RyeSAC debates put student groups on hold

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By Tim Cook

After an eleventh-hour decision, RyeSAC ratified three South Asian student groups, despite concerns of duplication.

Towards the end of September, RyeSAC received applications from the Ryerson Indo-Canadian Students Association (RICSA), Ryerson Pakistani Students Association (RPSA) and South Asian Alliance (SAA). Each group fulfilled the requirements laid out by RyeSAC, which included writing a constitution and submitting a list of planned events. All seemed ready to become a club at Ryerson —they only needed approval from the student groups committee, a sub-committee of the RyeSAC Board of Directors.

But the committee was faced with a dilemma it had never seen before.

The guidelines for granting status to student groups don’t allow for overlap, or “duplication of services,” among groups.

RICSA and RPSA do not overlap, since one represents Indians and the other represents Pakistani culture. The conflict evolved because SAA includes six different South Asian countries, including India and Pakistan. If all of these groups were ratified, it looked like there would be a duplication of services.

“I can’t have clubs that duplicate the services of other clubs,” said Leatrice Spevack, campus grounds administrator at RyeSAC. “I believe that just helps to splinter up people into little, small factions instead of larger, healthier groups.”

The constitution and list of events presented by RICSA and RPSA focused on Ryerson.

“We are proud of our school,” said Kam Kaler, secretary of RICSA. “It boils down to Ryerson pride.”

But the SAA is an inter-university club with chapters at both the University of Toronto and York University. A lot of their events were planned in conjunction with other schools. “We are trying to bring the community together,” said Aly-Sherif Nathoo, president of SAA. “People like to make friends with other schools.”

When it was clear all three groups could not be ratified by RyeSAC, the tension between them increased. Both RICSA and RPSA claimed their cultures could not be represented by something as all-encompassing as the six-nation SAA.

“In the beginning there was a lot of tension,” Kaler said. “It made us look bad.”

RyeSAC’s difficulty dealing with this conflict fueled this tension. At a meeting last month, the committee decided the groups offered different services to the students. So the groups were sent to the RyeSAC board of governors for ratification on Oct. 26. But the ratification was forgotten and wasn’t put into the meeting’s agenda. The student groups and their members, who weren’t told about the error, still showed up at the meeting. The group leaders were furious.

“[RyeSAC] has our e-mail addresses and they have our phone numbers and nobody contacted us,” said Amndeep Pannu, president of RICSA, after the meeting Oct. 26. “They left it on us to go run around and find out why this is taking so long.”

The ratification was pushed back to the RyeSAC board meeting Nov. 10. But before the second meeting, the groups committee re-opened discussion on the issue of duplication of services. They decided SAA conflicted with RICSA and RPSA for ratification, leaving SAA out.

But as the meeting approached, the groups committee continued to discuss whether or not there was a conflict between the three groups. At the last minute, they changed the ratification recommendation to once again include SAA.

“We thought there might be aggravation in the groups. It turned out that that was unfounded,” said Atif Asghar, v.p. administration at RyeSAC. “So [the groups committee] decided to let all three go ahead.”

Asghar says RICSA and RPSA concentrate more on cultural events while SAA concentrates more on external social aspects. He also pointed out that the guidelines specifically state a new group will not duplicate the services of any “existing” group. Neither RICSA, RPSA or SAA did this, since none of them had already existed.

“I don’t see the duplication of services,” he said.

After long debate at the board of directors, all three of the groups were ratified with the stipulation their status be reviewed in four months to ensure the groups are not overlapping. But this was not unusual, since every new student group must complete a probation period before being granted official status.

Reaction from three groups was mixed.

“I don’t think it’s fair, as far as there will be similar services, but I have no problem,” said Nathoo, president of SAA. “We get along with RICSA well. They have different goals and we have different goals.”

“I don’t think it is right that two [Indian] social groups were accepted. We have to make sure we don’t overlap but I think we can make it smooth,” Kaler said.

RPSA was the least optimistic of all the groups.

“At some point or another you are going to see some conflict,” said Shazad Goraya, RPSA president. “I don’t see where the whole RyeSAC principle of no duplication of services applies here in this decision.”

Spevack shared Goraya’s concerns. As groups administrator, Spevack attends groups committee meetings even though she has no vote. She worries about what might happen as a result of the decision to ratify all the groups.

“In this decision we have a set a precedent that opens the door for other groups with duplication for be ratified,” she said. “The issue is whether RyeSAC sees it as a problem. This is contradictory to our policy and in my opinion. But my job is not to question the decision.”

A Bangladeshi student association has already approached Spevack, seeking status. Bangladesh is one of the six countries covered by SAA.

“It will lead us to re-examine our policy,” Spevack continued. “Our policy needs to be altered. It’s more convoluted now.”

Still the new groups are happy to be recognized and ready to get going. All three have already begun planning their first events.

And Goraya has advice for anyone thinking of starting a new student group.

“Brace yourself. It’s hurdle, after hurdle, after hurdle.”

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