By Claudia Calabro
The Ryerson Students’ Union is cutting three popular advocacy campaigns in a bid to distance itself from the Canadian Federation of Students.
The cuts pitted RSU President and longtime CFS affiliate Nora Loreto against other members of the executive, who voted for new “replacement campaigns” that maintained the spirit of the old ones.
“There wasn’t much debate over the cutting of the funds,” said Loreto. She blamed “individualistic attitudes” within the RSU for the decision to cut funding to three racism and women’s rights advocacy campaigns.
Heather Kere, RSU VP Education and head of the committee that voted for the cuts, criticized the dropped campaigns.
“The No Means No campaign consisted of buying materials from the CFS,” she said, “and the Stop Violence Against Women campaign isn’t active in addressing Ryerson’s local issues. It’s not a local campaign.”
The cuts appear to be part of a broader political struggle within the RSU.
At least two of the cut campaigns—No Means No and No to Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and Racism—were endorsed by the CFS, a national student lobby group.
Notably, funding for No Means No and Stop Violence Against Women, two campaigns that promote a culture of respect for women, were reduced to zero.
The cuts came just two weeks prior to a rash of disturbing sexual assaults against female students at Ontario universities.
Two students were attacked and raped in their dorm rooms at York University, another was beaten unconscious and raped in a science lab at Carleton University, and three different women were assaulted on the Laurentian campus.
Loreto was staunchly opposed to cutting No Means No, which has been a mainstay rallying cry for the CFS since the early 1990s.
Handing out buttons to participants at last Saturday’s 27th annual Take Back the Night rally, Loreto lamented the RSU’s damaged feminist credentials.
“The students’ union exists to uphold the rights of all oppressed people, and that’s why I’m here representing the students of Ryerson,” she said, noting that there were few RSU faces aside from her own in the crowd.
A giant No Means No banner hung from a thick tree beside a group from Nellie’s women’s shelter.
The organizers of Take Back the Night decided to proceed from Allen Gardens, a few blocks from Ryerson’s campus, because it’s an area many consider unsafe for women.
The RSU’s campaign against islamophobia and anti-semitism, which dates from 2004 and is endorsed by the CFS, will be replaced by an unaffiliated anti-apartheid campaign.
The two abandoned women’s rights campaigns will be replaced by Colonize This!, which will promote the achievements of women of colour.
“By no means is the feminist message from the RSU changing—we’re incorporating different forms of feminism,” Kere said.
She called Colonize This! an “inspirational campaign,” which some might interpret as a departure from the more assertive No Means No anti-date rape message.
Heidi Cho, a coordinator at Ryerson’s Women’s Centre, said the old campaigns were effective.
“A lot of people come from high school or small towns and don’t ever think about [violence against women], but if they pick up a postcard they’re probably going to read it and be surprised.”
However, Cho also welcomed a new direction for campaigns regarding women’s issues.
“There’s definitely room for change. Not to say that there’s a hierarchy of what should be focused on, but women of colour especially need a voice,” said Cho.