The Central Student Association's 2016 Annual General Meeting

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Written by Noel Mano

The Central Student Association’s (CSA) Annual General Meeting last Wednesday ended up being an eventful affair indeed. This was despite the fact that the meeting wasn’t filled to the walls, like last year’s. In fact, for most of the meeting, attendance was around 140 people, and this dropped to just over 110 towards the end. For reference, quorum is set at 100 attendees. The meeting was chaired by Joshua Ofori-Darko

 Following an overview of the CSA and the approval of last year’s minutes and auditor, the attention shifted to the CSA's activities over the past semester. The CSA, represented by Peter Miller (Academic & University Affairs Commissioner), Sonia Chwalek (Communications & Corporate Affairs Commissioner) and Scarlett Racyzki (Local Affairs Commissioner) cited its attempts to restore the Aboriginal chair on the board of directors, as well as monies distributed to various student initiatives. Nimrata and Ana Paula, the CSA's Foodbank Coordinators, also discussed the Foodbank’s development efforts like its indoor garden and new, volunteer-run breakfast program. In its Service Report, it emerged that two members of the CSA Executive were on leave. Asia Barclay, External Affairs Commissioner is on medical leave. Matthew Campbell, Human Resources Commissioner is also on leave, although the nature of this was unspecified.

The meeting then moved towards the motions on the agenda. The first of these was the request for more resources to be devoted to mental health on campus, brought by the Accessibility Working Group, and initially spoken for by Robert Wicher of Guelph Queer Equality. Central to this demand is the increase in the number of students accessing mental health services on campus: 10-15% increase per annum since 2010. The increase in demand has not been followed by a concomitant increase in funding or personnel, leading to frequent reports of long wait times to access mental health services.  The Accessibility Working Group is thus filing the motion to ask for these wait times to be reduced. Additionally, the motion calls for the university to request more mental health funding for campus resources from the provincial government.

Compared to what came afterwards, debate on this motion was almost banal. Questions centered on how wait times could be reduced, and how hiring more counsellors to reduce wait times would affect tuition fees, if at all. The response was that additional provincial funds would be requested to meet this demand. Failing that, Peter Miller also suggested that the University of Guelph (UoG) could find financing for the initiative within the existing budget.

The second motion, brought by Tap In Guelph, called for the UoG to end the sale of Bottled Water on campus. Spoken for by Clare Segeren, the motion also called for the university to divest from companies that sell bottled water. In that, the motion took on a broader view of the issue of bottled and privatized water, beyond simply what was being sold on campus. The motion included clauses discussing the social and environmental impacts of bottled water: bottled water costs 10 000 times more per gallon than tap water, and 17 mill barrels of oil are used in the production of water bottles annually.

The Tap In campaign is not new to the UoG, and a previous referendum, in 2012, saw 78% of respondents vote in favor of ending the sale of bottled water at the UoG. Hence, the first question, brought by Lindsay Hunter, raised the necessity of reaffirming a motion that had already been agreed to by popular vote. Sonia Chwalek pointed out that since 2012, an entire cohort of students would have turned over. Chelsea Edwards, speaking from her experience as a residence life worker, pointed out that bottled water in vending machines could come in handy during emergencies, especially because not all residences have water fountains. Scarlett Raczycki affirmed that the Tap In campaign also included a push for more water fountains, and machines dispensing reusable bottles.

At this point, two trends that would weave in and out of the rest of the meeting surfaced. The first was attendee dissent, centered here around the issue of divestment. Multiple questioners wondered about the feasibility of divesting from companies that sell bottled water, and of contractual agreements with external companies, such as Starbucks. When the university's often cited surplus was suggested to offset the costs of divestment, the speaker was interrupted by shouts denying the existence of such a surplus. The second was a question answering strategy the CSA would come back to later: to invite the questioner to sign on to a particular campaign to get more information. Residence groups wondering why they had not been involved in the bottled water free campaign, and the response was ultimately that if organizations wanted to get involved, they were free to get in touch. The motion was called to question by Savannah Clarke, and passed.

