability efforts, and in so doing, renamed it to ‘VP Operations and Sustainability’. In addition to directing SSMU’s sustainability efforts, Mallik’s primary responsibilities included managing the usage of the SSMU building and overseeing SSMU’s revenue-generating businesses such as Gerts.

Over the course of this summer, Mallik had been working to further develop the major projects that her predecessor Sacha Magder began, including the SSMU Courtyard Garden project, Crash Pad, and the Sustainable Frosh Initiative. The Courtyard Garden project is an ongoing effort to construct a community garden behind the SSMU Building, which will provide SSMU’s food businesses with fresh produce and serve as a learning space for SSMU daycare children year-round. The Crash Pad was an initiative that provided mattresses for students to sleep safely in the SSMU ballroom during Frosh 2016, and is scheduled to return for Frosh 2017.

Another aspect of Mallik’s former portfolio, the Sustainable Frosh Initiative was originally created as a fund to cover the extra costs of faculties sourcing their t-shirts and tote bags from sustainable suppliers, allowing faculty Froshes to become more environmentally-friendly without changing their budgets. More recently, the Initiative has begun to work toward instilling a culture of eco-mindedness within Frosh, through sustainability training for Frosh staff, the distribution of pamphlets about the environment to Frosh participants, and the creation of a sustainability coordinator position within each faculty’s coordinating team.

“Honestly, I'm quite proud of how the Sustainable Frosh Initiative has panned out,” Mallik wrote. “The Sustainable Frosh Coordinator and I worked really hard together towards this project and to overcome any obstacles and I feel like it'll make a lasting impact.”

When not developing supplemental projects for Frosh such as the Crash Pad or the Sustainable Frosh Initiative, SSMU usually takes a hands-off approach towards overseeing Frosh, so Mallik’s resignation won’t have a major effect on this year’s orientation activities. Individual faculties and committees are responsible for the majority of Frosh planning, and do not typically rely on the VP Operations and Sustainability. The remaining six SSMU executives plan to divide Mallik’s responsibilities among themselves until a new VP Operations and Sustainability is selected in the upcoming semester.

“How the new VP Operations [and Sustainability] will be selected is to be determined in the fall,” SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune. “I am overseeing the implementation of the various sustainability initiatives. The other tasks under the VP Operations [and Sustainability] portfolio are distributed equally among the executives.”

As the executive team adjusts to the redistribution of tasks, they remain confident in their ability to oversee their own portfolios as well, for the time being. Having been appointed to oversee all Frosh-related tasks of the VP Operations and Sustainability portfolio, SSMU VP Internal Affairs Maya Koparkar faces the most immediate challenge.

“I am overseeing frosh-related activities, specifically Crash Pad and the Sustainable Frosh project, and everything is still going according to plan without affecting any other aspects of my own portfolio,” Koparkar wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune.

FYC considers additional reforms

News/SSMU by
(Lauren Benson-Armer / The McGill Tribune)

Many universities have clubs and services tailored to make the transition from high school to university as smooth as possible. In addition to the Inter-Residence Council (IRC) and various faculty first-year organizations, McGill has a First Year Council (FYC), an official student body which was created under the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) in 2013.

At the start of each academic year, all first year students have the opportunity to nominate themselves and campaign for executive positions on the FYC. After a one week campaigning period, first year students elect for their FYC representatives individually via Elections SSMU. According to the FYC constitution, it is the aim of the elected body of five first-year students to foster a strong sense of community through social events and collaboration with other first-year groups. This year, FYC held a Town Hall at Gerts, a trip to Quebec City, a speed dating event, weekend trips to Ottawa and Toronto, and an end of year party.

According to SSMU Vice-President (VP) Internal Daniel Lawrie and FYC VP External Kevin Zhou, the group struggles with its lack of an institutional identity. SSMU Legislative Council put reforms in place in Fall 2013 to provide FYC with institutional support. SSMU executives serve as mentors to the FYC representatives, advising on issues concerning event locations, budgeting, and McGill bureaucracy. However, Lawrie said the mentoring system between the FYC and SSMU is not a formal process. According to FYC VP Finance Marie Fester, SSMU has been criticized for its lack of  communication and feedback. The resignation of two SSMU executives and FYC’s own VP Internal, for personal reasons, since February has made the Winter semester difficult for FYC.

