The Black Liberation Collective is an organizing group of Black students across all campuses and programs at the University of Toronto who are dedicated to transforming institutions of higher education by challenging and eliminating anti-Black racism on our campuses. We do this through unity, coalition-building, direct action and political education.
In the past two years, we have witnessed the rampant anti-Black racism of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) through an increased attack and dismissal of their Black student membership, and lack of accountability to the Black community in Toronto more broadly.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union represents over 50,000 full-time undergraduate students at UofT St. George and Mississauga campuses. UTSU is governed by a Board of Directors elected from every college and faculty at the University of St George and Mississauga campus. There are also six Executive Committee members who work full-time to advance the goals and programs of the Students’ Union to deliver cost-saving services, coordinate programming, and plan events to enrich students’ experience at UofT.
There has been an accumulation of targeted incidents of anti-Black racism and misogynoir that have occurred from 2015 to the present that are generally and categorically outlined below.
SYSTEMIC ANTI-BLACK RACISM
Since 2015-2016, UTSU’s elected Executive has ignored the University of Toronto Mississauga campus within the Union that is to represent them (a campus comprised of predominantly racialized students, with a significant population of Black students). In the year prior to getting elected, some of these executives worked to demonize the Mississauga campus and treat students from UTM like they were second-class citizens at UofT. Such behaviour was displayed by these executives at the UTSU general meetings. This continues to be exemplified in the current campaign to create a new St.George Students’ Union which will effectively marginalize UTM (and UTSC) students.
In addition, the Black Students Association suffered great duress through a lack of support and funding from the UTSU in 2015-2016. While many student clubs including other similarly large clubs received their funding in the Fall, the BSA did not receive such funding. The Black Student Association is one of the largest clubs on campus and does significant work in protecting, advocating and supporting Black students. UTSU did not release the clubs’ funding to which its Black student membership is entitled to by virtue of the membership fees they contribute to the UTSU, which generates the students’ union’s operating budget. The BSA was notified in February of its funding allocation. As a result of a lack of funding being received prior to February 2016, the BSA was unable to provide secured resources to host events and initiatives for Black students that year, including the BSA’s Black History Month educational trip to New York, which was nearly cancelled due to a lack of funding from the UTSU.
The Varsity, the official campus newspaper, has neither written about these incidents of anti-Black racism nor engaged in impartial journalism to fairly report on the activities of the students’ union. In fact, the Varsity has collaborated with the UTSU executive in upholding and perpetuating systemic anti-Blackness. The Varsity has its own history of anti-Black racism that includes the running of a racist cartoon in 2007. Since then it has lost the credibility of a publication that operates with ethics, integrity and accountability. The Varsity has yet to issue a public apology for this cartoon. Due to the lack of meaningful and intentional action for the Varsity to address its anti-Black racism, The Black Liberation Collective has refused to give comments to the Varsity on any stories they write that only tokenize Blackness.
During UTSU Annual General Meeting (AGM) in fall 2015 (a membership meeting where individual students can direct the work of the Union), the UTSU denied accepting proxies (signed forms that grant authority from individuals unable to attend to be represented by a person present and voting) from the members of the Black Student Association and Black student members, despite these forms being dropped off to the UTSU office on time. Further, when an individual Black student submitted a motion on providing support to Black Lives Matter - Toronto, the UTSU never responded to the student. The motion was not discussed at the AGM due to long debates about board structure. The motion was not discussed at the Second General Meeting held a month later, where the UTSU repeated the agenda from the first meeting and undid the decisions made by the membership at the first meeting. The motion was further not discussed at the Third General Meeting that took place two months later. According to then UTSU President, Ben Coleman, this third general meeting was supposed to be about “the issues” affecting students on campus. Sadly, the UTSU failed to do outreach for this meeting in stark comparison to the first two meetings and the motion to support BLM-TO was never discussed. The individual student who submitted the motion was never contacted about the motion or informed about the general meetings.
In the same year, UTSU has hired a new Executive Director who is also a Black woman. This Executive Director is significantly disempowered. The person who works with the UTSU Executive to make all of the strategic decisions was hired as an associate (i.e. assistant) to the Vice-President Internal. Robert Boissonneault is a cisgendered white man (self-described) who is an alumnus of UofT (graduating in 2013 before moving onto Oxford) and who currently attends Osgoode Law. Boissonneault is known for being physically aggressive and harassing, and for stalking women on campus. To this day, he continues to influence the steering of the UTSU despite having no official title within the Executive team. Through anti-Black, Islamophobic, sexist and racist sentiments, he continues to perpetuate violence specifically against Black, racialized and marginalized students through his influence on the previous and current UTSU Executive team.
NEGLECT, SILENCING & ERASURE OF BLACK ISSUES AND BLACK STUDENT MEMBERSHIP
The dynamics of the UTSU Board of 2015-2016 were incredibly anti-Black and anti-woman. This sentiment was expressed by Board members who stated they felt invisible and erased in their voices, despite being the body that oversees the work of the Executive team. The number of Black students involved at the UTSU has plummeted in the past two years due to the increasing anti-Black racism displayed and enacted by the UTSU Executive team.
