Part 2 – Inequity at the board table: three students’ union directors quit in under two months
In the second part of The Cord’s investigative series, Editor-in-Chief, Emily Waitson, delves into the resignation of a third former director from the Students’ Union board of directors. Read Part 1 here.
Immediately following an emergency board meeting on June 24, Kianna Low-A-Chee submitted her resignation from the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union board of directors.
“When I first got into it, I thought the board would be able to make a lot more [changes] than it actually has been able to. I quickly found that a lot of the policies in place were focused more on the preservation of the organization, rather than having a functional organization,” Low-A-Chee said.
“Things started off pretty well, but then slowly over time directors were making inappropriate comments, staffers and the chair weren’t stepping in … There [were] a lot of [dismissals of opinion] of female directors. The nail in the coffin was the blame-shifting that was happening in the last emergency board meeting [June 24] regarding Fiza and Muna’s [resignations].”
One month after Muna Mohamed and Fiza Iqbal publicly announced their resignations from the board, the students’ union released a statement that addressed the former directors’ decisions to leave their roles.
“We strive to ensure that all staff, volunteers and directors of the board, have a positive experience throughout their time with the students’ union,” the statement, which was signed by Andrew Dang, chair of the board and Pegah Jamalof, students’ union president, said.
“We take the issues and concerns expressed by the departing directors very seriously and have, as a result, undertaken an internal review of how board meetings are run in order to avoid situations like this from occurring in the future.”
The recommendations from the internal review included the facilitation of equity, diversity and inclusion training, leadership training for both the chair and vice-chair of the board, as well as ensuring board members are aware of available resources to address concerns.
“Frankly, I think they need some intensive EDI training that spans a whole day, maybe even two days. There [are] a few directors and especially the staffers — I think they need it the most,” Low-A-Chee said.
The full-time staff members Low-A-Chee referred to are Phil Champagne, executive director and COO and Ian Muller, director of policy, research and advocacy.
“It’s kind of confusing … these two guys are disconnected from students [and] students don’t have any idea [of] who they are,” Low-A-Chee said.
“There’s no real acknowledgement of them or their powers on the students’ union website. I think that’s a big issue. Because they’re kind of running the show.”
“[In my opinion] you can see it when they speak and the way they seem kind of disinterested. In regards to what’s going on in the meeting, they just show up and answer the questions that are directly asked to them rather than intervening, when they should be,” she said.
Champagne and Muller did not respond to The Cord’s request for comment.
In the emergency board meeting on June 24, Dang indirectly addressed a director who had shared “additional posts” regarding Mohamed and Iqbal’s choices to resign. He claimed it was a “breach of policy.”
The director in question was Low-A-Chee.
“In the future, please do not do this. This is not a means to silence that particular director but additional legal risk … because one could construe [it] as an admission of guilt,” Dang said in the meeting.
The policies Dang referenced specifically were GP#2C3 and GP#2C4, which states, “Board members must recognize the same limitation and the inability of any Board member to speak for the Board to the public, press or other entities, except explicitly stated Board decisions.”
Low-A-Chee responded to Dang by citing a lack of context in the policies regarding board members and their use of social media.
“There’s no policy regarding that. Also, the fact the screenshot he sent me of the policy was blurry. That doesn’t sit right with me. If you’re going to cite the policy, use one, the appropriate policy. And two, don’t use a blurry screenshot. That’s just an intimidation tactic,” Low-A-Chee said.
Low-A-Chee claimed there were issues with personal conduct in private group messages between board members as well.
“The group chat comments that were made were completely inappropriate. And then nothing was done about it,” she said.
Although Dang said he was unaware of the comments that were said, Low-A-Chee alleged he could see everything sent in the chat.
“I think he should be speaking directly to the chat about insensitive comments and also [take] charge of the meetings. He [let] a lot of stuff slide,” Low-A-Chee said.
“[In] the last meeting, [when] I was on the speaker’s list, I was called on to speak. Phil just interjected. And then he skipped over to vice-chair Ceniti. I had to keep my hand up to get my turn to talk.”
Although she could not speak to the specific comments that were made during the in-camera session held on May 31, Low-A-Chee claimed it wasn’t necessary to host it as an in-camera meeting.
“It absolutely did not need to be in-camera. I think in part it was in-camera because there wasn’t the appropriate EDI training. A lot of directors were making really [inappropriate remarks],” Low-A-Chee said.
“I did have a conversation with one director who had made insensitive comments [during] the in-camera meetings, as well as in the group chat. And he just got really defensive about it. That conversation didn’t really go anywhere.”
As a child of interracial parents, Low-a-Chee wants to continue using her “white-passing privilege” to make sure that BIPOC voices “[continue] to be heard.”
“Just keep resisting, keep using your voice. There [are] allies out there who are going to echo your voice,” Low-A-Chee said.
“But not many other directors would speak up. And I think to a degree, that’s what the staffers prefer, is someone who’s going to be passive.”
But not many other directors would speak up. And I think to a degree, that’s what the staffers prefer, is someone who’s going to be passive.Kianna Low-a-chee
Low-A-Chee claimed that she had never seen the board discuss student concerns or criticism. The section for feedback on the students’ union website does not provide an option to send comments directly to the board.
Instead of relying on feedback forms that are often inaccessible to students, Low-A-Chee believed there was another source the board should be looking at to identify student criticism.
The Spotted at Laurier Twitter account has become a popular channel for students to anonymously share their grievances and receive answers to their campus and academic-related questions. Low-A-Chee thinks this is an underused resource the board should be engaging with more critically.
“Spotted is definitely where feedback comes from that [the board] likes to pose as the enemy. One of the things I was big on was to look to Spotted for feedback [and to] stop seeing it as the enemy. See it as a way to build ourselves up and correct mistakes,” Low-A-Chee said.
When asked about what it takes for a director to be formally removed from the board, Low-A-Chee said it’s a difficult process — made more complicated, she alleged, by the social connections between certain board members.
“Getting someone removed from the board actually takes a lot. And frankly, I don’t think [chair Dang] would ever go to that length to have someone removed from the board. The directors who are insensitive and need the EDI training, he’s friends with off the board,” Low-A-Chee said.
According to Section 4 of the students’ union Constitution as of April 2020, “The members of the Corporation may remove a Director prior to the expiration of his or her term of office via a resolution passed by a simple majority of votes of the members of the Corporation at any General or Special General Meeting.”
As well, Section 6 of the Constitution states, ” A Director shall be automatically removed:
a) If a Director has resigned his or her office by delivering a written resignation to the Chair of the Board of Directors;
b) If he or she is found by a competent authority to be of unsound mind;
c) If he or she is convicted of a indictable criminal offence in a court of law;
d) If he or she enters into bankruptcy;
e) Upon death.”
“And, you know, it should be board business that’s prioritized. But it seems like there [are] personal relationships getting in the way.”
Although Dang expressed his desire to host more socials in order to mitigate potential conflicts, Low-A-Chee was firm in her stance that equity, diversity and inclusivity training should be the board’s main priority.
“Absolutely no, us bonding wouldn’t have impacted [the director resignations]. That’s not how EDI training works. An afternoon at [Canada’s] Wonderland isn’t going to solve the issues,” Low-A-Chee said.
Equity, diversity and inclusivity training, along with further training for board members regarding the parameters of their positions has been confirmed, but as of July 19, no specific dates or speakers have been released.
“If you have insensitive directors working who are inconsiderate of BIPOC students and you have BIPOC directors, you’re obviously going to have a lot of clashing and head-to-head issues. So, no, team bonding is not the solution. EDI training is the solution.”
More information to come.