“[By comparison, the Arts Undergraduate Society’s (AUS) First-Year Events, Academic, and Representative Council (FEARC) executives] receive more guidance from the AUS VP Internal,” said  Fester.

While AUS executives play an active role during FEARC meetings, Lawrie said that SSMU has a different role in FYC and provides mentoring on an ad-hoc basis.

Zhou and Lawrie said that there is little institutional memory in the FYC due to the annual turnover of SSMU and FYC executives. According Zhou, this issue has been compounded by the lack of updates made to the FYC constitution, which was last written and updated in 2013, despite the fact that it is supposed to be updated every year.

“Some issues in the current constitution are no longer relevant to the current FYC,” Zhou said. “For example, town halls require resources that the FYC doesn’t have [….Moreover,] the current constitution does not reflect the current structure of the FYC and needs to be something for the incoming council to fall back on.”

Zhou said that there are variations in the time commitments expected of each FYC representative. While other positions only require attendance at a weekly FYC meeting, the VP External position entails six to seven hours of meetings with the SSMU Legislative Council once every fortnight.

“Prospective candidates need to know what they’re getting into, as it is unfair on the people who are committed,” Zhou said.  

At this point in time, it is unclear what reforms will be made, according to Zhou. Fester would like to see FYC funding allocated to different initiatives and for more first-year seats to be offered on campus committees.

“FYC is not just a representative body, it’s also an opportunity for people to get involved,” Zhou said.

Although inexperienced members will always be a problem, the FYC will need to collaborate with more clubs to expand its reputation, according to Zhou. Moreover, Zhou said transitions within SSMU and the FYC will need to be handled more carefully, a process in which both Zhou and Fester are willing to help with when new executive members assume their roles on FYC next year.

SSMU Council passes Motion to Advocate for Changes to the Code of Student Conduct

News/SSMU by
(Christopher Li / The McGill Tribune)

On April 6, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council held its last meeting of the term. During this meeting, the Council passed a motion to advocate for changes to the McGill Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, addressed concerns surrounding the role of the Board of Directors (BoD), and discussed proposals evaluated by the Library Improvement Fund Committee (LIFC).

Motion to Advocate for Changes to the McGill Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures to Support Survivors

The Motion to Advocate for Changes to the McGill Code of Student Conduct was moved in response to an article by The McGill Tribune titled “It doesn’t matter because it didn’t happen on campus,” published on April 4.

“A student at McGill was assaulted by another student and the McGill administration did not act to protect the survivor of the assault,” SSMU Clubs Representative Adam Templer said. “They claimed that this is a result of the specific limitations within the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.”

The motion, which was passed unanimously, seeks to increase SSMU’s role in changing what circumstances fall under the McGill context in the Code of Student Conduct and to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future.

“[We are] trying to mandate next year’s executive team to take action in consultation and cooperation with the next year’s senators in order to push forward the creation of a committee involving students and faculty, to properly revise and address the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures,” Templer said.

Templer is disappointed in how the McGill administration handled the situation, in which McGill took little action to prevent the perpetrator of the assault from being in contact with the victim on campus.  

“What happened is completely unacceptable and the survivor was let down, and frankly this reflects poorly on the entire McGill community by the actions of the administration,” Templer said.

Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Erin Sobat encourages students to have a say in any revisions that will be made to the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.

“The code is scheduled for review this fall,” Sobat said. “There’s also a number of other policies that are up for review in part of the context of the Policy Against Sexual Violence […] so ideally there should be a number of opportunities for student input as to what those changes look like.”

Library Improvement Fund Guest Speaker

According to Malcolm McClintock, the LIF commissioner, a majority of the student feedback from the 2016-2017 year called for having more accessible food options, consistent temperature control in the libraries, increasing the amount of study areas and relaxation space, and adding more outlets and charging devices.

There were certain requests asked for in student surveys that could not be provided by LIF, such as reopening the second entrance at the Redpath Library, as this would require hiring additional security. Other proposals that were rejected included implementing standing desks and sleep areas.

