UPDATE: This story has been updated to include more information regarding the resignation of the now-former vice-president education
By Madi Wong
The vice-president education of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), Kwaku Agyemang, resigned on Monday.
In a statement emailed to The Eyeopener, Agyemang stated he was leaving his position “effective immediately.”
Agyemang alleged a “series of employment violations and internal corruption” led by RSU president Vanessa Henry as reasons for his resignation.
Henry responded to Agyemang’s resignation stating that his comment of “internal corruption” is a false accusation.
“The work I do is by the book…I have [not] committed any form of mismanagement nor corruption while being the President of the RSU,” reads Henry’s email.
In an interview with The Eye, Agyemang said that “everything started to go downhill” after Henry ordered equipment for the RSU’s podcast without consulting the other executives.
At the November Board of Directors’ (BoD) meeting, Henry said that there had been a miscommunication between herself and someone in the finance department and she thought that she didn’t need to have the board or the executives approval on the invoice.
Henry said the RSU had budgeted around $10,000 for the audio equipment, but ended up spending just under $9,000.
According to Agyemang, the money used for the podcast was intended for equity-based projects, so hearing a large amount of that money was spent on a podcast “raised obvious alarms.”
Agyemang is the third RSU executive to resign in the last month following former vice-president equity Naja Pereira and former vice-president marketing Victoria Anderson-Gardner. The former vice-presidents announced their resignations prior to the Dec. 10 BoD meeting, both citing concerns with the RSU’s work environment in their resignation letters.
Pereira mentioned an “unhealthy and damaging” work environment within the RSU and Anderson-Gardner called the RSU “toxic” and an aspect that has contributed to the “deterioration” of their life.
The board failed to pass a motion to remove Agyemang at the Dec. 10 BoD meeting. The motion came from a notice of impeachment due to his failure to work full 40-hour weeks and for alleged harassment. However, at the meeting Agyemang disputed the allegations stating that the only hours he missed was his 80-hour, two weeks vacation.
Vice-president student life events Joshua Wiggins said he was very sad to hear that Agyemang resigned and thought that his impeachment hearing “felt like a trial.” Wiggins also said he “felt like [he] wasn’t listened to” when defending Agyemang and Onuh at the meeting.
Agyemang’s resignation means that he is the fourth executive from the Refresh slate to leave the RSU after former vice-president operations Augustine Onuh was impeached at the last BoD meeting of 2019.
“I wish the board would put the students first, rather than being complacent in harmful and self-serving student politics,” said Agyemang in his resignation statement to The Eye. “Accountability in theory is not accountability when there is no accountability in practice.”
Taking it public
On Monday, Agyemang also posted an open letter to Facebook, addressing his resignation.
“During the course of my employment, I have been silenced by the president of the organization with verbal threats,” reads the post.
Henry denied ever threatening Agyemang and said that she is looking into the possibility of pursuing legal action on the comment. “To say I’ve silenced you is a big statement. And if you ask any of the execs, I’ve never held them back,” she said.
In addition, Agyemang’s open letter states that he decided to resign “in order to speak out for my rights and advocate for others who have been silenced and forced out of similar spaces” and he would not align himself with “anti-indigenous, anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ+ leadership.”
“You’re hurting the organization who supports students,” Henry said in an interview with The Eye.
In a phone call, Agyemang referenced the non-Indigenous performer sang “Colors of the Wind” from the movie Pocohontas at an RSU event. In addition, he told The Eye he felt that one example of anti-Blackness within the RSU was how Black members were treated at several board meetings.
According to Agyemang, Black members of the RSU were talked down to at meetings and would have their points cut off by Henry. He said it seemed as though some members showed “enjoyment” off their pain.
“Anti-Blackness and even anti-Indigeneity can be the way people are made to [feel] in a space…How people are pushed out, how people are treated versus other people,” he said.
Wiggins said he agreed with Agyemang’s Facebook statement, adding that he believes there is a culture of discrimination and harassment within the RSU as shown by the “Colors of the Wind” performance.
Henry said that she does not think the RSU or her leadership functions through hate. “I will never be a perfect leader…Have I ever been anti-Black? No. Have I ever been anti-Indigenous deliberately? No,” she said.
In regards to the “Colors of the Wind” incident, Henry said she did trigger people when she allowed someone to perform the song but does not think it should be used to shape her leadership of the RSU.
“I’m not rooted in the same experiences as Indigenous people. So I will never know exactly what they need. But I’m always asking and always trying my best,” said Henry.
Filing professional complaints
Agyemang’s resignation letter also cites that the Ministry of Labour has started an investigation and visited the RSU office during the week of Dec. 16. According to him, they “intend on taking further action.”
Agyemang also told The Eye that he has filed two provincial complaints against the RSU over his term.
The first complaint he filed was in response to the RSU stating that they would withhold his paychecks for missed hours. “To my understanding that’s not appropriate…I had to fall back on the Employment Standards Act…That one was withdrawn because they weren’t able to withhold our pay,” he said.
The second complaint filed was in regards to “several harassment issues within the union that wasn’t dealt with,” said Agyemang.
“I’ve expressed on multiple occasions as well as other executives to the executive director of how [Henry] has made it an unsafe environment and named specific things,” he said. “We’ve sought out internally to have that addressed only for it to be used against us and unfortunately, I was forced to escalate that externally to the Ministry of Labour.”
In an interview with The Eye, Henry confirmed the visit from the Ministry of Labour. She added that the ministry representative said “there’s not a case” and he was just there to investigate in order to determine if there will be a formal case.
According to Henry, the RSU printed off their policies, bylaws and oversight committee information for the ministry representative to review.
Agyemang said he was not present for the visit, but was told by a ministry representative that they intended on pursuing the investigation.
“I don’t think it was a bad thing to call them in because now we can finally get feedback on what is a good policy [and] what’s not,” said Henry. “I think [Agyemang] did it out of spite but it just ended up being a good thing.”
When asked about the visit from the ministry representative, Wiggins declined to comment and said “it is not my place to comment on this matter for confidentiality purposes.”
Henry also stated that the RSU is hoping to have enough money to hire a human resource employee and that an internal audit is expected to start once the RSU’s forensic audit is complete.
Moving forward, Wiggins suggested that the RSU should be more transparent with students about their operations and internal affairs.
“I believe that [the way the RSU] can gain the trust of students again is being more vocal about the things they’re doing.”
Executive director Reanna Maharaj, as well as newly elected vice-president equity Melania Tryhub and vice-president operations James Fotak did not respond in time for publication.
As of Monday, the RSU executives have resumed their activities ahead of the winter 2020 semester.
It is unclear whether the position of vice-president marketing will be fulfilled or removed. The election to fulfil the role of a new vice-president education will take place at the RSU’s first BoD meeting of the year on Jan. 27.
With files from Emma Sandri and Alexandra Holyk