By Eric Sinnige, Contributor
Note: This article is from the perspective of an individual Student Representative Assembly member, and not representative of the whole SRA, or the McMaster Students Union.
The Sept. 22 deratification of the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholars Association has been a frequent topic in the Student Representative Assembly and the Silhouette for the past few weeks, and an issue that the SRA has been aware of since the inciting incident occurred back in February 2019. Since then, there have been many miscommunications about the de-ratification process and what was going on as a whole with the club to the student body, which I would like to clarify.
The current SRA members for the 2019-2020 year took office in April. I was unaware of the actions of the previous SRA with respect to the Mac CSSA incident because, at the time, I had not been very involved. In July, when it came time to ratify clubs for the 2019-2020 school year in July, I was given the impression that Mac CSSA was to be under probation for a calendar year due to the February incident upon ratification for the 2019-2020 year. Evidently, this had not been true. As there is no transition process between outgoing SRA members and incoming SRA members, and along with internal miscommunication, this caused previous meeting events to be misunderstood.
In the weeks leading up to the Sept. 22 meeting, where Mac CSSA was de-ratified, I met with McMaster students, who had contacted me to ask about what was going on with Mac CSSA and if the MSU or SRA would be taking action. Other SRA members were also contacted by their constituents, leading to an investigation and eventually de-ratification. You can find evidence from these personal investigations in SRA documents from meeting 19H, which include the meeting minutes and documents labelled CSSA. Many students I met with said that they felt unsafe as a result of Mac CSSA’s actions and concerned that they could not express their political or academic freedoms, especially in criticizing the Chinese government, without repercussions for the students I spoke to or their families.
Some people have subsequently spoken out against the de-ratification as the result of procedural unfairness or bias. I understand these concerns, as this process has been anything but clear. Please continue to hold the SRA and MSU accountable for our actions.
To clarify the procedural unfairness issues: the SRA did not disband Mac CSSA, but rather removed its status as an MSU club. Disbandment is a sanction, handed out to the club by the Clubs Executive Council so they may not operate as an MSU Club for a calendar year. The SRA then makes the decision official. Instead of disbandment, the SRA de-ratified Mac CSSA in July, rescinding its recognition as an MSU club. This meant that while Mac CSSA could still operate, the MSU would not allow them access to clubs resources such as funding and room booking. This difference between disbandment and de-ratification is important, as the latter process removes MSU club status through SRA motions, and does not go through the CEC. As such, the SRA is not required to grant an appeal period, as no appeal process exists for the SRA. However, one was granted anyways. In good faith, Mac CSSA should have received a notice that their de-ratification motion was on the upcoming agenda, despite not technically being required. In my opinion, the fact that Mac CSSA was not notified seemed to be due to a lack of communication. This needs to be changed, and the SRA’s clubs policy review, which will encompass the CEC, will include these concerns.
As for the bias concerns, these I can only address as myself. My reason for voting in favour of de-ratification was due to Mac CSSA’s support of the decision to report Rukiye Turdush’s Feb. 11 talk, which was about the Uyghur concentration camps in China, to the Chinese consulate. Disagreeing with the event is Mac CSSA’s right, but the endangerment of students, and Rukiye Turdush, is unacceptable. The SRA had also previously acted with the safety of students in mind during meeting 19F, when the Dominion Society (formerly the MacDonald Society) was de-ratified for the potential to endanger students after the SRA received evidence that linked the club to white supremacists.
While Mac CSSA claimed that the previous president had acted alone in reporting the event to the consulate, they did not rescind their statement. In addition, in the Mac CSSA ratification status memo posted by the MSU, it is mentioned that McMaster Chinese News Network, McMaster Chinese Professional Association/Society and MELD Student Association “have stated in their June responses to SRA questions that a [former] Mac CSSA executive officer invited them to be signatories of the statement”. During the appeal process, when Mac CSSA’s legal counsel was asked to provide evidence to support their statement that the previous president acted alone and did not contact the consulate, the counsel did not provide a clear answer to the the question in the SRA Meeting 19K livestream at the 1:40:30 mark.
The risk of endangering others for exercising their right to expression, especially those of marginalized groups, should not exist on this campus. Students who wish to engage in academic or political thought opposing the Chinese government, especially Chinese international students, should not be at risk. The evidence brought forward during SRA meetings highlighted how the Chinese government has monitored and interfered with students and citizens abroad, as seen in both U.S. government reports and international headlines, and as such I felt it was in the best interest of student and staff safety to remove the recognition of Mac CSSA as an official MSU club for a full calendar year.
Chinese international students should feel welcome and safe on our campus. Other groups that offer support for Chinese students are the Chinese Students Association, McMaster Chinese News Network and MELD Student Association. The SRA is doing an ongoing review of how international students are supported by the MSU and on campus as a whole. Please contact either myself or another SRA representative if you would like to be involved.
Documents regarding the meetings in question can be found at www.msumcmaster.ca/governance/sra/sra-documents.
If you wish to contact me with questions or for any clarification, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org or my personal email at email@example.com.