McClintock also addressed the progress of the Fiat Lux, a project to upgrade the Redpath-McLennan complex and to add a collection storage unit underneath the lower field.

“It’s been in the works for about two years, and I really think we need to start getting students’ voices in there because if we’re not smart about this, we might not be able to build the library that best represents us necessarily,” McClintock said.

Board of Directors Guest Speaker

The Board of Directors, the highest governing undergraduate student body at McGill, is in charge of supervising the management and affairs of SSMU.

According to Chloe Rourke, chair of the Board of Directors, a recurring problem is the Board not holding SSMU executives responsible for their actions.

“Complaints that were made by executives against executives were always mitigated by other executives,” Rourke said. “There was no higher body that would intervene, […] and if a complaint was made against a president, there was really no [governing] body that was able to hold them accountable.”


So far, no solution has been found to address this problem, but the Board is open to broad consultation with the community for potential solutions or ideas.

McGill Students’ Mental Health Working Group publishes open letter

McGill/News/SSMU by
(Noah Sutton / The McGill Tribune)

On March 31, the McGill Students’ Mental Health Working Group released an open letter addressed to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, expressing concerns about the recent restructuring of McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services (MCMHS). Counselling and Mental Health Services were separate units until they were combined into one service in Fall 2016. This integration introduced the Stepped Care Model, which by design is intended to deliver the most effective and least intensive treatment to patients appropriate to their needs, according to the Student Services website.

According to Dyens, the integration of stepped care has shortened wait times.

We have eliminated a waitlist of more than 100 students from the Mental Health unit,” Dyens wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “By implementing Stepped Care, treatments start sooner because students first meet with the clinician who will follow their care.”

Though the wait list has been cut down, the changes have created new concerns. According to Erin Sobat, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) University Affairs, one of the issues has been the implementation of the Client Care Clinician (CCC) role as part of Stepped Care. Existing psychologists and psychotherapists have been assigned as CCCs, who act as case managers for students.

Students are randomly assigned a CCC who may be either a counselling psychologist or a clinical psychologist (psychotherapist) […] this person is expected to provide them with therapy whether or not they are actually an appropriate match,” Sobat wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Our biggest concern is that this further limits access for students with mental illness to receive specialized psychological care, and may in fact put students in crisis or borderline situations in further danger [if they see a CCC who is not adequately trained to deal with the issue].”

According to Sobat, multiple students have reported difficulties in changing their CCC.

Chloe Rourke, mental health advocate and former Mental Health Education Coordinator at McGill Mental Health Services, wrote in an email to the Tribune that some staff have found the adjustments to their role challenging.

“[Staff] are now being asked to fulfill the role of case managers for each individual student in addition to being their therapists, but this is a fundamentally different role,” Rourke wrote. “A case manager is not necessarily the same person who should be providing direct treatment.”

The open letter also states that clinicians were silenced or dismissed when they raised concerns about the changes to MCMHS. According to a MCMHS staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, it became clear in the months building up to the suspension and subsequent departure of former clinical director Dr. Nancy Low in December 2016 that staff concerns were not being heard and that the changes would be integrated.  

Many of the issues regarding the harmonization of Counselling and Mental Health Services and the implementation of the stepped care model were apparent to staff members before the changes were implemented,” the staff member said. “[…] there is a feeling that these issues could have been avoided if clinicians and counsellors were properly consulted to begin with.

According to Associate Clinical Director Giuseppe Alfonsi, who has been the acting head of MHS, MCMHS is trying to find an interim replacement.

“Dr. Low is a dearly respected colleague of ours and certainly has been missed,” Alfonsi wrote in an email to the Tribune. “However, we are mostly looking towards the future and hoping to find a suitable interim replacement.”

The MCMHS staff member noted a shift in morale in the unit after Dr. Low’s suspension.

“For McGill to get rid of one of its own without adequate consideration of the effect on staff, and more importantly students, sends a clear message about the administration's priorities,” the staff member said.

Morgan Grobin, U3 Engineering, believes the integration is a step in the right direction, though she has encountered barriers in accessing the help she needs. Grobin waited from November 2016 to January 2017 to see a counsellor and was first referred to a psychiatric nurse before finally getting an appointment with a psychiatrist who was able to prescribe her medication.

