As the fall semester approaches, U of T's student unions are hard at work preparing for the academic year. To help keep you informed about student union activities and preview the year ahead, The Varsity broke down the goals of each campus undergraduate student union president: University of Toronto Students' Union (UTSU) President Alexa Ballis, Scarborough Campus Students' Union (SCSU) President Sarah Abdillahi, and University of Toronto Mississauga Students' Union (UTMSU) President Mitra Yakubi.
UTSU President Alexa Ballis
As president of the UTSU, Ballis has many plans for the 2021—2022 school year. In an email to The Varsity, Ballis wrote that she is currently contacting students across faculties through town halls to determine what the student body at UTSG wants the fall semester to look like and what concerns students have for the fall. The UTSU held four town halls throughout the summer.
Ballis found out that many students prefer a hybrid model of online and in-person learning, as it accommodates both international students, who may be unsure if they can come to Canada in the fall, and domestic students, who may feel anxiety about returning to in-person learning right away. Moreover, Ballis told The Varsity that the UTSU is planning an in-person orientation event for both first-year and second-year students when it is safe to do so.
She also wrote that the UTSU will continue to advocate for lower tuition through the Same Degree, Same Fee campaign — a campaign which advocates for the same tuition rate for all students in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences. Ballis also plans to lobby the Ontario government to "continue a domestic tuition freeze" and "lower international tuition fees, or at the very least... to implement an international tuition freeze."
Furthermore, Ballis wrote that in order to support the mental wellness of students, the UTSU is running a pilot program called EmpowerMe, which is a "free, unlimited and confidential mental health and wellness service." During this pilot period, the service is accessible free of charge through its app or over the phone, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Ballis mentioned that if students benefit from the service, the UTSU will look into making it permanent.
SCSU President Sarah Abdillahi
In an email to The Varsity, Abdillahi shared how she plans to achieve her "realistic and tangible" campaign goals over the academic year by focusing on incoming first-year students.
The SCSU was able to lobby Greenshield Canada and the Canadian Federation of Students to increase their health insurance plan's mental health coverage from $800 to $2,000 per student, which Abdillahi wrote was a "huge victory."
To help students transition more easily from high school to university and from online to in-person classes, the SCSU is in the early stages of organizing various events, campaigns, and services. Abdillahi told The Varsity that first-year students should look forward to the SCSU Frosh, where they can interact with their peers and SCSU executives in a safe and welcoming environment.
Abdillahi highlighted that there have been some changes to her timeline for one of her campaign goals regarding the creation of a First Year Support Centre. She planned to launch the centre in fall 2021, but there might be a delay. However, plans are still in the works to have something ready for the SCSU Frosh.
UTMSU President Mitra Yakubi
Moving forward into the fall semester, UTMSU President Mitra Yakubi plans to focus on helping students return to in-person activities safely.
During the UTMSU All Candidates Forum, Yakubi said that engaging with students will be crucial as the fall semester begins. The UTMSU held a campus town hall on July 28 to discuss a safe return to campus, and it has also conducted a student survey about mental health supports.
Yakubi will also continue the UTMSU's campaign to expand the credit/no credit eligibility at UTM, including allowing the designation to be used for some program requirements. The UTMSU will continue working on creating a more robust peer support program that includes support for sexual assault survivors. Finally, the UTMSU sent out care packages to students over the summer to remind students that they are supported.
Yakubi also plans to focus on advocating for student fee reductions as a larger long-term project for the UTMSU. The UTMSU discussed plans to release four new types of student bursaries at their May Board of Directors meeting. Two bursaries have already been released — a transit and a needs-based bursary.