SFUO execs emphasize need for U of O to be held accountable to marginalized students

On Monday, March 27, as part of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) Equity Week, coordinators from various services on campus were invited to speak in a panel discussion to help bring intersectionality to the forefront of the equity services on campus.

The panel was introduced by current SFUO vice-president equity Morissa Dalia-Ellis, and led by SFUO vice-president of services and communications Francesco Caruso and U of O student Faduma Wais.

Representatives from the Food Bank, the Pride Centre, the Women’s Resource Centre, the Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD), the Bilingualism Centre, and International House all posed different questions centered around justice, accessibility, and the much-needed changes that they hope to see within the University of Ottawa.

“I think that something that’s very important, especially on our campus, is to differentiate between equity versus equality,” explained Ellis.

“So, ensuring that we realize how when we’re speaking specifically about equality, which is something that we are prone to do, how we’re really prioritizing and normalizing white supremacy and how we’re making people who fall under the margins, be forgotten.”

While the students in attendance asked specific questions relating to subjects that are, in their minds, often overlooked, a lot of issues saw considerable overlap.

For example, Caruso’s question to International House focused on the difficulties faced by international students when they are trying acquire health care. This opened up discussion about the rising tuition fees at the U of O, and how this impacts various students’ ability to afford education, housing, food, school, and healthcare all at the same time.

Other key issues discussed were language barriers, institutionalized discrimination, and the university’s dedication to social movements such as Black Lives Matter, and how this can be applied to all services.

“Black Lives Matter is a disability issue. For example, we know that 52 per cent of the black folks that are killed, murdered, by the police are disabled,” said Patrick Teed, service coordinator for the CSD. “Disabled black lives are disproportionately targeted by the state. Every service centre should be looking at how blackness intersects with their services.”

Solutions such as lowering tuition, creating safe spaces for students on campus, like the proposed racialized student centre, offering more French events and courses, and holding the university accountable for a lack of accessibility on campus were all put on the table.

While the different coordinators had specific goals in mind related to their services, they all agreed that in order to be called an equitable school, university operations, student-run organizations, and all associations working within the U of O need to be held accountable to marginalized students.

One way to ensure this calls for collaboration between the services.

“I think the very fact that we’re here means that we understand … the intersections between class and other various forms of discrimination,” said Kathryn Leblanc, representing the Food Bank, adding that in the future she would like to work with the CSD to optimize food security.