“I wish the counsellor could have referred me directly to the psychiatrist,” Grobin said. “Once I accessed care, the outcome was always positive.”

Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, was hospitalized in second year and saw a psychiatrist, but was not set up for follow up appointments. Since then, the student has seen 10 other counsellors, psychiatrists, and therapists, several of whom left or went on leave shortly after beginning the student’s sessions. The student’s current therapist is reducing her hours.

“The feeling I’m getting is that there were a lot of promises made regarding the integration,” the student said. “I think [the doctors] are getting frustrated with the way things are getting set up. There are bound to be difficulties in putting together two offices that were working separately.”

Dyens noted that end-of year surveys have been scheduled for the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD), the Student Health Service, and MCMHS. Dyens expressed that MCMHS is open to hearing student feedback.

“We [will] continue to listen to students about their concerns and will continue to adjust our services and practices as need be in order to better serve their needs,” Dyens wrote. “We want all our students to be treated with respect and care […] We will respond [to the open letter] by making sure our services are the best they can be.”

2016-2017 SSMU executive reviews

News/SSMU by
(Wendy Chen / McGill Tribune)

The McGill Tribune Editorial Board reviewed the 2016-2017 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives on their performance. Although these summaries intend to review the executives' entire term, not all information received regarding each executive was published due to space constraints in the paper.

In its editorial discussion, the Tribune evaluated each executive based on feedback from student councillors and input from the executive teams. In previous years, the Tribune has given grades to the executives based on feedback from councillors and the discussion of the Editorial Board. Given the extraordinary circumstances facing the SSMU executive team this semester, in which period two of the executives resigned, the Tribune decided that it would be inappropriate to do so this year.

 

Vice-President Student Life and Acting President: Elaine Patterson

Following the resignation of former president Ben Ger, Vice-President (VP) Student Life Elaine Patterson assumed the role of Acting President. Despite the added workload and this semester's controversies, Patterson has risen to the occasion and is overseeing the groundwork for the SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP).

Prior to assuming the presidential portfolio, Patterson organized successful Activities Nights in both the Fall and Winter semester despite limitations due to construction on McTavish and the elimination of the student staff Activities Night Coordinator position. With a club moratorium in place for the entirety of her term, Patterson worked to make existing clubs more financially and spatially stable. Despite this effort, transparency about the mandatory transition from club status to independent student group (ISG) status that was applied to certain clubs prior to Patterson’s term was lacking.

Additionally, Patterson did not appear to place enough emphasis on the mental health aspect of her portfolio, especially considering that the McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services (MCMHS) underwent significant changes this year. Although she organized Mental Health Awareness Week and provided institutional support for services, such as the Peer Support Centre, more advocacy could have been done on the students’ behalf, as the changes to MCMHS continue to present challenges for students.

Despite these shortcomings, Patterson has remained approachable and dedicated to building relationships with SSMU members and groups within SSMU. Her unfailing energy and candor has been an asset to the SSMU executive team. By maintaining positive relationships with existing SSMU clubs and services, Patterson has paved the way for more efficient club management in the upcoming year. Despite increased responsibilities, Patterson continued to demonstrate patience and a willingness to hear student concerns.

 

Vice-President Internal: Daniel Lawrie

VP Internal Daniel Lawrie has organized a variety of successful events this year. Some of the highlights of his term include Faculty Olympics, which drew over 800 participants over the course of five days and was very well received. Lawrie also coordinated 4Floors, which was subject to underwhelming turnouts in recent years. Lawrie grew its attendance to around 1,000 attendees and the function mostly received positive feedback.

Moreover, Lawrie promoted Life After Your Degree (Life AYD) events, such as dining etiquette workshops, CV workshops, and LinkedIn Headshot sessions to improve SSMU’s involvement with practical concerns of its membership.

In hopes of better protecting students, Lawrie worked alongside the Office of the Dean of Students to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the administration to have the McGill Code of Conduct apply to events within the VP Internal’s portfolio, such as 4Floors and Frosh. Still, Lawrie insufficiently advocated for the development of non-drinking focused activities while overseeing Frosh plans.

