Misuse & Mistrust: The RSU scandal’s effect on SASSL

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By Emma Sandri

In the past year, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has used Sexual Assault Survivor Support Line (SASSL) funds to purchase frosh merchandise and sponsor an engineering conference, all while the line has been absent a full-time coordinator since October.

The alleged misspending has affected the trust students have in the support line and the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence (CSSSV), according to a part-time coordinator there.

“Students rely on these services, but they know corruption is happening. How are they going to trust [us]?” said the coordinator, who wished to remain anonymous. “If they decide to make a donation, if they decide to volunteer, students don’t want to support things that are unethical and corrupt.”

While union president Maklane deWever said it is likely SASSL funds will be made mandatory, it is unclear whether or not all equity service centres will be made essential fees that students can’t opt out of.

The coordinator said they believe that many students may choose to opt-out of funding for the RSU, which would affect the rest of these centres.  

“Unfortunately a lot of students complain about [funding the RSU] and of course they have the right to, when funds are being used wrongly,” said the coordinator. “Funding is scary. We don’t know if we will get funding for all the equity service centres.”

At a Board of Directors (BoD) meeting in February, the vice-president equity of the RSU, Karolina Surowiec, said $20,000 of funding had been taken from the Equity Service Centre’s budget without her approval.

This included funding from SASSL and the Good Food Centre, funding which was used for the George Vari Innovation Conference (GVIC) in November.

According to Ryerson’s website, GVIC provides “an academic and professional platform for students to share their ideas and passion for innovation.” The “main attraction” of the 2018 conference was a presentation by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

“I had a full year of programming and I think they’ve only done half of that”

In an email to The Eyeopener, Surowiec said when she found out the centres’ funds were to be used she had asked the union’s financial controller, Dharshini Jay, to hold off on allocating the funds. However, the money had “already been released” by the time she replied.

On Feb. 11, Jay said the first email she received from now former RSU president Ram Ganesh said the money was for a sponsorship. “I replied, if this is a sponsorship that is more than $5,000 this needs to get the board’s approval,” said Jay.

According to Jay, Ganesh told her that as the CEO of the RSU, he and the Chief Financial Officer—vice-president of operations Savreen Gosal—could make financial decisions.

However, Jay said she did eventually receive an amended invoice from Ganesh which did not mention a sponsorship for GVIC but instead asked for $10,000 for SASSL’s table at the conference.

Neither Ganesh nor Jay responded to a request to comment in time for publication. Surowiec declined to provide any further comment on the matter.

“I had just come into work and they were like ‘we got to go table right now,’ and I was like. ‘I don’t even know what [GVIC is],’” said the CSSSV coordinator. “I was like what is this? Why are we here, this is an engineering conference, it is so random for us to be here?”

At the Feb. 11 BoD meeting, Ganesh said the funding used did have an equity component because the group had a table set up at the conference, in addition to a sponsored panel discussion.

According to the coordinator, the idea that the funding was used for equity is “embarrassing.”

“I don’t even know how to put how strongly I feel…it’s disgusting, it’s heartbreaking”

“Equity is a big deal, when we do that work we want to make sure we are doing it right. That’s not what it felt like at that conference.”

They said the funding used could have gone to hiring a full-time coordinator for SASSL, among other services the centre needs.

The last SASSL coordinator, Cassandra Myers, left at the end of September following graduation. According to Myers, she was responsible for deciding the planning and budget for the year—none of which, Myers said, was followed.

“I had a full year of programming and I think they’ve only done half of that, even less. So there’s no way they could have used up the full budget,” said Myers.

Myers was also involved in the 2018 referendum, which successfully levied $10 from each student, with $5 to be put towards SASSL and the GFC respectively. According to 2018-19 RSU budget, GFC was allocated a budget of $205,000 this year, while SASSL was allocated $200,000.

Myer called the unapproved use of SASSL funds for GVIC a “manipulation” of their work.

“I don’t even know how to put how strongly I feel about it into words. It’s disgusting, it’s heartbreaking. I spent a full year, ignoring my classes, ignoring all my other responsibilities to run this referendum,” said Myers. “[Ganesh] specifically looked me in the face and said ‘I care about [SASSL].’ Clearly, it’s just a lie. It’s just re-traumatizing.”

DeWever said he takes the allegations of misuse of SASSL funds seriously and is looking into the issue.

“There was a large RSU component to it,” said deWever. “I know that the RSU sponsored a diversity panel lunch which included professional women from the engineering community, voices often not in the spotlight at an engineering conference.”

DeWever said his focus is providing SASSL with the resources it needs to “run better.”

A job posting for a full-time coordinator was posted on the RSU website, however they would not start until May—when the new executive team enters office—according to the posting.

“I just want the truth, I want justice,” said Myers. “I want the money returned, I want an apology.”

With files from Zena Salem

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