Carleton University Students’ Association is cancelling Shinerama, the school’s popular fundraiser for cystic fibrosis, after the council said the fatal disease is not “inclusive” enough.
The motion, which passed 17 to 2 at the association’s Nov. 24 meeting, read: “Whereas Cystic fibrosis has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men…Be it resolved that: CUSA discontinue its support of this campaign.”
Shinerama fundraising takes place during orientation week and has been happening at Carleton University for nearly 25 years. As a result, the school has raised almost $1 million for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.Only one day after the controversial vote, hundreds of Carleton students have flocked online to protest the cancellation of an event they say is incredibly important to the charitable life of the school.
“Students are incredibly upset about this,” said Nick Bergamini, a third-year journalism student who sits on the council and also recently started a Facebook group protesting the move.
“The ones who are the most upset are the ones whose friends or family have cystic fibrosis. They’re upset that a group of small-minded individuals are playing politics at the expense of the charity.”
The website of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation says the disease is most common in Caucasians but can affect all races. According to Wikipedia, “approximately 1 in 25 people of European descent and 1 in 22 people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent is a carrier of a cystic fibrosis mutation. Although CF is less common in these groups, approximately 1 in 46 Hispanics, 1 in 65 Africans and 1 in 90 Asians carry at least one abnormal CFTR gene.”
Wikipedia also notes that, “cystic fibrosis is diagnosed in males and females equally. For unclear reasons, males tend to have a longer life expectancy than females.” It is the most common fatal genetic disease affecting young Canadians, with an estimated 3,500 people living with the condition.
Shinerama began in 1964 as a shoe-shining campaign and is now Canada’s largest post-secondary fundraiser. High-energy events are held at nearly 60 university and college campuses, where more than 35,000 student volunteers shine shoes, wash cars, run raffles and barbeques, and sing songs on street corners.
Since the event’s cancellation was announced, numerous online groups sprung up in protest, calling the move “disgraceful”, “disgusting”, and “disappointing”. Many expressed dismay at the lack of consultation of the student body regarding the decision.
“This is the weirdest day that I’ve ever had at Carleton,” says graduate student Ashley Darch, who also attended the school as an undergraduate.
She says the Ottawa campus is abuzz with news of Shinerama’s cancellation. “CUSA usually does all kinds of talking and then they never do anything. Now people are walking around campus saying, ‘Did this really just happen?'”
She says the decision came out of nowhere, which was a surprise coming from the typically vocal association. “People are angry that the tradition of Shinerama was scrapped without any consultation,” she says. “But it’s the whole white male preamble thing that has thrown everyone off.”
On the Facebook group set up by Bergamini, Meera Chander, the CUSA public affairs councilor who seconded the motion, defends the council’s actions and distances herself from the controversial sentence regarding race.
“I do not support the whereas clauses involved in the motion. I do however support the spirit of the motion, in that we should be able to give back to other charities as well,” she writes. “There is no reason to blow the situation out of proportion.”
Other angry Carleton students who are posting on the same online board say they hope CUSA is getting the signal that their constituents need to be fairly represented.
“The motion had no notice, most councilors had no time to consult with any of their constituents and yet they wholeheartedly passed it,” writes student Andrew Monkhouse. “The motion could have been tabled…to allow for consultations but they chose not to.”
The online back-and-forth has reached such a fever pitch that one CUSA councilor wrote an apology to Bergamini’s Facebook group, saying that he knows of six councilors who would be willing to support an emergency meeting of the council in order to assuage student outrage.
“I am really and truly sorry,” writes Michael Monks, councillor for business on CUSA. “I was at the meeting that night and I voted for this motion…information suggested that the orientation volunteers desired to select an alternative charity. After reading this groups discussion I can see that this was not the case.”
Former CUSA president James Pratt commented on the situation as well, saying that race had nothing to do with the association’s move to support another charity.
“There have been discussions about changing charities because it has been over 20 years and a million dollars raised,” he says. Pratt says it was unfortunate that Donnie Northrop, the councilor who wrote the sentence concerning race, phrased the sentence the way he did, but that it should not rule out the possibility of switching charities.
Badly phrased or not, Darch says she’s concerned at the effect this imbroglio will have on the school.
“I think there’s going to be some backlash from the public,” she says. “It’s an example of reverse discrimination but it’s also just in really bad taste.”
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