Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor
Historically, McMaster Students Union presidential candidates often have big dreams to tackle issues concerning marginalized communities. Topics that reappear every year include accessibility, reducing financial barriers and sexual violence support. While these platform points can be well-intentioned, they can often be examples of poor allyship instead. Using people of colour, the 2SLGBTQ+ community, disabled people and survivors as talking points for campaigning can be insensitive if candidates are unable to follow through with their platform points.
There are clear examples of platforms that have done this. In 2018, past MSU president Ikram Farah campaigned on reducing financial barriers by re-evaluating the Ontario Student Assistance Program’s structure and reworking it to accurately reflect tuition cost discrepancies between different programs. This would mean that two students who paid different tuition amounts, and who previously qualified for the same amount of financial aid, would instead receive aid that was proportional to their costs. Although Farah completed her presidential term in April 2019, any advocacy done surrounding OSAP hasn’t had a huge impact on OSAP’s structure.
In 2019, current MSU president Josh Marando promised to hire an additional sexual violence response coordinator to address the lack of support for survivors of sexual violence. Marando still has three months left in his term, but the efforts into hiring a new sexual violence response coordinator seem to be lacking. So far, an additional sexual violence response coordinator has yet to be hired.
In addition to an absence of follow-through, candidates also often fail to consult adequately. This year, MSU presidential candidate Krystina Koc aimed to address student safety due to the Westdale and Thorndale break-ins that occurred last year, and to increase support to Maccess. However, Koc’s consultations about student safety were limited and she failed to consult Maccess regarding how to best improve support.
Incoming MSU President Giancarlo Da-Ré’s plans to improve accessibility by making the MSU website compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and increasing the number of courses that use Echo360 to record lectures. He also wants to implement consent culture modules that would be mandatory for welcome week representatives. Although Da-Ré states he has done 100 consultations and has platform points surrounding accessibility and consent, he did not consult Maccess or the Women and Gender Equity Network prior to campaigning.
Evidently, solidarity with low-income students, people of colour, survivors and disabled people have been a large topic of discussion within presidential platforms. However, these campaign points are rarely acted upon or are executed poorly. This leaves me and many others with questions: if these points don’t result in any visible change, why have them in your platform at all?
During campaign season, presidential candidates are trying to win students’ votes. Therefore, it’s usually important to maintain a good public image. Nothing looks better than advocating for a marginalized population. Regardless of whether these candidates actually care for the marginalized populations they’re advocating for, if they’re coming from a place of privilege and put us into their platforms, it can seem like they’re trying to win brownie points for being good people.
Additionally, this allyship quickly becomes performative if the candidates don’t follow through when it comes to supporting marginalized communities — which they often don’t. Even if you have the best intentions to help others, it is hard to change systemic oppression in a one-year term because these structures have been in place for centuries.
Typically, advocacy movements are initiated by marginalized communities themselves, not presidents. This can be seen with the WGEN, which was created to provide a safe space for women and trans people, as well as students that face sexual violence. WGEN was approved by the Student Representative Assembly because of a community survey that provided statistics of students who faced assaults, misogyny and sexism on campus. Although the SRA did come into play with the creation of this service, consultations and surveys were important in its creation, which is what the presidential candidates have been failing to do. In addition, WGEN was spearheaded by women, trans people and survivors advocating for its existence, proving that marginalized communities have always been at the forefront of these movements — not the MSU president. If the MSU president is serious about advocating for marginalized communities, then they need to consult with the groups who represent the needs of these students.
Despite Koc and Da-Ré’s well-intentioned platforms for improving peer support services and consent education respectively, they failed to consult the communities that are directly affected: Maccess and WGEN. How will you help improve support and remove systemic barriers if you do not talk to those that are directly affected?
Becoming the MSU president doesn’t mean that you suddenly have the ability to support marginalized people. Anyone and everyone can support movements to dismantle oppressive barriers — instead of campaigning on the idea that you will support marginalized people during your presidential term, start by supporting them in your everyday lives. Talk to the people you know and ask them how you can support them. Actually consult the marginalized communities you hope to support, not the institutions that oppress us. Even if you can’t make a huge change during your one-year term, you can still make meaningful change through your individual actions as a person. But if you’re not willing to commit to your platform and actually support marginalized students, please leave us out of it.