At the end of the 2015-2016 year, the responsibility of managing the First-Year Council (FYC) was moved to the Internal portfolio. While he gained experience in event planning throughout his term, Lawrie struggled to play an advisory role for the FYC. His failure to adequately guide the Council and to fully make use of its budget resulted in the FYC being a largely ineffective body for representing and engaging first-years.

Lawrie attributes the high open rate of the SSMU listerv this year to his inclusion of animated GIFs and catchy titles in emails. However, this method of increasing engagement by reducing the content of listservs has been criticized for being exclusionary.

Lawrie oversaw the SSMU Website Redesign project. The new site, which aims to provide easier access to information regarding student societies, will be launched in the upcoming year.

 

Vice-President Finance: Niall Carolan

Much of the VP Finance portfolio occurs largely behind the scenes of SSMU activity and VP Finance Niall Carolan has worked hard to tighten the SSMU budget. Having entered the position facing a $90,000 deficit, Carolan has helped bring SSMU to a surplus that will reach near $400,000 by the end of the 2016-2017 fiscal year. A significant portion of this surplus will be invested in SSMU human resources and departments that will better serve the student body. Additionally, following the resignation of the VP External and President, Carolan assumed several responsibilities from each portfolio, including a position on the McGill Board of Governors (BoG) and negotiations for the 2017-2021 Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the university.

A large part of Carolan’s success in bringing SSMU into a financial surplus entailed holding regular meetings with SSMU department managers and operations directors, using weekly sales reports and monthly rollup reports, and seeking external corporate sponsorship for SSMU. Yet, the latter action was controversial, sparking debate among the student body after advertisements were placed around the SSMU Building and used during Activities Night, which critics argued were distracting from the student clubs that were present.

Carolan worked to streamline the funding process for clubs, services, and groups by allowing clubs to apply for multiple funding sources within the same application and purchasing new funding software. Further, Carolan achieved better financial transparency for SSMU by separating staff salaries, executive salaries, and operational staff salaries. He also budgeted a Financial Assistant to the VP Finance for the 2018 operating year and established a Social Responsibility Investment Fund for the upcoming year.

Though Carolan’s time on the SSMU Executive Committee was successful, he was often difficult to reach and unavailable to students and the student media. However, his changes to the budget led to what Carolan reports to be the largest operational surplus on record.

 

Vice-President Operations: Sacha Magder

VP Operations Sacha Magder began the year with the Crash Pad program, a successful initiative that provides a safe place in the SSMU Ballroom for commuter students to stay overnight. Magder’s other main accomplishment was improving SSMU MiniCourses. Although Fall 2016 numbers were similar to the numbers in the previous year, in Winter 2017, MiniCourses revenue increased from $6,214 to $15,635. Magder attributes this success to more active marketing and emphasis on professional skills courses, such as a popular new graphic design class.

Both Gerts and Sadie’s have also made financial improvements. Parts of large events, such as Carnival, Science Games, and Engineering Games, were held at Gerts as opposed to off-campus establishments. Further, Sadie’s revenue doubled and this year’s deficit is predicted to be 30 to 50 per cent smaller than last year’s. Yet, Magder’s rebranding efforts for Sadie’s were unimpressive and it is unclear how much of the increase in business was simply the McTavish construction rerouting students through the SSMU Building.

Sustainability objectives were moved to the VP Operations portfolio at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year. With regards to this mandate, Magder brought sustainability representatives from different faculties together in a Cross Campus Sustainability Council. Plans are underway for sustainability checklists, sustainability education, and sustainable Frosh suppliers.

It has taken time for Magder to communicate and implement his ideas, such as the plan to put up Aboriginal artwork in SSMU and the SSMU Courtyard Garden Project. How much of this is the result his portfolio being new and how much can be attributed to recent disruptions within SSMU have yet to be determined, but what is clear is the creativity and energy that Magder puts into his work.

 

Vice-President University Affairs: Erin Sobat

VP University Affairs (UA) Erin Sobat approached the position with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm this year. He delivered on multiple campaign promises, including a successful Know Your Rights campaign, and increased the visibility of the UA portfolio via social media with a new website. Sobat also played an important role in developing and passing the university’s Policy on Sexual Violence in the Fall, building on the wish of his predecessors and working to bring the work of other student groups to bear in negotiations with the administration. In the second semester of his term, however, Sobat was often complicit in the poor handling of SSMU controversies.

