BOA candidate says ‘rampant racism’ influenced her electoral race

Photos: Rémi Yuan

Members of the Impact slate say that racism played a part in the surprising Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) results that came in Feb. 13.

Candidates from all three slates were elected to the SFUO executive, the most variety seen since the slate system was introduced two years ago.

Students rejected the referendum on the creation of a racialized student centre, despite all candidates expressing support for the motion.

Naomi Martey, who led the official “yes” committee, was disappointed by the results, she said, because many students felt it was “imperative to their well-being at the university.”

“Believing racism and ethnic discrimination exist as an everyday part of some students’ lives while not in your own is difficult,” said Martey. “But all we can do is hope that students extend the same kindness around them that they hope to have extended towards themselves.”

However, Nicole Maylor, the vice-president of equity elect who will deal specifically with discrimination on campus, said the SFUO will provide “the same resources and support as the racialized student centre would have.”

Nicole Desnoyers, who lost her bid for president to David Gakwerere, said she believes racism played a role in the referendum.

“The election results confirm what I thought: We have a lot of work to do in order to make our campus more inclusive,” she said.

Gakwerere agreed that “there is still a lot of work to do on campus on race relations and race issues.” He also cited “misinterpretations around the referendum question” as a possible reason for results.

Vanessa Dorimain, an Impact candidate who successfully ran unopposed for vice-president of university affairs, said she believes the referendum didn’t pass because “students didn’t want their tuition raised by a dollar.”

“As if creating a safe space for students who feel discriminated against is not worth less (than) the amount that you would pay for a coffee at Starbucks or Tim Hortons,” she said.

Dorimain said she hasn’t ruled out appealing the referendum question wording to the Elections Committee.

She said the results of the Board of Administration (BOA) elections are another example of how racism may have influenced the results.

BOA candidate Sakinna Gairey alleges she wasn’t elected because she is a “black Muslim who wears a hijab.”

Gairey ran with Impact as one of three candidates for four available Faculty of Arts seats on the BOA. Both other arts candidates, who are white, were voted in. One of them was a fellow Impact member.

The U of O is “rampantly racist,” according to Gairey. “The elections experience was full of it, and clearly it translated at the voting booth,” she said.

“We were asked by white students if the racialized student centre was for them too, not willing to accept that their privilege in life means that they do not need that centre,” said Gairey, who worked with the “yes” committee in addition to her own campaign.

“Racism doesn’t always mean slurs, it can be silent as a stare… we can’t complain about the nasty looks and attitudes we receive from people because of our skin colour.”

Gairey said she isn’t sad she lost the election, but is sad to know why.