On March 3rd, the Ryerson Students’ Union held its debate for the upcoming election. Each candidate for the five executive positions was given an opportunity to introduce themselves and make an opening statement, which was followed by questions from the (very small) audience. If you missed the debate, I encourage you to check out Keith Capstick (@KeithCapstick) and JC Vaughan (@suitnboodt) on Twitter as they both live-tweeted the debate. It’s crucial that students familiarize themselves with each candidate’s platform as the campaign period is shorter than previous years. I’m not going to re-cap the entire debate as Keith and JC have already eloquently done so, but I’m going to discuss a response to an audience question that I found deeply troubling.
A member of the audience, who was not affiliated with any candidate or slate, asked VP of Student Life and Events candidates about how they would ensure student safety at campus events. They gave the example of this year’s Parade and Picnic that featured Drake; many students found the space to be unsafe, both in terms of physical safety and safe space, as well as inaccessible. Some students were injured during the concert and others did not feel it was safe or accessible to them. These are serious concerns that should be addressed and student safety should always be a topic in student government elections.
I was very troubled by current VP of Student Life and Events, Harman Singh’s response to this question; he is running for re-election on the Impact Ryerson slate. His response to concerns about student safety, specific to events such as the Parade and Picnic, was that no one was shot or stabbed.
Why is this so troubling to me? This response sets the bar so low for student safety that it’s barely off the ground. This type of response tells students that everything that makes spaces unsafe on campus including racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, harassment, sexual assault, Islamaphobia, anti-Black racism, etc. don’t matter. It tells students that these issues, which students experience daily, aren’t on the radar of the student union executive. It also indicates that safe(r) space isn’t even considered when planning events. With such a diverse student population, this means that the majority of Ryerson students are not of concern for big events. As long as no one was stabbed or shot, it’s all good? No, it’s not all good.
This type of response also sets the bar low for physical safety as well. There were several concerns about the large number of people that would be squeezed into the Lake Devo area that was sectioned off for the concert. As with most large crowds, there were fights and people were injured, but that doesn’t matter because no one was stabbed, right? Despite these concerns, Singh said we would have fit more people into that area.
I had no intention of going to this event, but if I had wanted to, it would have been completely inaccessible to me. As a student with a disability, that many people in such a small space would be dangerous for me. This would have been compounded by not being able to get out of the crowd as high fences surrounded the entire area. I have been to previous Parade and Picnics at the Mattamy Athletic Centre and Toronto Islands, and this has never been an issue.
Singh’s answer to this question completely focused on Drake and Ryerson’s reputation to the outside eye. It doesn’t matter if students feel unsafe at events because Drake came to Ryerson, which is apparently school-transfer worthy, and no one was killed. This indicates greater concern for what Ryerson looks like from the outside as opposed to how students feel. Isn’t our student union’s main concern supposed to be its students?
The Ryerson Students’ Union teamed up with the Feminist Collective this past December to host an event on the state of and importance of safe spaces on campus. If the current Ryerson Students’ Union truly cared about student safety, they would consider this in all aspects of their work, including campus-wide events. Drake shouldn’t be the RSU’s main priority; its students should be. What’s the point in having cool events if a majority of students at Ryerson couldn’t access it for a variety of reasons?
I really encourage students, even graduating ones, to look closely at candidates’ and slates’ platforms and vote this coming week. I’m not non-partisan; I organize a feminist group on campus which is inherently political and I do plan on voting for RU Connected based on my own values. A lot has happened on our campus in student politics this year but in regards to the topic of this blog. I pose this question; do we really want a student union that doesn’t care about the safety of its students?