Sobat also developed a monthly UA listserv, which provided updates on developments in student advocacy resources, projects, and research. Sobat put a SSMU policy on unpaid internships into motion, pursued a centralized model for academic accommodations administered by faculties instead of individual professors, and made progress on revising tenure guidelines to include a mental health training requirement.

In the equity portion of the UA portfolio, Sobat helped produce guidelines for a formal policy on equitable hiring at McGill, with first training session held at the end of March. Progress on this issue  was delayed after SSMU President Ben Ger’s resignation in March, but significant groundwork has been laid for implementing a policy in the future. Work on equitable governance reform was also pushed back with Ger’s resignation. Sobat worked on developing a baseline equity training workshop to accompany the Academic Integrity Tutorial on Minerva, a project that will continue into next year.

Aside from Sobat’s many successes on the student advocacy and equity portions of his portfolio, some of his actions this year betrayed the lack of adequate internal procedures within SSMU for dealing with disclosures regarding executives and SSMU staff. Sobat faced criticism for his support of former Arts Representative Igor Sadikov after his controversial tweet on Feb. 6. Sobat also failed to reveal former VP External David Aird’s weekly “check-ins” in the Fall semester. Sobat acknowledged that he knew about allegations of gendered violence against Ger ahead of time, but did not share them with the other SSMU executives–they were only made public after Ger’s resignation.

SSMU to develop Sexualized and Gendered Violence Policy

News/SSMU by
(Hannah Taylor / The McGill Tribune)

On March 23, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) announced plans to hold an open forum on April 11 to discuss the creation and implementation of a SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP).

The creation of the GSVP was proposed after former SSMU vice-president (VP) External David Aird resigned following allegations of sexual assault and gendered violence. Aird stepped down on Feb. 22 following a statement released by the Community Disclosure Network (CDN) that claimed that Aird had performed acts of sexualized and gendered violence prior to and during his SSMU term. Additionally, a second SSMU executive, President Ben Ger, resigned on March 9 after allegations of gendered violence were brought against him.

The announcement also stated that current and future SSMU executives will now be trained on how to respond to disclosures of sexual violence. Additionally, SSMU opened an anonymous feedback form and will work with CDN on a long-term action plan for confronting sexualized violence within SSMU.

VP Student Life and Acting President Elaine Patterson admitted that the implementation of the university’s current Policy against Sexual Violence (SVP)–which was approved by Senate on Nov. 23–has been slow, but is nonetheless important.

“There are concerns about […] how long it is taking to implement [the SVP] and advertise it to students,” Patterson said. “[….We need a policy because] there are students who have been in positions of power who now have allegations against them of gendered and sexualized violence [….] A policy specifically tailored by SSMU and for SSMU is ideal in those scenarios.”

The CDN will advise SSMU during the development of the GSVP and at the open forum. On March 27, the CDN released a second statement emphasizing that the GSVP should be pro-survivor and easily accessible to students. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, a member of the CDN explained the organization’s role in creating the GSVP. The member requested to remain anonymous.

“SSMU is relying pretty heavily on [the] CDN […] because they just don’t have the structure to deal with [creating a policy],” the member said. “[….] The new ideas for protocol and what exactly needs to happen needs to come from the survivors in our community [rather than SSMU or admin].”

CDN will lead a number of initiatives in addition to its collaboration with SSMU, including three closed focus groups for survivors of sexualized violence to provide input on the SSMU GSVP. Beginning in April and continuing into next year, CDN will also organize roundtable discussions and workshops with student-led groups to address disclosures of sexualized violence.

“We’ll facilitate [training] on anti-oppressive policy-making, the frameworks of pro-survivor work, how to properly deal with disclosures, and some of the language around some of these things,” the member said.

According to Patterson, SSMU currently has no formal avenue for reporting and addressing sexualized and gendered violence. The CDN member explained that the only way to remove someone from the Executive Committee is through a General Assembly (GA). In order to avoid publicly identifying survivors at a GA, complainants’ only other option is to disclose to the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD).

