Last year, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) played musical chairs by having all but one executive member return. The proposal to form general assemblies passed, although it didn’t pass the first time it was put to a vote. This year, representatives from all three slates were voted in and the proposed racialized student centre didn’t pass.
Each year students are accused of being apathetic. Voter turnout was just over 10 per cent this year, about the same as last year. Many students appear to be happy to just pay their fees and go to class—they don’t care how their money is managed.
But as Benjamin Disraeli said, history is made by those who show up. If you want to win an election, you don’t need that many people to swing the vote. And this year, the Impact slate, led by current vice-president of services and communications Nicole Desnoyers, didn’t get quite enough people to win across the board.
Members of the Impact slate have blamed the failure of the racialized student centre on racism. They’ve also suggested that some of their candidates who did not win, like Sakinna Gairey, who ran unopposed for an arts Board of Administration seat, also lost due to racist sentiment.
We are not suggesting that racism does not exist on campus–racism is in many ways upheld by the systemic inequality present in post-colonial society, and the University of Ottawa is not immune to that.
Rather than expecting that a large contingent of students on campus were so motivated by their racist beliefs that they went out of their way to vote down people of colour, we should consider something much simpler. The current administration has failed to engage the most active students on campus and the Impact slate was led by a member of this administration. It’s likely that many of the same students voted this year as last year, given that voter turnout is nearly the same. And those active students are not happy.
The Facebook group SFUO Does Not Represent me is anti-current-SFUO and anti-Impact. The members are active, engaged, and knowledgeable about student politics. They have about 1,000 members, and given low voter turnout, this isn’t an insignificant number (it’s more than was needed to meet quorum at the general assembly in November, for example). They would have voted for any non-Impact member and against any Impact candidate running unopposed.
Further, while she was not running, Ikram Hamoud has alienated the vice-president socials from the various faculties this year by not engaging with them. They even launched an attempt to have her impeached. This cannot have done those associated with Hamoud, as Desnoyers and the rest of Impact are, any favours. The vp socials are active in campus politics, as well as being influential with the rest of the executive members and students in their faculties. Their motivation to vote non-Impact seems less about racism, and more about avoiding the mistakes of this year.
Many students simply don’t want to have their fees increased. The SFUO has staged protests against the university administration’s proposed tuition increases, but they have proposed two added services this year, in turn working toward increasing the fees students have to pay.
Issues of racism on campus still need to be addressed and it’s reassuring to hear that Nicole Maylor, vice-president of equity elect, will make a priority of providing resources and support to racialized students, even if there isn’t a specific centre to do this through.
However, the election results were not an uncomplicated example of rampant racism on campus. There were many reasons for students to vote against Impact candidates and the Impact-associated racialized student centre.
Next year won’t automatically be better, either. Change can be good or it can just bring a new set of problems. The diversity of opinion and experience could be a good thing next year, if all of these people can manage to work together. If the SFUO finds it can’t help racialized students as well as they require, they can always try to pass the centre again–it worked for the general assemblies last year.
Voter turnout didn’t improve this year, but change happened anyway. With the federal election imminent, the impact of even a small number of people getting engaged is important to note. It’s important to engage people, and it’s important to listen to what your constituents are saying. Especially if what they’re saying is that they disagree with you.