Photo C/O Maroons Facebook Page
By James King, Contributor and Steffi Arkilander, Opinion Editor
On Feb. 25, the McMaster Students Union executive board released its decision to recommend rescinding three of its current services: Mac Farmstand, MACycle and the Creating Leadership Amongst Youth Conference. They also proposed putting Shinerama on pause for the 2020/2021 year. According to current vice-president (administration) Sarah Figueiredo and associate vice-president (services) Martino Salciccioli, recent events related to the Student Choice Initiative have resulted in a critical examination of the MSU’s current operating structures and finances.
In the report on CLAY, Figueiredo and Salciccioli wrote regarding cutting down on financial costs, “Though the Student Choice Initiative is currently deemed unlawful, it is important to continue this work in light of ongoing deficits, financial ability and whether or not they continue to fill a gap in the McMaster Undergraduate Community.”
The two go on to justify that, given the tighter restrictions for spending, the MSU and the board are revising their allocated budgets, which are funded by students for students. According to the reports, a major reason why the aforementioned services may be rescinded is due to decreased engagement between MSU members and these services. This is shown through a decreased number of volunteer applications, as well as a MSU survey that collected usage data of the respective services.
However, the reasons for rescinding and pausing these services seem questionable. These services have been working productively to fulfill their mandates. Not to mention, none of these services are under probation due to a review of sexual violence and harassment, unlike the MSU Maroons.
On April 17, 2019, the MSU posted about an ongoing review of the Maroons and MSU policies on sexual violence and response due to incidents of sexual violence within the Maroons. These incidents were reported by the Silhouette one month prior on March 14. Although the MSU hired an external consultant to review reported cases and investigate ongoing shortcomings, the findings highlighted systemic issues ingrained in the service dating as far back as September 2017.
As two past Maroons representatives, it was clear there was a pervasively toxic culture on the team that needed to be addressed and the Maroons were in dire need of a long overdue overhaul. So the question at hand is the following: why are the Maroons being financed and supported by the board when the service has been reported to have continually harmed students? The reasons for rescinding Mac Farmstand, MACycle and and CLAY seem to be addressing financial deficits and engagement of the service, but through the Maroons review, it has been shown that many Maroons reps felt uncomfortable reporting incidents of harassment. Furthermore, there has been no public statement made by the Maroons to address this issue. At this point in time, it seems like the MSU wants to finance the Maroons regardless of the harm they cause and regardless of whether their issues are addressed. Instead of rescinding services with no history of harm against the community, it seems more reasonable to rescind the Maroons instead. At the very least, the Maroons should be put on pause for a year, similar to Shinerama.
In addition, the recommendations to make up for the rescinded or paused services don’t quite fill the niche or serve the communities these services operated within, which calls into question why they would be rescinded in the first place.
Because of CLAY’s budget deficit and its impact on only 60 MSU members each year, it was recommended to be rescinded. The recommendation to fill CLAY’s operating policy, which is to empower and engage youth in the Hamilton and Greater Toronto Area, was to create a bursary program for youth to get involved in local leadership opportunities. However, a bursary is clearly not an adequate substitute for the time and expertise McMaster University students can offer through their involvement with the community. Furthermore, it does not allow for building and maintaining personal relationships essential for connecting with youth effectively.
Mac Farmstand’s mandate is to provide affordable local food to McMaster students, faculty and staff. Because a grocery store will be part of the student space expansion outside of the David Braley Athletic Centre in 2021, the board report implied that Mac Farmstand’s purpose would still be served. But it is unclear whether this produce will be local or community-focused—which is the whole purpose of Mac Farmstand.
Interestingly enough, Shinerama and MACycle’s recommendations both include using the Maroons to fill their gaps should these services be rescinded. According to the MACycle report, the Maroons would help coordinate the annual bike auction, and in the Jan. 23 executive board meeting, the board discussed the Maroons integrating more charity work as part of their service next year to help substitute Shinerama’s niche. It’s odd that a service on probation like the Maroons would be assigned more responsibility, when they are already failing to achieve their current mandate.
In MSU president Joshua Marando’s words regarding the review of the Maroons, “What we learned is that we need to do better.”
One way the MSU could have done better was consider rescinding a service that makes some students feel unsafe, instead of writing a half-hearted apology for McMaster students. However, the MSU decided to assign more responsibility to a service students feel uncomfortable with, effectively ignoring our concerns. In fact, it seems like the MSU is actively uplifting and supporting the Maroons as a service, instead of reprimanding the issues with the service.
Sometimes it is important to acknowledge that some problems are systemic in nature—and despite the efforts the MSU has gone to improve this service, it is evident that rape culture within the Maroons is not a fixable problem. So the next best option would be to rescind the service—if not in place of one of these other four services, then alongside them.