The Students’ Union executive team has announced they will attend the upcoming climate strike, but only in their capacity as students.
The September 27 climate strike has been debated since August when councillors first asked if the executive team would support the strike. At Students’ Council on September 10, Students’ Union (SU) president Akansha Bhatnagar said they could not support the strike to maintain the organizations non-partisan status.
This changed at Students’ Council on September 24 where she announced that she, vice-president (life) Jared Larsen, vice-president (academic) Joel Agarwal, and vice-president (operations and finance) Luke Statt will be attending the strike in the capacity as students and not representatives. Vice-president Adam Brown will not be able to make the strike due to previous commitments.
As Bhatnagar made the announcement, she cited that there has been a lot of conversation around the strike that left her feeling personally attacked.
“I want people to remember first and foremost I am Akanksha, and I know people only see me as president and can’t dissociate me from my political position,” she said. “I’m asking for direct support because I know you guys understand the political nature of what this looks like.”
“We want to be at the strike as students but we understand that no one can dissociate our positions from ourselves, which is a tough spot to be in because we’re being called climate change deniers in public.”
Councillors were overall in support of the executives attending the strike.
“Thank you for attending as individuals,” arts councillor Talia Dixon said. “I was disappointed [with the first response], but I think it has grown a lot from that.”
Both vice-president Agarwal and Brown commented on a “culture of hostility” that they have observed in council the past month surrounding the debate on the climate strike.
“We talk about respect, civil discourse, fighting the ideas not the person, yet I sense personal attacks against other councillors and execs to the point that I do sense fear and anxiety,” Agarwal said. “Behind everything, each and everyone in this room are human beings first.”
However, arts councillor Juan Vargas Alba points out that disagreements are a necessary part of council.
“Yes, things could have been handled better but no, don’t think that conflict won’t continue happening because I think we come to the best solutions we can when we have conflict.”