A rift is emerging within the student union at Ryerson University over a campaign that demands the school be renamed and a statue of its namesake, Egerton Ryerson, be removed.

Some members of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) executive say they were not consulted about the way the demands were presented.

“Something of this sort looks like a personal agenda being pushed,” Daniel Lis, vice-president of education and director of campaigns for the Ryerson Students’ Union, said on Tuesday.

“I run campaigns as part of my job, especially with major political decisions, I bring them forward to the executive team … there has been a campaign launched without consultation amongst the [RSU] executive and it has been very controversial, we have received a lot of backlash from students.”

On July 1, a post on the student union’s Facebook group made 11 demands aimed at, according to RSU president Susanne Nyaga, improving relations with the university’s Indigenous students. The demands included renaming the university and removing the statue of Ryerson, a Methodist minister after whom the school is named. Ryerson’s ideas about education for Indigenous children in the late 1800s were used by others to create the Indian residential school system.

The post was signed by the “Indigenous Students Association, Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson [and the] Ryerson Students’ Union.”

On Monday, another posting on the union’s Facebook page took issue with the way the list of demands was handled and presented. It was signed by three of five members of the student union’s executive committee, Ali Yousaf, Mr. Lis and Lauren Emberson. Ms. Nyaga, and the student union’s vice-president of equity, Camryn Harlick, were not among the signatories.

“Over the last week, a few members of the RSU have publicly shared several posts on RSU social media for a Colonialism 150 campaign, and demands made on behalf of the RSU,” the posting said. “Although the campaign holds immense value and significance to truth and reconciliation, as board members we were not consulted and have continued to remain in the dark about what exactly is happening with this campaign.

“This campaign has not been approved at committee or board level, and was launched before having approval of the executive … we were not and continue to not be a part of the decision making process. We feel that with the proper and clear communication to the board, the campaign could have been created and shared in a way that better represents the 38,000+ members of the Ryerson Students’ Union.”

Ms. Nyaga could not be reached on Tuesday for comment.

Mr. Lis, who helped write Monday’s posting, said the union supports the university’s Indigenous community, but that neither he nor the people who signed the post support the way the demands were presented. In addition to the three members of the executive who signed the second posting, 20 of 37 student union directors also added their names.

The second posting says concerns will be raised at a board meeting scheduled for July 19, after which, Mr. Lis said, the RSU will provide a followup statement. Administrators at Ryerson University say they will wait until after that meeting to comment.

“We understand the RSU is meeting on July 19 to clarify this campaign and their internal processes,” a university spokesperson said. “We await the outcome of this meeting and we look forward to hearing the RSU’s concerns through official channels so that we can work together productively.”

The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jul. 04, 2017 9:53PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Jul. 05, 2017 7:55AM EDT

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