By Sarah Krichel
Executives of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) have made accusations of sexism against other members of the executive team, resulting in a gender split inhibiting the union’s efficiency.
Vice-president equity Tamara Jones and vice-president education Victoria Morton told The Eyeopener about experiences where they’ve felt excluded by the three other members of the executive team: president Obaid Ullah, vice-president student life & events Harman Singh, and vice-president operations Neal Muthreja.
“Whenever you have a preference in work style, values or who you see yourself reflected in—if you’re not able to look outside of that and accept people who maybe don’t look like you or think like you … it can manifest itself in a way that is sexist or racist,” Jones said.
Morton and Jones said a “boys’ club” atmosphere has built up within the RSU, creating a political climate that makes it difficult for them to do their jobs.
Former RSU president Andrea Bartlett was on the executive team with Singh and Ullah in the 2015-2016 year. She said she noticed potential for imbalance before their term started due to the differences in experience. “If you look at all that combined, you kind of have three males on the team who will be more closely associated with one another because of experience and previous knowledge, and that creates the perfect storm for the two females of the team to be left out,” Bartlett said.
In the six days leading to publication, The Eye reached out to Ullah, Singh and Muthreja several times requesting comment on the allegations. Despite several conversations about other stories, we did not receive a direct response from Singh or Muthreja.
On March 7, Ullah provided the following statement:
“… The RSU has not received any complaints about a ‘boys’ club.’ I understand [there] are accusations about sexism and racism, but this has not been brought up in any channels of the RSU. I advise that you inform the accusers to file a complaint with our General Manager.”
“… After receiving this email, we did bring this up in our Executive Committee meeting, and I did ask that if anyone has any concerns or complaints, they bring that up to the GM so it can be addressed. This is an issue at large and we do not tolerate this in the RSU work environment. That being said, we can’t address anything if it isn’t brought up.”
In a conversation following this statement, Ullah wrote to The Eye to clarify that previous experience inadvertently plays a role in the current RSU atmosphere. “Harman and I had experience together, which can contribute to a gender divide, but isn’t sexism,” he wrote.
Office politics are often cited as a cause of conflict. According to Jones, the current situation hinges on existing friendships. The divergence of the “boys’ club,” she says, started during 6 Fest planning. Despite attempts to incorporate more accessibility into the event, Jones said she was ignored by Ullah and Singh. Ullah and Singh did not respond to these specific allegations.
At the Jan. 31 board of directors meeting, where a motion to impeach Singh due to ongoing issues with 6 Fest refunds was discussed, Morton and Jones spoke about failed attempts to solve the issue between executives. “I am embarrassed to be a part of this organization,” Jones said at the meeting.
Jones later added that her knowledge in online finance and customer service gained while working at a major American bank could have aided the refund process. She added that she and Morton suggested Singh work on refunds, while she and Morton work on contingency plans, statements, etc., but “it turned into a dumpster fire.”
Nearly $80,000 designated for refunds was transferred into Singh’s personal bank account, as well as accounts of non-RSU affiliated members Ali Yousaf, vice-president finance of the Ryerson Engineering Student Society, and Ram Ganesh, former RSU student life & events assistant, as well as Ganesh’s private business account.
Similar accusations have manifested in small, day-to-day tasks. When expensing food for the board of directors, Morton said she’d be questioned by Ullah. “I felt my smaller expenses were questioned much more than larger expenses [made] by male executives,” she said.
Morton said she’s been consistently accused of acting on her political motives. “As if I have anything to gain from anything I’m doing right now,” she said.
“Tamara and I have been completely unheard for eight months. Every single thing that has come up over the past month has been discussed at length in the past, and it’s never been taken seriously.”
Internal conflicts, Jones said, have affected her ability to support students because the focus has been on resolving disagreements. She added that she felt like her position was just a “filler.”
Anna Stevenson, director for the faculty of community services, said as someone who isn’t in the office everyday, she’s also noticed the gender split.
“There definitely was a boys’ club,” Stevenson said, adding that she would go to Morton or Jones for information because she felt the other executives were inaccessible.
“[There was] definitely a kind of scrutiny on the women-identifying persons on the board whenever they [spoke] out.”
Stevenson added the “boys’ club” has “kind of broken down now” due to the 6 Fest refund fallout.
Morton and Muthreja are currently running on the same slate for the Board of Governors elections that end on March 8.
At the beginning of the year, when Stevenson tried to get involved with planning 6 Fest, she said she was turned down. She added that jobs were delegated based on “who their friends were” rather than the board members. “I know I felt that we were completely excluded in getting more involved.”
Bartlett added it’s difficult to distinguish whether the current situation is blatant sexism, but sees traces of a boys’ club existing within the team. She’s noticed similar instances in online comments. “You can’t help but notice male executives telling female executives to sit down and be quiet.”