by Aloysius Wong
October 12, 2018
Published in The Strand.
The conclusion of the fall VUSAC elections is an apt time to pause and reflect on the state of Vic’s elected and appointed student representatives. How well do they represent the Vic community at large? In this election cycle, all five Upper-Year Councillor positions were filled uncontested, along with seven Victoria College Council (VCC) spots; the Mental Wellness Commissioner and the three available First-Year Councillor positions were all contested. This turnout is an encouraging change from the Spring 2017 Elections, when every position ran uncontested, and the key roles of Vice-President Student Organizations and Sustainability Commissioner were not filled until the fall by-elections. However, we must also critically analyze the diversity and inclusion levels of VUSAC—of not only the elected representatives, but of the candidates and student engagement overall.
I spoke with Amara Phillips, a now-elected candidate for VCC, who pointed out one of the most noticeable and problematic issues among student leadership at Vic: the lack of racial diversity. Not only was she the only Black candidate running out of the 20 other candidates for all available positions, but she also observed that she “was the only Black kid at the town hall.” This highlights the barriers that racialized students—particularly Black students—face at Victoria College, not just running for office, but getting involved at all in the often insular world of student politics.
“The fact that there are no Black members, as far as I’m aware, in VUSAC is an issue, because then issues that relate to a significant part of the Vic population are overlooked or taken for granted simply because the people ‘in power’ aren’t aware of them,” said Amara. “If I have an issue that’s unique to my race, then who do I go to? Will someone understand when no one else above them is trained [to respond to it] or has it on their radar?” She also described how the lack of Black students on VUSAC “poses an obstacle to people and is intimidating to those who don’t see themselves represented on student government.” Amara proposed creating a Vic Black Students’ Association where Black and non-Black students discuss and learn about the issues affecting racialized students, and can subsequently share their knowledge with other student leaders.
Marginalized identities do not exist in a vacuum. Many students who belong to a minority group face multiple oppressions, and numerous facets of their identity are frequently underrepresented on the Vic campus. Without addressing or challenging systemic barriers, we are further excluding students who do not currently see themselves represented in student government from participating in student life. VUSAC and Vic student leaders overall must make it a priority to centre marginalized identities in their initiatives, not just as a performative one-time task, but ensure that those in power are practicing and promoting equity at all times. Failing to acknowledge and address these experiences in campus leadership roles risks further perpetuating the existing inequities at UofT. When we consciously keep equity concerns at the forefront of our discussions, only then do we place ourselves on a meaningful path towards progress.
VUSAC should be a place that aims to serve and represent students of all identities. While the results of the Fall 2018 Elections are a positive marker of change, there is still a long way to go. Creating meaningful dialogues with marginalized students is paramount to understanding and subsequently breaking down institutional barriers at Vic. We need to actively listen to the honest concerns of those whose opinions have historically been ignored. As we work to build our communities with greater diversity and inclusivity, we must begin to do so with everyone—with people of every identity present from the beginning.