By Dexter LeRuez and Gabriela Silva Ponte
The Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union (TMSU) held its Semi-Annual General Meeting (SAGM) on Dec. 5 at the Tecumseh Auditorium.
The meeting began at 6:18 p.m. but failed to meet quorum, which meant no voting could take place.
According to section 3.4 of the TMSU’s bylaws, the quorum for general meetings is 100 members.
Because of this, certain items of the agenda could not be discussed, including the bylaw amendment package and the financial audit statements, chair Felipe Nagata announced.
During the meeting, executives gave their remarks, starting with former interim Board of Directors (BoD) TMSU president Marina Gerges.
She thanked everyone for coming, especially during exam season. Gerges also said she tried to increase transparency throughout her presidency, which she admitted was a hard task considering it was “in the negatives.”
“I think right now we’re at ground zero and we can only go up,” said Gerges.
She laid out what she worked on throughout her presidency. She said she communicated with student journalism outlets, attended conferences, added staff to the equity centre, helped the interim BoD adjust to their new roles, spoke at several events, chaired weekly meetings and chaired the Elections and Referenda Committee for the fall byelection.
Gerges added that she met with Grammarly, signed cheques and sat on several Boards.
Former-vice president operations Nathan Sugunalan, who ran for presidency in the fall byelection, said he noticed there were gaps which he wanted to bridge during his term.
“We’ve registered our organization for the annual tax clinic that we usually have,” said Sugunalan. “Last year, we kind of wanted to go about this alone, but my predecessor, Spyros [Zarros], was working with the other students’ unions and it worked out really successfully.”
He then added he noticed weaknesses in the student union’s budgeting processes when coming into the vice president operations role.
“[The TMSU] doesn’t necessarily have the most ideal process with regards to our budget. Looking at other students’ unions, they have a lot more things with regards to [giving] upcoming teams a little bit more say in their budget.”
Sugunalan said during his term, he focused on carrying over from the last BoD. But, he wanted to bring more fun to the TMSU, by getting a new freezer for the Good Food Centre, implementing the 360° photo booth and refurbishing popcorn and cotton candy machines.
Former vice-president student life Kishore Thavaneethan said he planned and led every event, specifically collaborating with the university for the Week of Welcome.
He announced that over the course of the two week orientation, the TMSU’s social media pages gained 3,000 followers and 15 student groups have joined the students’ union this year.
“We were able to get 3,000 students to now put their trust into us, to want to be kept up to date on new events, to want to be kept up to date about what the TMSU is doing,” said Thavaneethan. “So I would say I am [particularly proud of] our student engagement.”
“I’m eager to see how many more student groups will come under the TMSU. I know there’s a lot of groups that are independent right now. But I’m looking forward to seeing how many more will [become] a part of the TMSU to broaden their horizons,” he said.
Vice president equity Ra’eesa Baksh said she helped to create the first-year queer programming, which “was a big hit.” She added that she has been in contact with the equity and inclusion office at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) for student initiatives. Baksh added that Pride Month saw many TMSU initiatives and that the biggest project for her was the Better Bathrooms campaign.
According to Baksh, the TMSU’s Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support led an analysis into all bathrooms on campus to “determine the most pressing needed changes.”
Additionally, Baksh called on the university and Ontario government to aid them in their mission for better bathrooms.
Baksh highlighted the need for renovations such as light bulbs that don’t flicker on and off and making bathroom stalls larger.
Nagata then opened up the question period. Former TMSU Ted Rogers School of Management faculty director D’Juan Callaghan had several questions regarding the lack of membership attendance at procedural events and the TMSU’s transparency.
Then-outgoing director of programming Corey Scott explained that due to the fall byelections, the SAGM had to be moved from its mid-late November date to early December, a time where many students are busy with final projects and exams.
“We are in a situation right now where it is very unprecedented and not the intentions of the bylaws,” said Scott.
Gerges noted that her own brother was unable to attend the meeting due to an exam that he needed to write.
Callaghan also asked the executive team whether they had hired a financial controller, a position that is outlined section 1.1.1.q. of the TMSU by-laws.
Gerges explained the TMSU had posted for the position over the summer and had interviewed a small number of candidates before extending a job offer to one, who declined the offer after taking “a very long time to respond.”
Gerges cited the shortage of chartered professional accountants as a driving force behind the TMSU’s inability to fill the position, but was grateful for the finance team who completed financial checks while making sure the organization paid its bills on time and gave students reimbursements.
As previously reported by The Eye, Gerges has mentioned her intentions to fill the financial controller position as early as September 2022’s BoD meeting.
One student had a question regarding a lack of funding for design teams including the MetRocketry team, which they were a member of.
Gerges noted that student groups can receive up to $600 a semester from the TMSU.
Additionally, Gerges highlighted that student groups can receive grant and sponsorship money in order to fund their activities.
Aleksander Strazisar, the then-incoming vice president operations, asked the executive team about what they were most proud of during their term at the TMSU and what lessons they had learned.
In response, Thavaneethan highlighted the TMSU’s culture day, where student groups showcased their different cultures.
“It was something that really brought the community together,” he said. “To see how beautiful our campus is and to see how multiculturalism and diversity is respected and valued here at TMU.”
Thavaneethan noted that people can get involved in anything as long as they put their energy into it.
“I am someone who [had] little to no experience coming into the TMSU. I was able to do so many things because I wanted to get involved,” he said.
Following Thavaneethan, Gerges spoke about the differences between student engagement at last year’s orientation compared to this year’s, calling the differences “day and night.”
Gerges also highlighted how much people can learn from working for the TMSU, specifically from her position as president.
“[The TMSU] is a corporate organization and you are leading it,” said Gerges. “The number of skills that you could gain just by being a part of [the TMSU]…[there are] so many different types of people that you are leading and learning from.”
Sugunalan highlighted the enjoyment he got from helping new students during orientation week.
“Seeing how happy the smallest things made students like giving them a tote bag, or giving them breakfast or helping someone find a building,” he said. “You just saw the glow in their face and how appreciative they were because this was their first time and someone took the time out of their day to help them.”
Like Gerges, Sugunalan spoke about how much one can learn while working at the TMSU.
“With the students’ union you can touch every facet of a business, what student life is, how to address it,” said Sugunalan. “The learning opportunities I had sitting down and trying to operationalize an issue to ensure that, ‘Okay, you ran into an issue this time, this is how we can develop something to be able to help so many more people the next time.’”
Baksh discussed the Disorientation Street Fair as one of her proudest moments, especially given concerns that the event would not succeed.
“I told my co-workers, some of our equity centre coordinators, ‘Listen, if we can fill the street, it will be a miracle.’ And surely enough, on Sept. 13 during our Disorientation Street Fair around 12 o’clock, the entire street was covered with students and vendors and small businesses. It was such a great time because everybody was interacting with each other.”
Baksh also noted that she enjoyed the event because it pushed students to enter their “activist mode.”
As vice president equity, Baksh learned to lead through listening to those around her.
“You never realize how many lessons you actually learn just by listening to the way they speak, the way they share their opinions, values and the way they act,” she said.
The meeting was adjourned at 7:26 p.m.