A screenshot of the video posted on an RSU board member's Instagram

RSU execs say working environment “toxic” after VP operations calls out colleagues on Facebook

In News, RSU, Student Politics2 Comments

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By Justin Chandler

The Ryerson Students’ Union’s (RSU) vice-president operations says two of his fellow executives contributed to a “toxic environment”—and they’re both accusing him of the same.

On Wednesday afternoon, vice-president operations Ali Yousaf shared a video on Facebook which shows current Elevate campaign manager Vajdaan Tanveer calling him a “internalized racist asshole” while RSU president Susanne Nyaga and vice-president equity Camryn Harlick join in a cheer. 

Nyaga and Harlick are running with the Elevate slate in the annual RSU elections, and voting takes place next week. Yousaf is not running for re-election, but he is campaigning for the opposing Unify slate. He told The Eyeopener his post has nothing to do with his work on Unify.

In his post, Yousaf wrote that the RSU “has been extremely toxic environment” this past year. He then called Nyaga and Harlick’s running for re-election “a problem,” and criticized their behaviour and past political actions. 

“I am an international student who faces adversity on a daily basis. I am someone who gets racially profiled at any place I go to and the fact that, they called me racist, just plain hurts,” Yousaf wrote in his post.

The video began circulating at the end of last term after the RSU’s fall semi-annual general meeting. The video was originally posted on RSU board member Andrew Hight’s Instagram account.

In a statement to The Eyeopener, Harlick defended himself and Nyaga.

“While I didn’t expect this moment to be recorded and shared I do believe that the frustrations held in that room were valid. At the time of this video was taken, Susanne, myself and other students involved in the Ryerson Students’ Union were venting, off campus, about our experiences of misogyny, transphobia and racism within our office,” Harlick wrote.

He added that experiences of misogyny, transphobia and racism in the RSU “often came at the hands of the executive that we worked with on a day-to-day basis and created a toxic work environment that has made it incredibly difficult for Susanne and myself to continue the work we set out to do.”

Harlick also mentioned that two former RSU executives have spoken out about a “boys club” culture in the union, which he and Susanne also noticed when they started.

“As a gender non-binary/ two-spirit individual, I would be ignored and talked over at official meetings of the students’ union or gaslighted when I attempted to get the students’ union to address issues of oppression on campus. We have consistently tried to address these issues both within the executive and at board meetings, at which point, we have in return been met with ridicule, belittlement and condescending laughter,” he wrote.

 

“I am someone who gets racially profiled at any place I go to and the fact that, they called me racist, just plain hurts”

 

Yousaf previously told The Eye the video was inappropriate, saying that “bashing student leaders” creates an unhealthy atmosphere on campus.

“If this type of behaviour is acceptable, then no wonder one of my executives did resign,” he said in a January interview, referring to the resignation of vice-president student life & events Lauren Emberson earlier that month.

At the time, Yousaf said he hadn’t raised his concerns about the video with Harlick or Nyaga because he “just didn’t want to increase the tension.” 

But with the elections looming, Yousaf now says he changed his mind. “Since Susanne and Cam [are] re-running I want the membership to know what’s going on in the RSU office,” he wrote in a message to The Eye. 

 

“I am incredibly disheartened to see a rise in this type of violence on campus and among people working to support their friends”

 

In his Facebook post, Yousaf also criticized Harlick’s Colonialism 150 campaign, saying executives were not consulted on it. Yousaf voted to approve the campaign at an executive meeting in June.

 

Here is the full statement Harlick sent to The Eye on behalf of himself and Nyaga:

While I didn’t expect this moment to be recorded and shared I do believe that the frustrations held in that room were valid. At the time of this video was taken, Susanne, myself and other students involved in the Ryerson Students’ Union were venting, off campus, about our experiences of misogyny, transphobia and racism within our office. These experiences unfortunately often came at the hands of the executive that we worked with on a day-to-day basis and created a toxic work environment that has made it incredibly difficult for Susanne and myself to continue the work we set out to do.

When we first got elected we were admittedly nervous. Two of the women on the previous executive came forward to talk about the “boys club” culture in the office. When we started our positions we started to see exactly what they were talking about. For example, as a gender non-binary/ two-spirit individual, I would be ignored and talked over at official meetings of the students’ union or gaslighted when I attempted to get the students’ union to address issues of oppression on campus. We have consistently tried to address these issues both within the executive and at board meetings, at which point, we have in return been met with ridicule, belittlement and condescending laughter.

As I continue to campaign I am incredibly disheartened to see a rise in this type of violence on campus and among people working to support their friends. Moving forward I hope that everyone engaging in student politics is more reflective on their actions. We should continuously strive to hold individuals in leadership positions accountable as we should also work to hold ourselves accountable.

With files from Annie Arnone

Comments

  1. I am a bit confused on a number of fronts with this story….. who identified themselves as Two-Spirit — I think it’s Camryn Harlick? or is it someone else? More importantly, what Nation is the Two-Spirit person from? This is a very important detail see that term “Two-Spirit” is a way for the “Two-Spirit” community to organize; in other words, a way to identify those individuals who embody diverse (or non-normative) sexualities, genders, and gender expressions* and who are indigenous to Turtle Island.^ I’d like to know what nation the Two-Spirit person of this story is from?

    Harlan Pruden
    Managing Editor, TwoSpiritJournal.com

    *I am intentionally not using the Western frameworks, concepts, or identities of LGBTQ+. Instead I am opting for the descriptive statement of: “who embody diverse (or non-normative) sexualities, genders, and gender expressions.”
    ^Turtle Island is harkening to some of the first peoples’ creation stories (Anishnaabe, Lenepe, to list a few) and is used to name the land that we have come to call North America. Turtle Island is used to reference this land mass while not affirming or recognizing the two nation states of Canada or the United States of America.

    1. They are talking about Harlick, who identifies as two-spirit. Harlick is, to the extent of my knowledge, is Haudenosaunee and Metis.

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