Unraveling DNA

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By Sheila Gifford

A communications breakdown is disrupting attempts to start a new student group at Ryerson.

Keith Gregory, a third-year applied chemistry and biology student of Caribbean descent, and Meesele Terfe, a fourth-year film student from Ethiopia, are attempting to form Descendants of the nations of Africa (DNA).  The group hopes to “enlighten its members about the histories and cultural structure of various African as well as Caribbean countries,” according to its constitution.

But it’s not been easy.

“We are here to learn.  We help each other,” Terfe explains about the aims of DNA.  “The most important thing is cultural exchange.”

But right now DNA is lacking an exchange of communication with RyesAC campus groups administrator, Leatrice Spevack.

The most recent communication breakdown came this past Tuesday afternoon when Greogry, now as president-to-be of DNA, presented the new group[s constitution and a list of 109 people interested in in the new group to the RyeSAC student groups committee.

The committee refused to endorse DNA because its activities resembled those of WISAR (West Indian Student Association of Ryerson), the year-old Caribbean students group on campus.

“We want to see differentiation,” committee member Ethan Zon told Gregory at the meeting.

“We want to make sure DNA doesn’t overlap with WISAR,” agreed Jason Power, RyeSAC”s v.p. administration and committee member, citing the criteria for a new groups in the student groups manual.

But Gregory says he’s never seen the manual before.  “It’s something I should have read.  I got a form saying what was needed in our constitution and that’s it,” he says.  “It’s a small hindrance.  One revision and we’re set.”

Gregory and Terfe have already had miscommunications with Spevack.  They first thought they needed to hold an election to form an executive for the new group before presenting it for approval to RyeSAC.  But Spevack couldn’t give them space on campus to meet until the group had formed, leaving them to think they were in a catch-22 situation.  “Last week we talked to her,” Gregory says.  And Spevack explained that Gregory and Terfe could form the executive themselves without an election straightening out the first problem.

The biggest problem for DNA may be still to come.  When Ryerson’s African Caribbean Association (RACA) folded at the end of last year, it left behind a debt of $1,527 and RyeSAC may make DNA responsible for that debt.  That’s something Gregory and Terfe think is wrong.  “Why should we be responsible for they money?  We’re forming something,” says Terfe, who wasn’t part of RACA.  “[They’re] telling us we have to pay this money because we’re black [like RACA].”

Gregory, who joined RACA last year but wasn’t on the executive, says DNA is a totally new group.  “RACA has nothing to do with us.”

Spevack says that RyeSAC hasn’t decided what to do with RACA’s outstanding debt but will “try to determine if this is a new student group or just RACA with another name.”  Although the final decision about the debt rests with RyeSAC’s board of directors, she says she will probably recommend DNA not be responsible for the debt.  “It’s becoming such an ugly burden.  I’d like to see it forgotten.”  Instead, she may recommend DNA be barred from applying for grants for a few years, leaving DNA to rely on fundraising and they money that RyeSAC gives each group.  “I’m here to help people,” explains Spevack.  “I’m not here to hinder people.”

And help is what Gregory needs right now.  Although more than hundred people have signed the DNA membership list, he’s the only one organizing the group, with a help from Terfe, and he’s finding it difficult.

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