News, SSMU

SSMU President back in the limelight, but questions about absence remain

Darshan Daryanani is resuming his duties as  president of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) after a five month break rife with contentious questions and debates regarding the circumstances of his absence. In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Daryanani raised several grievances he has against SSMU leadership, who, in turn, remain troubled by the still-confidential circumstances shrouding Daryanani’s vacancy.  

“It is a relief to be back fulfilling the duties I was elected to fulfill, but the transition has not been complete,” Daryanani said in an email to the Tribune. “Despite my formal reinstatement, I have still not been permitted to serve as Chairperson of the Board of Directors, nor to even attend its meetings, which severely hinders my ability to complete my duties.”

According to Daryanani, the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) unilaterally decided to suspend him with pay—a salary of approximately $32,000—in a closed meeting that he was not present for. Daryanani believes that his suspension may have been racially motivated.

“When the Legislative Council posed questions about my absence, the other executives and board members continued to falsely claim that I [was] ‘on leave,’” Daryanani wrote. “This insidious rhetoric is typically used to target, delegitimize, and dehumanize people of color based on racist tropes which portray Black and Brown people as ‘unfit’ for positions of authority. This is a double standard that would not be leveled against a non-racialized person.” 

During the question period, councillors grilled Daryanani with questions about his suspension. Nathaniel Saad, U2 management representative, does not think the majority of SSMU members share the President’s enthusiasm about his return, saying he was distressed by the number of messages he received throughout the Council meeting from concerned student employees and members. 

“[People are feeling] very mixed emotions, but all negative, unfortunately,” Saad said. “People were texting me during the [Legislative Council] meeting saying, ‘can you please do something?’ or ‘I’m not feeling okay.’”

At the Nov. 25 Legislative Council meeting, Saad and management co-representative Mary Zhang put forth a motion calling for Daryanani’s resignation due to his prolonged absence that included a provision for a possible student body referendum on his impeachment. It passed with no opposition in the Council, but the SSMU BoD struck the motion down a week later. Saad told the Tribune that some SSMU members have preached out to him privately, calling for the motion’s revival.

Another topic that has garnered significant discussion throughout the year, and that Daryanani was pressed on at the Feb. 17 Legislative Council meeting in his role as president, is concern about SSMU’s workplace culture. According to Yara Coussa, U3 arts representative and BoD member, the world of politics is traditionally male-dominated, and SSMU is no exception.

“What I will say is that there is an ongoing culture of sexism at SSMU, and in the past, we have seen a certain type of personality run,” Coussa said in an interview with the Tribune. “You’re not very well-paid [and] giving up one year of your studies is a privilege […] most often held by people who are in places of power, […] so we end up in this position where SSMU is not an accessible space for gender minorities or anyone who doesn’t fit the standard—the hetero, cis, patriarchal standard.”

Though Daryanani believes the motion only passed Legislative Council due to the BoD’s deliberate mischaracterization of his absence, Saad contends that the crux of the motion was that Daryanani was holding a title and getting paid $32,000 from student fees for doing nothing, regardless of circumstance. 

“Whatever term we’re using, he wasn’t there and he wasn’t doing his job,” Saad said. “Having [his salary] donated to a charity, or putting it back toward students who need it […] would be a wise choice that demonstrates leadership, which we’ve been lacking.”

Daryanani says he hopes to earn the McGill community’s confidence again by fulfilling his duties and promises.“In light of the many issues surrounding SSMU’s workplace climate, my main priority is to act on my main platform promise, which is to make SSMU a more inclusive, equitable and accessible place,” Daryanani said. “I believe it is important now, more than ever, to put this promise at the forefront of the next few months.”

A previous version of this article stated that Nathaniel Saad said that Yara Coussa, U3 arts representative and BoD member, had reached out to him calling for the motion’s revival. In fact, Coussa never publicly called for the motion’s revival. The Tribune regrets the error.

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