On February 17, 2017, I found myself staring at my computer screen, outraged by the scandals that seem to engulf our student society year after year. This was a trying month for McGill, and much of it seemed self-imposed by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). The SSMU Executive had failed to take adequate action against an executive member who had committed gendered violence. They had also failed to condemn a violent Tweet by a member of their Board of Directors and Legislative Council. I’d had enough of SSMU tarnishing the McGill name instead of being a source of pride for its students; I decided to run for SSMU President.
I was no stranger to SSMU politics. As Chief Justice of the Judicial Board, three different Presidents attempted to impeach me for no other reason than trying to hold them accountable. Each time they tried, all my fellow justices wrote letters to the Board of Directors supporting me as a competent and effective Chief Justice, and outlining the Executive overreach that unfortunately occurred year after year. Petitioners wrote letters of support against my impeachment, but this did not stop SSMU Executives from trying. I was an ideological outsider to the SSMU establishment—just as I am now.
Many students I speak to regard the SSMU in an incredibly low light. They see the SSMU as an echo chamber, where unless you hold the same ideas as a few vocal insiders, you are not welcome. I ran for President to change that, and I won because I ran a campaign that appealed to the average student, not the fringe student who normally gets involved with SSMU. Since my election, I think I have inspired more students outside of the SSMU establishment to get involved with the organization, and I have led policy changes that many respect. The SSMU establishment has not liked this.
Since the day I was elected, the SSMU establishment has wanted me out. I do not think like them, and I do not take orders from campus publications or political activist groups. This scares them. Since the summer, many people from within the SSMU, including members of my own Executive, have been trying to push me out for the simple reason that I do not share their politics. The lengths to which they have gone to convince the public that I am not fit to be President make my multiple J-Board impeachment hearings seem like a trip to Disneyland.
During the first month of my Presidency, there was a Management Frosh Social that I attended with some members of the Executive. I thought that I could trust my fellow Executives, since I believed they were my friends. Instead, when I woke up the next morning, I found that two of the executives had taken an embarrassing photo of me without my consent, turned it into a meme, and had distributed it to the rest of the team and some members of the Board. I spoke to another member of the Executive and told her how uncomfortable I was, but she didn’t seem to care. At subsequent Executive meetings, I was ridiculed for the photo in front of the SSMU General Manager. It was clear: the executives thought this was a joke.
The lengths to which they have gone to convince the public that I am not fit to be President make my multiple J-Board impeachment hearings seem like a trip to Disneyland.
Ridiculing my personal life continued throughout the summer. I was called an opportunist, I was told that my friends were “problematic”, and every single time I tried to do my job I was met with snide comments and jabs about my qualifications. The worst of it was that certain executives engaged in personal attacks targeting my character and appearance. On one occasion, when I went to the gym with a fellow executive, she remarked that I looked really skinny. Not knowing what the appropriate response would be, I said “thank you,” to which she replied “that wasn’t a compliment.” Further, members of the executive regularly implied that I was exchanging sexual favours for political gain with members of SSMU and other societies. This was patently untrue. On multiple occasions, I asked them to stop making these comments. They didn’t.
While my personal life was seemingly fair game for ridicule at the SSMU office, my professional qualifications and role as President were also never respected. In the media and within SSMU, I have been accused of incompetency and neglect of my duties. Questions about my integrity and motives have been constantly brought up.
The following are the facts: Firstly, I have taken the least vacation days out of any member of the SSMU Executive. Secondly, I am consistently in the office from 9am to 9pm, working weekends, for a total of 70 hours a week. I often have to stay up all night to respond to constituent and media concerns. This is due in part to my time being occupied by petty arguments with other executives. And thirdly, right now, being President of the SSMU is my sole focus and responsibility. This stands in contrast to some of the other executives who have taken a full month off their duties to pursue other interests out of the country. I have been in Montreal, at the SSMU office, since my term began on June 1.
Why am I held to a different standard than past Presidents, who were completely lacking in transparency?
This flies in the face of how I have been portrayed in the media and at Legislative Council. The McGill Daily, for example, published an article entitled “Legislative Council Grills SSMU President”, in which they chose to omit critical information with the sole purpose of discrediting my character. Executives have targeted me at Legislative Council with leading questions that add nothing to the debate other than to humiliate me. For example, when I proposed a Presidential listserv as a way of communicating with the student body, an Executive quipped “you barely have time to fulfill your own responsibilities, why would you want to have a Presidential listserv?” In fact, I am managing my own responsibilities while also having to deal with an excessive amount of media requests, many of which are generated by false claims from the Executive.
My “lack of transparency” is also a favourite talking point among those who wish to discredit me. Such assertions are unfounded. Preceding my election, the Board of Directors often failed to post their meeting minutes online. For example, last year, the Board of Directors didn’t publish its minutes for more than six months, including the minutes from important meetings like Igor Sadikov’s impeachment hearing. I made it a priority this summer to make these minutes available to the student body, and they are all now available online. Under my Chairship, minutes have been approved and posted the week after meetings as soon as SSMU staff have been available to record them.
Currently, I am working on instituting regular reports that inform students about my representation on the Board of Governors. I have also rebuilt trust between the McGill administration and the SSMU, a relationship that was badly damaged by last year’s Executive. Now, McGill students have more representation than ever at the admin level; I currently sit on four more committees than the past President did. Why am I held to a different standard than past Presidents, who were completely lacking in transparency? The McGill Daily did not go to such lengths to write scathing pieces about them.
This is, of course, because the real reason that the SSMU establishment dislikes me has nothing to do with my “lack of transparency.” It is not my “lack of qualifications.” It is not my integrity. It is not my lack of commitment to the membership. It is not my personal life choices. It is because the establishment is terrified that they no longer have a reliable lackey to do their bidding in the SSMU Executive. They have an independent, Constitution-abiding President who does not owe them anything and is not beholden to their interests. This scares them so much that they have sought to destroy my reputation with a smear campaign in the media, at Legislative Council, and internally within the Executive, so much so that I dread coming into the office every day.
But I do it anyway. Because I am not going to bow to those who cannot accept that their candidate is not in the SSMU Presidency. I owe it to the 53% of students who voted for me to continue to fight for what’s right, and to continue to represent the average McGill student, not the extreme vocal minority.
Muna Tojiboeva is the President of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU).
This is a contributor piece. The views and statements expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.