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Ryerson University student union torn apart by work commitment issues and social justice kerfuffle

Four Ryerson University Student Union executives are facing impeachment, and one executive resigned over an incident involving a non-indigenous student that sang the song “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas.

As of last week, four Ryerson University Student Union (RSU) executives were facing impeachment, and one executive resigned over an incident involving a non-indigenous student performing the song “Colors of the Wind” from the Disney film Pocahontas at a campus event. 

The RSU vice-president equity, vice-president education, and vice-president operations are facing impeachment over accusations they broke student union bylaws — specifically, they were accused of not working 40 hours a week as per their job descriptions. 

However, RSU president Vanessa Henry is facing impeachment for a very different reason: the vice-president marketing, Victoria Anderson-Gardner, accused Henry of “creating a hostile space for students.” 

Anderson-Gardner cited one reason for her motivation for impeachment: at a recent on-campus brunch event, a non-indigenous student performed the song “Colors of the Wind” from the Disney film Pocahontas. Anderson-Gardner stated “That film is definitely discriminatory against the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island…I was personally triggered,” but couldn’t convince the president to be equally as offended by the occurrence. 

The RSU subsequently released a statement defending the “Colors of the Wind” incident, but because some executives disagreed with the content of the statement, it was quickly deleted. The statement pointed out that the performer was an international student who “is in fact Indigenous on her own land” and that “when speaking on cultural appropriation it is important to understand that there are multiple ethnicities who are considered Indigenous.”

Anderson-Gardner claimed the statement released by the RSU was “anti-indigenous,” but when she took that up with the president, Vanessa Henry, Henry accused Anderson-Gardner of being “anti-black,” because Henry herself is black. 

Then, last week, the vice-president equity resigned, claiming the RSU environment was unhealthy and damaging. 

The same day that the vice-president equity announced her resignation, Victoria Anderson-Gardner also resigned, issuing a statement on her Facebook that read, in part:

I am stepping down as the VP of Marketing of the Ryerson Students’ Union…The work environment and recent events triggered my PTSD along with the extreme traumas I have experienced in my life…How my trauma has been dealt from [sic] the board who considers themselves as my “employers” has been retraumatizing…When you see the acute pain of an Indigenous person and move forward with your meeting in order to follow the rules (Robert’s rules of order), you’ve chosen to be violent.

Ultimately, in a board meeting held on December 10th, the motion to impeach the vice-president education did not pass, the motion to impeach the vice-president operations was put off until the spring semester, and the motion to impeach the president will be discussed at an upcoming board meeting. 

To summarize: Of the six elected RSU executives, four are facing or were facing impeachment, two have resigned, and only one is seemingly free of conflict and controversy.

Funnily enough, this was the second impeachment scandal this year for the Ryerson University student union. In February 2019, the previous president — Ram Ganesh — was impeached for overspending and financial mismanagement. The student government under Ganesh allegedly spent hundreds of student dollars at a shisha lounge, LCBO liquor stores, and a bar.

While some might write off the RSU-Pocahontas case as a petty spat between a group of student union executives, this story demonstrates how social justice ideology, which convinces its devotees to take offense at instances such as a non-indigenous person singing “Colors of the Wind,” actually has the power to tear people apart, destroy relationships, and cause workplaces to break down.

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