Dear Members of the McGill Community,
We feel obligated to address this open letter to you as we believe there is an alarming polarization of debate surrounding student issues on campus, and we are concerned about the effect this could have on the climate of political tolerance at McGill University. We, as elected officials of the Students’ Society of McGill University, are specifically concerned about the tone and aggressiveness demonstrated by the Legislative Council on Thursday, November 28. We believe that this session was politicized due to the motivations and efforts of certain individual members of the Council according to their privately-held political beliefs. We believe the direction of the debate was focused on a specific member, Jordyn Wright (U1, Science Councillor), in a way that was startling and unwarranted. We are not surprised that Councillor Wright subsequently expressed that she felt targeted and attacked during this session, and we agree that the nature of the motion and its amendments as adopted by the session were hostile, directed, and should be a matter of wider concern.
At its November 28 session, we believe the Legislative Council overstepped its mandate in attempting to overturn the Board of Directors’ decision that Jordyn Wright was not in conflict of interest due to her enrolment in Hillel Montreal’s Face to Face program this winter break. In this program, participants travel to Israel and Palestine. We believe that the Board of Directors’ decision was well-considered, and successfully mitigated the potential for conflict of interest in the case of any potential Councillor participants by providing that they should recuse themselves of any meetings “related to the region of their trip.” We are therefore concerned about the amendments introduced by the SSMU President to overturn this decision, and believe they targeted Councillor Wright in an unfair way.
The amendments put forward by President Buraga mentioned only Jordyn Wright as being in conflict of interest despite the enrolment of another member of the Council in the Face To Face program, effectively singling her out. Councillor Wright has strongly expressed that she feels the amendments targeted her because of her Jewish identity. We call to your attention that Wright is the only Jewish SSMU Councillor enrolled in the program. We recognize that the decision of the Board regarding Councillor Wright’s potential for conflict of interest involves her long-standing affiliation with Hillel Montreal, not her Jewish identity specifically. That is why we are so concerned that the amendments pertaining to this decision proposed by the Legislative Council target only Wright, and not the other Councillors whose affiliation with Face to Face was examined originally by the Board. In singling out Wright, we believe the Council has abdicated the reasonable stance that the potential for conflict of interest in this matter rests in affiliation with Hillel Montreal as an organization. Now, the Council appears to have taken the position that Councillor Wright is in conflict of interest because of her Jewish identity. That the President would identify Councillor Wright uniquely in this context is seriously problematic.
Going forward, this decision could foster a culture of ostracization directed at students for their individual religious and political affiliations. Furthermore, the amendments to the motion that were proposed by the SSMU President were sprung onto Councillors mid-way through the debate, and thus could not be properly considered by Councillors. Members of the SSMU Executive, some of whom are on the Board of Directors themselves, said that they believed that Legislative Council could assert dissenting opinions if it believes that the Board made an incorrect decision. We believe this is wrong; Council simply does not have the correct tools to be able to handle these decisions compared to those wielded by the Board. The SSMU Conflict of Interest Policy itself states that the Board is the rightful body to determine and approve such recommendations. That the Council would weigh in on such sensitive topics for blatantly political reasons is inappropriate. Councillor Wright was ruled to not be in a conflict of interest by the correct and most competent body. We also believe that singling out one Councillor for their personal decisions or beliefs is inappropriate and contravenes the mandate of the Council.
We believe that certain SSMU officials, especially those elected to high positions, have demonstrated a continual inability to acknowledge dissenting opinions or concerns. Frankly, these officials have shown themselves to be unable to respect others’ right to disagree in a political context while still collaborating effectively as student representatives. This has led to tremendous pressure for individuals within the Council and the student body to conform to specific viewpoints, a pressure which is manifesting itself in the normalization of a concerning “call-out culture.” This culture has come to be attached to specific and sensitive political debates in which many McGill students are personally invested. It is incumbent upon the SSMU, the Legislative Council, the executives, and the Board of Directors to recognize the full diversity of viewpoints surrounding these and any debates. We believe that SSMU officials represent a diverse group of people and that a diversity of opinion should be respected in this organization.
It is time for the SSMU to become more respectful of its students, staff, partners, officials, governance structures, and institutions. The SSMU must structure its proceedings and decisions constructively in order to foster this principle of respect. We believe that on November 28 the Legislative Council rendered an ill-considered decision–a decision we believe to be a mistake. If this mistake is not rectified, it risks tarnishing the reputation of the SSMU, further problematizing the nature of political discourse within the McGill community and, ultimately, alienating whole portions of the McGill student body who have invested their faith in us and for whom we should strive everyday to better serve.
The decision of the Legislative Council will go to the Board of Directors for ratification. We encourage the Board of Directors to consider the concerns we have raised about how the Legislative Council has treated one of its members, Jordyn Wright. We also urge them to consider how the toxic nature of the Legislative’s Council’s conduct in its session on November 28 could broadly affect the culture of the McGill student body. We implore the Board of Directors not to ratify the decision rendered by the Legislative Council. We request this in the hope that the SSMU and the Legislative Council can return to conducting their business in a spirit of respect.
Adin Chan, SSMU Councillor
Shuchita Das, SSMU Councillor
Sebastien Duckett, SSMU Senator
Elan Eisner, SSMU Councillor
Kevin Franceschini, SSMU Councillor
Ariana Kaye, SSMU Councillor
Jonathan Gurvey, SSMU Councillor
Beatrice Mackie, SSMU Councillor
Annalise Patzer, SSMU Councillor
Jeremy Platt, SSMU Councillor
Michael Rhamey, SSMU Councillor
This article is a letter contributed to The Bull & Bear. The opinions expressed within it do not necessarily reflect those of the publication, which is committed to serving as a platform for a diversity of respectfully-articulated views.
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