On Sept. 22, the Student Representative Assembly decisively voted to revoke club status for the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, ending months of disgraceful inaction from the McMaster Students Union board of directors and clubs department.
As a Chinese student, I applaud the SRA’s decision to stand up for student safety. The CSSA — which is linked to the Chinese Communist Party — has openly admitted to reporting people on campus to the Chinese government. By policing people and reporting them to a totalitarian dictatorship, the CSSA seriously endangered students who criticize the Chinese Community Party — especially Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur students with family in China, given the Chinese government’s extensive human rights violations.
Many of us oppose the genocides in Tibet and Xinjiang, object to police brutality and rising authoritarianism in Hong Kong, and ultimately yearn to one day see freedom and democracy in our ancestral homelands. For us, the SRA’s monumental decision represents a strong affirmation of our right to exist safely on campus, and a rejection of Chinese Communist Party attempts to surveil and intimidate students.
Beyond my own opinion, the SRA has received sweeping praise. Rukiye Turdush, the Uyghur speaker condemned by the CSSA, applauded McMaster student representatives for standing up for our rights. Zhou Fengsuo, a famous Chinese human rights activist, called the vote momentous. Former Canadian ambassadors to China, David Mulroney and Guy Saint-Jacques, strongly commended the SRA’s move.
However, we should not let widespread approval obscure an important nuance: the SRA’s decision to de-ratify the CSSA was long overdue because of inaction from the MSU board and staff.
The SRA’s decision comes seven months after international media first reported on the CSSA in February. However, the MSU board and staff caused most of the delay, as they were occupied with speculation about lawsuits and fretting over potential backlash, instead of actually addressing the issue.
For starters, at the March 24 SRA meeting, then-MSU President Ikram Farah stunningly claimed that there was mere “speculation” about what happened — despite numerous detailed reports from international media and Human Rights Watch.
“We look at federal, provincial, municipal, and university [policies], and … based on the information we currently have, none of that had been infringed upon,” stated Farah in the Mar. 24 SRA meeting, oblivious the reason why international media sounded the alarm in the first place.
Beyond replying to SRA members who questioned them, the MSU board of directors did nothing to address concerns. There was no public response to the international news articles or Human Rights Watch recommendations. Meanwhile, the clubs department took no action either.
Finally, even immediately prior to the vote, the board of directors continued trying to avoid the issue in the SRA meeting on Sept. 22. Alexandrea Johnston (vice president finance) suggested moving the CSSA motion to the next meeting. Sarah Figueiredo (vice president administration) and Shemar Hackett (vice president education) refused to vote on the deratification motion. MSU President Joshua Marando had conveniently left the meeting earlier.
The board’s persistent attempts to avoid touching the CSSA fueled rumours of intentional efforts to hush this issue, or self-censor, due to pressure from university administration and fear of Chinese government retaliation. Although these rumours are speculation, the MSU’s ominous silence on social media so far (in contrast to Marando’s dramatic public statement excoriating the Dominion Society, another de-ratified MSU club) does nothing to reassure concerned students.
Faced with such cowardice from the MSU board and staff, the SRA cut through the nonsense and did what’s right. While the board and staff buried their heads in the sand for seven months, it was SRA members who gathered evidence, made a presentation, and motioned to de-ratify the CSSA.
Moving forward, SRA members should continue to keep the board in check. Evidently, the board’s approach is not always correct, so having the SRA hold the board accountable makes for a better MSU.
Marando, however, needs to show better leadership. Similar to his strong condemnation of white supremacy, Marando should publicly and unequivocally make clear that the MSU will not tolerate attempts to police marginalized students; efforts to surveil and control Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur students on campus; or the hateful ideologies that enable genocide in Xinjiang. His silence so far on these concerns is deeply worrying.
The SRA has taken a bold first step in making campus a safer place, especially for students with family in China. Now it is time for Marando and the rest of the MSU board to stop twiddling their thumbs, match the SRA’s courage, and speak out against the threats and intimidation that students face.