In Fall 2016 two student groups, NDP McGill and McGill Against Austerity (MAA), became aware of allegations against Aird before SSMU, but were unable to remove Aird from office without identifying the survivors. In an email to The McGill Tribune, Cole Eisen, NDP McGill representative, wrote that the absence of a reporting mechanism that preserved survivor anonymity protected Aird’s tenure at SSMU.

“A clear, [survivor-oriented GSVP] coming from SSMU would benefit NDP McGill by providing our organization with a mechanism to remove offending members, respect the desire for anonymity on the part of individuals coming forward, and decouple holding positions of power within student organizations from the policy's implementation,” Eisen wrote. “NDP McGill seeks a clearly defined complaint mechanism, assurances those who hold positions of power in SSMU will not be above the policy, and a victim-first orientation that consults those affected at each decision-making juncture.”

SSMU Restructuring: How the addition of VP Operations affected SSMU

News/SSMU by
(Christopher Li / The McGill Tribune)

Near the end of the 2015-2016 term, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council amended the SSMU constitution to separate the Vice-President (VP) Finance & Operations portfolio into two new positions starting in 2016-2017: VP Finance and VP Operations, which has been renamed as VP Sustainability & Operations.

Currently, the VP Operations Portfolio oversees the revenue-generating operations of SSMU, including Gerts, Sadie’s, and MiniCourses. Although these responsibilities have always existed under VP Finance & Operations, previous executives were unable to focus on both finances and operations because of the overarching scope of the portfolio.

Last year’s executives were also heavily affected by the absence of a General Manager (GM) in the fall semester. Zach Houston, the 2015-2016 VP Finance & Operations, was unable to properly manage building operations since the demands of finances alone became too overwhelming. Kimber Bialik, the 2015-2016 VP Clubs & Services, which was restructured to become VP Student Life in 2016-2017, became responsible for facilities during crises. As a result, the current VP Operations Sacha Magder was trained collectively by Bialik and Houston due to their respective knowledge of facilities and finances.

“[….] Since Zach [Houston] was more involved with finances, he really didn’t have enough information [on operations],” Magder said. “Kimber was in charge of buildings only when crises came up, [and] did not have time to do long-term building plans. September and October was a huge adjustment period.”

MiniCourses were especially affected by Magder’s difficult transition. He has since improved its low registration rate of 224 in the Fall 2016 to 406 in the winter semester.

“I take [the low registration rate] as partially my own responsibility,” Magder said. “But at the time, we did try our best. Now, at least, I feel confident enough to train my successors, so that they don't have that lack of knowledge when they start in September.”

Since the splitting of the VP Finance & Operations portfolio, Magder has also taken over the sustainability objectives, which were originally under the President’s portfolio. He has worked on issues such as waste management and community outreach.

“I am in charge of supervising the environment commissioner, who runs the environment committee [.…] And work very closely with the McGill Office of Sustainability, Magder said. “I am also organizing the SSMU Courtyard Garden Project that is [being developed] in the back of the SSMU Building.”

The division of responsibilities and the addition of a seventh executive has also allowed current VP Finance Niall Carolan to concentrate solely on budgets and administrative work, such as cheque requests. At the end of his term, Carolan will set the budget for next year’s executive.

“In the end of the year, we are hoping to post a $100,000 surplus above breakeven,” Carolan said. “The money will be invested back into the Capital Expenditures Reserves Fund. Any money beyond the surplus will be invested back into the society. I would like to see more investments into student resources next year, as this year the staff has faced challenges of budget constraints from last year’s deficit.”

Despite the separation, VP Finance and VP Operations are still closely related: While VP Operations handles the day-to-day affairs, VP Finance oversees the monthly profits to make sure they align with the set targets. For the upcoming year, VP Finance and VP Sustainability & Operations, and will likely remain close.

“We can put more of an emphasis on sustainability and physical spaces, which is great,” VP Operations-elect Anuradha Mallik said. “Considering [that VP Finance-elect] Arisha [Khan] and I have an established relationship already, I feel like collaboration will be easy and effective.”

Curiosity Delivers.
Go to Top