Beginning Thursday, the Ontario arm of the Canadian Federation of Students will be holding its semi-annual general meeting. And, already, controversy has begun to stir, as a previously approved delegate for the University of Toronto-Mississauga Students’ Union has been struck from the list. After the VP external Henry Ssali had approved student Stefanie Marotta as a delegate, the union’s executive committee overruled his decision. Two reasons were given for the reversal: one reasonable, one unreasonable.
The original explanation, the reasonable one, given for denying Marotta delegate status is because she is assistant news editor for the Mississauga campus paper, the Medium. The other explanation, the more unreasonable one, apparently has to do with the fact that because Marotta does not belong to a minority constituency group, it is more expensive to send her, but more on that below.
With respect to her employment with the Medium, Marotta claims she had no intentions of covering the CFS meeting for the paper, and that she wanted to attend as a regular student. She also failed to inform her superiors at the paper that she was planning to go as a delegate to the AGM. Despite this failure to disclose, the Medium’s editor-in-chief is backing her, publicly anyway, stating in an editorial that the incident:
“[D]oesn’t just affect us here at The Medium—it affects all UTM students who may wish to write for this newspaper. Would you still write for us if you knew it would hurt your chances of participating in UTMSU and CFS-organized activities?”
While Marotta says she was simply interested in becoming more involved with the student union, and seems miffed that she is being denied this opportunity, she would potentially be in a conflict of interest, whether real, or perceived. As assistant news editor she has covered the UTMSU and presumably supervises others who cover them. The fact that the UTMSU raised her status as a campus journalist when deregistering her is entirely fitting. I just don’t understand why it would be controversial for the UTMSU to tell Marotta that, because of her other obligations, it would be inappropriate for her to become intimately entwined with the union leadership as an official delegate to a CFS conference. Of course, if Marotta had applied to attend as a student journalist, and was subsequently denied, that would be a different story.
As for the Medium, the students that run it should be livid that one of their editors failed to disclose her intentions to become more active with the union, which she is responsible for covering. To understate things, if I was running the paper I would be quite annoyed. I don’t mean any of this to suggest that student papers and student unions must necessarily be adversarial but being closely involved with one should preclude becoming closely involved in the other. It is just unprofessional for it to be otherwise.
If the union executive had left it at that, as a question of potentially conflicting loyalties, they might have avoided some controversy. Instead, when pressed on the question, they raised the spectre of affirmative action. As reported by the Medium:
[M]embers executive committee [sic] argued that it would cost extra money to send Marotta to the event. Marotta, a white female, does not belong to a “constituency group,” a category created by the CFS that includes Aboriginal students, students of colour, francophone students, students with disabilities, international students, mature or part-time students and students who identify themselves as members of the LGBTQ community. The UTMSU pays $325 for students who identify as members of the constituency group, but the cost goes up to $400 for students who don’t fall into this category—students such as Marotta.
The paper further reports that “This year, all of the delegates sent by UTMSU to the CFS semi-AGM identify in one or more constituency groups.”
Whatever the progressive intentions of providing a discount for supposedly underrepresented groups, does it fulfill its purpose if all the delegates from a particular school are from at least one of these constituency groups? If students’ interests can only be represented by other students just like them (a point on which I disagree, but nevermind that for now) then denying representation from majority students would seem to skew representation, and create divisions of its own. That seems counterproductive and appears to promote diversity simply because it is cheaper.