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SSMU stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and Indigenous groups

Council condemns Board of Governors’s refusal to divest

Correction appended, March 28.

On March 24, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council discussed a motion to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto. Other items on the agenda included a motion regarding the adoption of a policy on Indigenous solidarity and a motion to condemn the McGill Board of Governors (BoG)’s refusal to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

Solidarity with Black and Indigenous groups

Having consulted with the Black Students’ Network (BSN), VP External Emily Boytinck brought forth a motion of solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO), which has been camping at the Toronto Police Service headquarters for almost a week to protest anti-Black racism and police brutality in the city.

Earlier in the week, the organization had called on allies to stand in solidarity with the action.

Explaining that while he personally was not for or against the motion, VP Internal Omar El-Sharawy said that consultations with students and groups have shown that students want “SSMU to be more fun, and less political. […] It just seems that this semester we have become more political and I think this is something to consider.”

In response, VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke pointed out that defining whether something is political or not is not an objective decision.

“The argument for being less political is quite often used by people in positions of privilege to reduce solidarity with marginalized communities that have experienced oppression for literally hundreds of years,” Rourke said.

The motion passed with six abstentions.

“McGill’s increased recruitment of Indigenous students should go along with McGill’s increased support for Indigenous students.”

Council also discussed a notice of motion to adopt a Policy on Indigenous Solidarity, which, according to SSMU Indigenous Affairs Coordinator Leslie Anne St. Amour, was drafted in consultation with Indigenous students at McGill.

The policy mandates SSMU to undertake public awareness campaigns that aim to “recognize underaddressed components of Indigenous history, better support Indigenous students, and lobby the University to prioritize Indigenous solidarity in service provision and academia.”

St. Amour explained that the policy mandates SSMU to acknowledge that meaningful advocacy can only be done in consultation with Indigenous communities. St. Amour also highlighted the importance of support for Indigenous students from the University.

“McGill’s increased recruitment of Indigenous students should go along with McGill’s increased support for Indigenous students,” St. Amour said. “You can’t really do one without the other.”

The motion will be discussed at this week’s Council meeting on March 31.

Sexual Violence Policy stalled

In her report to Council, Rourke brought up concerns regarding the Sexual Violence Policy (SVP), formerly known as the Sexual Assault Policy. Rourke mentioned that the SVP has been stalled due to the administration’s reluctance to keep clauses related to intersectionality in the policy and to create an office overseeing cases of sexual violence on campus.

“What has been told to us is that it is the decision of [Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi] to decide whether to create a new office or position, so we need to get approval from the provost, […] which [the administration] implied that they will not due to budget constraints,” Rourke told Council.

Rourke said that, with the administration’s lack of cooperation and the departure of Dean of Students André Costopoulos, the future of the SVP is uncertain.

Continuing toward divestment

On March 23, the BoG’s Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) decided that climate change does not cause “grave social injury.” At Council, Boytinck introduced a motion to condemn CAMSR’s lack of transparency and mandate SSMU to continue working with Divest McGill to lobby the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

The motion was passed.

Revised 2015-16 budget

Councillors were also presented with SSMU’s revised 2015-16 budget, which projects a $130,000 deficit for this fiscal year, as compared to the 2014-15 deficit of about $50,000. VP Finance and Operations Zacheriah Houston mentioned that much of this deficit is due to less revenue from student fees as a result of lower student enrolment rates, and losses from the Student Run Cafe (SRC).

“SRC sales are increasing every month, but they are not increased enough to offset the cost of salaries. The cost of labour is high, especially because we are paying staff in the summer when it’s closed because they are employed full-time,” Houston said.

Houston noted that SSMU should look into the SRC’s sustainability.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Council adopted a Policy on Indigenous Solidarity. In fact, Council only discussed a notice of the said motion and will vote on its adoption on March 31. The Daily regrets the error.