The Students’ Union (SU) elections are in full swing, and students are getting to see who their potential SU executives might be.
But, as the candidates were announced in the all candidates meeting on February 24, students probably noticed a significant lack of diversity in the choices.
Right off the bat, students don’t get a lot of say in who the future executives and Board of Governors representative (BoG rep) will be. Out of the six races, three are uncontested. In the vice-president (student life) (VPSL), vice-president (external) (VPX), and BoG rep races, only one candidate is running. All of those candidates are white men.
Representation in the rest of the races isn’t great either — this year, no women are running for an executive position. This is the first SU election where a woman hasn’t run for an executive position since 2013.
Despite a lack of female representation, there is still some gender diversity. Vice-president (academic) (VPA) candidate Rowan Morris is a trans man, and is running despite facing hate and discrimination during last year’s election. If Morris won, he would be the first openly transgender person elected to the SU. But, the fact that Morris experienced discrimination last year shows that the SU is still an unwelcoming place for gender-diverse people.
Overall, however, this year seems to be a huge step-back in terms of diversity. Especially compared to last year, when only one white man was elected to the SU — Alexander Dorscheid for BoG rep.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a new issue for the SU. From 2005 to 2016, women held only 30 per cent of executive seats.
For several years, men have made up the majority of the SU executives. From 2014 to 2022, only 17 of the 40 executives elected were women. 2022 marked the first year where three women were elected to the executive team since 2008: Joannie Fogue, Gurleen Kaur, and Julia Villoso.
The SU has tried to solve this issue, with limited success, by starting initiatives like STRIDE Campaign School, which encourages those from underrepresented genders to run in SU elections.
In 2019, the SU created the Structural Composition Task Force to make sure that every community on campus had representation on council.
Clearly, despite these initiatives, underrepresented and marginalized groups still don’t feel comfortable running. Those who have decided to run have faced discrimination, like Morris.
The possibility of having an executive team of mainly white men is in itself cause for concern. But with no women and so little diversity, it’s hard to see how marginalized groups will be advocated for successfully.
I worry that initiatives that uplift marginalized groups, which women executives have historically spear-headed, will fall to the wayside.
These projects have historically fallen into the portfolios of the VPSL and vice-president (operations and finance) (VPOF). Since 2020, both these roles have always been filled by women. As a result, marginalized and underrepresented groups have been the focus of many of their projects.
Current VPSL Joannie Fogue has made strides in expanding the period equity initiative. As well, a lot of her advocacy has focused on gender-based and sexual violence policies on campus.
Current VPOF Julia Villoso helped secure funding for the period equity initiative. In her term, she also prioritized reconciliation on campus in collaboration with Fogue.
Villoso and Fogue built off the work of their predessors, former VPOF Emily Kimani and former VPSL Talia Dixon, who also continued the work of the female execs before them.
As a result of their advocacy, marginalized and female students have received unprecedented support. However, projects like the period equity initiative are now looking like they will be the responsibility of people who have largely never experienced these issues first-hand: cisgender men.
More than that, women and marginalized folks on campus will have to trust that the men elected will continue this work at all.
How can the cisgender men in these roles empathize with people who menstruate, when they have never experienced anything remotely similar? They’ve never ran out of period products while on campus, or struggled to afford them in the first place.
The cisgender men candidates will certainly focus on issues that reflect the experiences they’ve lived. They don’t care about issues like period poverty because it doesn’t affect them, and that’s a serious problem. Neither of the two VPOF candidates mention periods, menstruation, or women in their current platforms.
According to STRIDE, 56 per cent of all undergraduates are women. Like our male counterparts, we too will be voting in this election. The difference is that issues we care most about might not be a priority, and our identities aren’t reflected in the candidates we have to choose from.
We need those from marginalized and underrepresented groups represented in student politics. Without them, the scope of the SU will only reflect the limited experiences of the men who run.
Unfortunately, it’s too late for us this year. When results night rolls around, no matter who wins their respective races, those elected will only represent less than half of campus.
As these men get elected and begin their terms, I hope they see and consider the lack of diversity in their colleagues. Women and marginalized students deserve a voice on campus. With the current line-up of prospective executives, women might not get that.
I guess all women voters can hope for is that maybe, hopefully, next year we’ll get a woman on executive.
CORRECTION: This article was updated on March 2 at 3:17 p.m. to clarify that Morris would be the first openly non-binary person elected to executive. A previous version of this article said they would be the first non-binary person.
CORRECTION: This article was updated March 2 at 4:10 p.m. to reflect Morris’ identity as a trans man. A previous version of this article said he was a non-binary person. The article was also updated to reflect Morris’ preferred pronouns. The Gateway regrets the error.
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