The third motion, brought and spoken for by Fiorella Vialard and Spencer McGregor, called for an increase in student and study space at the University Centre. The motion pointed out that the UC had originally been intended for complete student usage and control. However, since the 1960s, more and more UC space has been turned over to university administration. Moreover, while enrolment has increased significantly since the 1990s, the amount of student space remains almost the same, at just a fraction of the second floor.

Meghan Wing, of the Student Budget Committee, suggested amending the word demand to request, suggesting the original wording was too aggressive and disrespectful. This prompted spirited debate; Amber Sherwood-Robinson said that such thinking was tone policing, and that student activists should be able to say whatever they wanted. Multiple other students then pointed out that the CSA's confrontational approach had gone unheeded for years, so maybe a more civil discussion was in order. It also came to light that while fees were collected for a Student Space Initiative, the leaders of the initiative have so far not acted to call for a meeting. Sonali Menezes then called the amendment to question. Ultimately, the amendment failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority, and was defeated.

Benjamin Auld had the feasibility question for this motion, asking how Ms. Viorella and Mr. McGregor would prioritize the allocation of space. Mr. McGregor said that students have a majority on the University Centre Board, and so have the power to prioritize. As of yet, there is no formula for allocating space, and this will be settled during the review process. The motion was called to question by Zoey Ross, and passed.

The final motion was brought by the Black Liberation Collective's UoG chapter, and spoken for by Savannah Clarke and George Umeh. It called for acknowledgement of anti-black racism on campus, a curriculum that centers on white European history, while neglecting Black identities and history, and of skyrocketing tuition fees that shut out black students from higher education.

The specific demands from the collective at the UoG include:

  • Mandatory anti-oppression and equity training for all students, faculty, staff and administration

  • Establishment of a standalone Black, African and Caribbean Studies Department

  • Sufficient culturally appropriate counseling and mental-health students to serve the needs of black students

  • Proper support to the CJ Munford Centre, including in the implementation of the anti-racism taskforce

  • Increasing the number of scholarships and funding available to black and indigenous students, including scholarships that focus specifically on black students with low-income backgrounds

Ultimately, the motion would establish that students at Guelph support the local chapter of the Collective’s demands. The motion would also encourage students to take action to support the collective in their work.

One amendment was suggested, that would have called university administration to sit down with all department heads for diversity training, and this amendment passed with no one speaking against it.

The BLC's motion received spirited, and often dispiriting debate. Several students questioned the collective on its Black specific goals, specifically those concerning free tuition. They spoke about how allocating free education based solely on race is inherently racist. Kristen Keelan, a girl who identified as having just obtained Native status, argued that free education should not be given out liberally, but should be a matter of merit. Brie Cruz wondered about racism against other visible minorities.

Defenders of the motion responded by pointing out the unique signature of anti-black racism, and in particular, the ongoing legacy of slavery in North America. Bella Harris, drawing on her experiences as mixed-race and having lived in different parts of the world, pointed out that black peoples are consistently viewed as lower. Savannah Clarke echoed this: every ethnic group has discriminated against black people, and so 'when you tackle anti-black racism, you tackle racism as a whole'. Still other students, like Brendan Campisi and Sonali Menezes, stood in support of the motion, pointing out that non-black students cannot speak to how black students experience racism.

The motion was called to question, and passed.

Closing remarks by attendees at the meeting's open forum revealed more dissent from the CSA. Several students took the opportunity to question, once more, the CSA's approach to activism. One suggested that the CSA's views was not representative of those of the student body as a whole. Another questioned the setting of quorum at just 100 students, when the CSA claims to represent an undergraduate student population of about 20000 students.

With that, the AGM concluded, just before 9 pm. The meeting showed that while student participation in campus politics might still be rather low, those who do turn up are willing to speak their minds, and go back and forth on issues that matter to them. With luck, the UoG administration is willing to accommodate the demands and calls made by the university’s undergraduates.


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