By Brennan Doherty
Disputes with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), a new executive director position, and a letter-writing campaign to Premier Kathleen Wynne headlined this year’s annual general meeting for the Continuing Education Students’ Association at Ryerson (CESAR).
Thursday night’s meeting also saw election speeches for the 7 executive positions up for grabs on CESAR’s board—as voting was taking place in the back of the Oakham Lounge. None were contested. All contenders had already served in at least one other executive position on the board—with the exception of incoming vice-president equity Phyllis McKenna.
Current vice-president events Rabbia Ashraf is running for president this year. She’s pushing for free post-secondary education for all students (part-time or full-time) and accessible events for CESAR members.
“I see the struggles of students when I see lineups at the Good Food Room,” she said to a crowd of a few dozen students, most of whom were CESAR representatives from Chang School classes. “But I know that students working together can bring great change.” She was heavily involved in mobilizing support for the provincial sexual violence prevention plan at Ontario colleges and universities last year.
She also intends to reconcile CESAR’s ongoing disputes with the RSU. CESAR claims the RSU hasn’t been working with them to staff and fund the equity centres. Current president Denise Hammond stated at the meeting that the group was considering mediation or even legal action.
“Hopefully, we can find the middle ground…and provide services to students,” Ashraf said.
Hammond announced that Caitlin Smith — former RSU president and vice-president — who went to work as an organizer with the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O), has returned to CESAR as executive director to be a source of “stability and structure.”
“Caitlin is familiar with the Ryerson campus,” Hammond said.
Phyllis McKenna, who’s running for vice-president equity, is an Indigenous rights activist and Ojibwe First Nations’ student who plans to implement recommendations for universities made by the United Nations’ Truth and Reconciliation Report on Indigenous Peoples if elected.
“It has been my passion to encourage others to speak up and have a voice in my Indigenous community. Now, I want to share this passion with CESAR,” she said. Aside from her Indigenous advocacy, she’s also worked with RAIN to Heal Me — an initiative to raise awareness on climate change.
Current vice-president events Francis Pineda is running for re-election, as is Heba Huzayin, CESAR’s vice-president services. Pineda hopes to continue expanding the class rep program for Chang School students and keep hosting talks from student leaders like Nompendulo Mkhatshwa and Karabo Marutha, who led the Fees Must Fall campaign in South Africa.
Huzayin plans to expand health and dental coverage to certificate students while ensuring that CESAR stays on budget which, according to financial statements handed out at the annual general meeting, has been the case for 2016. She also announced that CESAR will be budgeting with the intent to continue boycotting CopyRite in protest of the RSU’s Gilary Massa’s recent layoff.
Janet Rodriguez, CESAR’s former vp events, is now running for vp internal. She was part of the sexual assault policy talks at Ryerson, and hopes to dig into policy issues affecting part-time students.
“When Ryerson daytime students talk about Ryerson, they only talk about full-time students, and then 15,000 students like us don’t get included,” she said. Rodriguez stressed the need for instructors teaching part-time students to get extended training on how to accommodate those with disabilities.
Both Stacey Brookes and Sara Asalya are seeking re-election as Members-At-Large. They assist on CESAR campaigns and provide input from members directly to the executive itself.
Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was present — as a cardboard cut-out lurking just behind the podium with a picture-perfect smile frozen across his face. That was part of a new letter-writing campaign called #JT/#Kathleen Wynne being sent to the Liberal government by CESAR, with the (hopeful) support of the RSU and even student societies like the Ryerson Communication and Design Society and Ryerson Engineering Student Society. CESAR is once again calling on the Liberals to abolish tuition fees enhance financial support for part-time students at Ontario universities.