During our first action in the Winter session of 2016, the Black Liberation Collective, Black students, faculty, staff and allies from across all campuses at UofT came together to hold a solidarity action with Mizzou - following the organizing actions challenging anti-Black racism at the University of Missouri. The Black community at UofT resonated with the organizing Black students were doing across the world challenging anti-Black racism within our education institutions and society at-large. The action began on the UTSU lawn with every UofT student union - with exception to the UTSU - present. There were no representatives or solidarity support given by the UTSU in this landmark event. When asked why then President Ben Coleman was not present at the rally, which took place between 11am and 1pm, he stated that it was because UTSU had a general meeting that day (a meeting which began at 6 pm). He also said he had to do a run to Staples that morning for materials for the meeting and blamed staff for being sick, resulting in him not being able to attend the rally.
UTSU has issued statements on all sorts of local and global issues and resistance efforts in the last year and a half but has failed to address anti-Black racism. Not a single public statement has come out in support for Black students, and the Black community at-large especially in the heightened era of state-sanctioned anti-Black racism, and the growing response of Black community and organizers advocating for Black lives in the fight for our civil rights in this generation.
MISOGYNOIR, ANTI-BLACK RACIST VIOLENCE: TARGETING OF BLACK WOMEN
The UTSU Executive team for the 2015-2016 year including Ben Coleman (President), Ryan Gomes (Vice President Internal and current Vice-President Professional Faculties), Jasmine Denike (Vice President External and current UTSU President), Vere-Marie Khan (Vice-President University Affairs) and Sania Khan (Vice-President Equity) upon taking office launched a lawsuit against Sandra Hudson, the Executive director of UTSU from 2012-2015. Hudson departed from the UTSU in April 2015.
Sandy was the first Black woman President, as well as the first Black Executive Director of the University of Toronto Students’ Union. Sandy has worked tirelessly over the years to create spaces for marginalized students affected by the intersections of multiple oppressions, and has particularly advocated and made room for the meaningful inclusion, visibility and capacity for Black students to get involved in their students’ union. She has been a mentor over the years for all student representatives at UofT on a tri-campus level, especially Black and indigenous women, women of colour and other marginalized students. For more information about the work she has done in the student movement and continues to do at present, check out the #ImWithSandy solidarity statement (see here: https://goo.gl/forms/quc6SmVt92AxT3O02).
In the months prior to this lawsuit and her departure from the UTSU, Sandy experienced incredible levels of anti-Black racism and misogynoir from representatives of Brighter UofT who were elected and took office in May of 2015. Examples include the expression of anti-Black and anti-woman sentiments, harassment, public threats that she would be fired upon Brighter UofT’s election, repeated public humiliation, character assassination and coercive bullying and intimidation. Brighter UofT, including the elected 2015-2016 UTSU Executive, had intentions of exploiting Sandy by reaping her skills, organizing talent and knowledge of running a students’ union before firing her at the end of the summer 2016. A former UTSU board member and Governing Council representative and 2015-2016 President Ben Coleman as noted in the Varsity, once articulated that the difference between Sandy and former UTSU President, Yolen Bollo-Kamara, two Black women with whom he had worked for two years, was that the latter wore lipstick.
As an employee, Sandy had endured racist and sexist violence from representatives of Brighter UofT, including sitting members of the UTSU board for a long period of time. It was generally known that she would be fired once Ben Coleman and his Executive team took office. The 2014-2015 Executive and Sandy’s employer, was aware of such dynamics. Faced with a threat to her livelihood and her role at the students’ union, and increased harassment and discrimination at her place of work, Sandy made the difficult decision to accept a termination offer to leave the UTSU in April of 2015 with members of the outgoing 2014-2015 Executive Committee. She exited the organization with a settlement agreement that included the severance and overtime pay owed to her by the UTSU. The money owed to her, and to which she was entitled, does not reflect the tireless hours of service she has contributed and dedicated to students at UofT and across Canada.
When the 2015-2016 Executive team was elected, they immediately responded to Sandy’s departure by claiming she had defrauded the students’ union by virtue of her collecting the severance pay owed to her. They actively chose not to contact Sandy, or the former UTSU Executives to seek clarity, actively chose not to engage in mediation with Sandy, prior to initiating an expensive lawsuit against her, criminalizing her, and destroying her public image. The UTSU engaged the campus paper - The Varsity - to assist in the character assassination of Sandy, leaking the lawsuit to the paper, prior to Sandy being served. From the Varsity the disgusting portrayal of Sandy as someone who has stolen from the students’ union have found their way into corporate media and is used to invalidate her continued and powerful activism in community challenging anti-Black state violence in her current role as co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Toronto.
Sandy is a strong, smart and principled individual. In good faith, she has engaged in the legal process. However, as it is designed to do, this lawsuit has been physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially draining on Sandy.The repercussion that this violence has had on her health, her socioeconomic status, and her reputation has been alarming. It is revealing that many individuals have chosen to side with the allegations levelled against her, given they remain at this time, merely allegations. This contributes to the erasure of the incredible impact Sandy has on social change in various communities at UofT and across Canada. This is heinous and inherently anti-Black in nature. Such is a pattern of targeting and violence has repeated itself in student unions across Canada, that continue to target Black women specifically for their incredible impact in strengthening the student movement in this country.
The Black Liberation Collective knows that the violence Sandy is experiencing is due to her political views, her intelligence, and her organizing talent as a Black woman. We fully stand with Sandy and will continue demand justice and advocate against the anti-Black racism she has and continues to experience.
TOKENIZING & EXPLOITING BLACK STUDENT ORGANIZING & BLACK HEALING SPACES
Despite the accumulating anti-Black racism UTSU has and continues to perpetuate through direct racist violence, erasure and dismissal of Black students and community member, they simultaneously tokenize and exploit Blackness and Black organizing.
In the past two years, the UTSU Executive team has pandered to the issues of anti-Black racism by latching onto events (organized by Black students) featuring community activists such as Desmond Cole, and creating events like “Afrospeaks” without consultation of the Black community on campus.
While running in the UTSU elections in 2015-2016, then Presidential candidate Ben Coleman actually used clicking an invite to attend the first Black Lives Matter Toronto rally on Facebook as a means of showing support and suggesting he was an ally supporting Black lives, when faced with allegations of tokenizing Black students.
While campaigning for election / re-election in 2016-2017, Presidential candidate Jasmine Denike, and Vice-Presidential candidates Cassandra Williams and Mathias Memmel were silent on issues of anti-Black racism all year and displayed no support for Black Liberation Collective. During the election season however, all three showed up for the first time ever to a demonstration being held by the Black Liberation Collective. This was a highly visible action on campus and drew a lot of coverage. Denike was questioned by students at the rally about this tokenistic and problematic act, in consideration of the continued racist violence UTSU has perpetrated. This similarly came up in the UTSU Spring elections debate. Although she suggested that she agreed that it was inappropriate, and that UTSU could do better as an organization to support students, she has never once acknowledged the anti-Black racism of UTSU or apologized for UTSU’s lack of action to support Black students. She failed to acknowledge her own role complicity in this lack of action, having served as Vice-President External of the UTSU that same year.
The UTSU continues to ignore Black student organizing to this day, and has chosen to tokenize Black organizing in the upcoming month of February by consulting one Black student in the creation of their programming assumedly for Black History Month. This will enable them to checkmark permissibility and wade off criticism of not having Black voices organizing about Black lives. This vile tokenizing of Black organizing continues to be the prop that UTSU uses to uphold the image that they care about Black students as the simultaneously systematically entrench them further into violence and marginalization through their continued anti-Black racism.
As a community, we cannot allow such anti-Black racism to continue and for the UTSU not to be held to account for their failures to support Black students on campus.
We are calling on students, student groups, student unions, faculty, community groups, community organizers, artists, educators, and activists to sign this statement of boycott of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) for their anti-Black racism.
The conditions of this boycott include to decline collaborating, supporting or taking any contracts of employment to do work for UTSU until the UTSU Executive and Board of Directors meet the following demands:
1.) Immediately drop the lawsuit against Sandra Hudson and release a public statement of apology, acknowledging the deliberate targeting and criminalizing of Ms. Hudson, as well as taking full responsibility for the mental, physical, psychological and economic anti-Black violence inflicted on her.
2.) Meaningfully address the systemic anti-Black racism within UTSU by holding a town hall for the Black student body to open up a conversation of transparency on their responsibility and future commitment to challenging anti-Black racism.
3.) Make the UTSU operating budget public, releasing it every year prior to the student union election and following the aforementioned town hall, commit to allocating annual funding for Black student groups to organize at the University of Toronto.
We are calling for those who want to actively challenge anti-Black racism to stand with us. By signing this document, we will collectively be able to hold a Students’ Union that is meant to represent, advocate and support the most marginalized students within this institution to its purpose. If these demands are not met by the end of October 2016, we will take further steps to demand accountability from the students’ union.
We encourage you to contact the current Executive members of UTSU that continue to perpetuated anti-Black racism and call on them to be accountable to all students - including the Black student body - that comprises their membership.
Jasmine Wong Denike - PRESIDENTpresident@utsu.ca | 416-978-4911 ext. 223
Mathias Memmel - VP INTERNAL AND SERVICESvpinternal@utsu.ca | 416-978-4911 ext. 240
Cassandra Williams - VICE-PRESIDENT UNIVERSITY AFFAIRSvpua@utsu.ca | 416-978-4911 ext. 248
Farah Noori - VICE-PRESIDENT EQUITYvpequity@utsu.ca | 416-978-4911 ext. 233
Lucinda Qu - VICE-PRESIDENT EXTERNALvpexternal@utsu.ca | 416-978-4911 ext. 234
Shahin Imtiaz - VICE-PRESIDENT CAMPUS LIFEvpcl@utsu.ca | 416-978-4911 ext. 237
Ryan Gomes - VP PROFESSIONAL FACULTIESvpprofac@utsu.ca
In Love, Rage, and Solidarity,
Black Liberation Collective
……………………….and the Undersigned:……………………….