Protest group wants RSU to shut up about Drake, demands lower tuition

This version of the article corrects the proper vice-president roles in paragraph 10 and 21.

Zidane Mohamed, former Unite Ryerson candidate, at an election debate earlier this year. Mohamed is part of the Reignite Ryerson tuition hike protest group launched yesterday. (Latifa Abdin/Ryersonian Staff)

Left: Zidane Mohamed, former Unite Ryerson candidate, at an election debate earlier this year. Mohamed is part of the Reignite Ryerson tuition hike protest group launched yesterday. Right: Vajdaan Tanveer is another member of the Reignite group.  (Latifa Abdin/Ryersonian Staff)

They love Drake, but when was the last time he paid off their student loans?

A group of students calling themselves Reignite Ryerson released a manifesto demanding the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) and university administration to take action against rising tuition fees.

In an open letter published Tuesday on their Facebook page, Reignite said “students are struggling” with rising tuition and the cost of living in Toronto.

Reignite demands the university to host a town hall to discuss the issue, introduce a tuition model that accounts for marginalized students, issue an explanation for fee increases above the rate of inflation and take measures to reduce or freeze tuition for the academic school year.

The group demands the RSU give a report explaining what executives have done to support marginalized students affected disproportionately by high tuition and make a formal statement on whether it supports tuition increases or not.

In the post, the group criticized Mohamed Lachemi, the incoming interim president, saying he raised tuition fees as provost and vice-president.

Some members of the group told The Ryersonian they don’t want to emphasize individual identities or past allegiances.

These members would only speak to us on condition of anonymity and said the group has no hierarchy and is unaffiliated with any existing student groups, past or current governments, or political parties.

But shortly after their manifesto was published on Tuesday, students who ran for the losing Unite Ryerson ticket in last year’s RSU elections were expressing support and involvement.

Zidane Mohamed, the former Unite Ryerson candidate for vice-president education, tweeted in support of the group. “If anyone wants to get involved, DM me!” Mohamed said with a link to a story in The Eyeopener about the group’s launch.

Third-year politics student and organizer for Students for Justice in Palestine, Vajdaan Tanveer, told The Ryersonian he is also a member of the Reignite group.

He said many students concerned about tuition fees were disconnected, but as a unified group, they would be able to better address systemic issues.

“The way in which we’re organizing gives way to people who feel like they’re not respected,” Tanveer said. “Anything (our members) say has equal value and importance. The aim is to work on issues instead of focusing on positions of power.

“We are not trying to hide the identities of the people running the group,” he said.

“We’ve provided an initial platform for people to come to this to be able to discuss these issues, but the final decision as to whether there will be any negotiations, whether there will be other forms of protest, those are decisions the collective will make and not one or two people.”

The group has not said what, if any, consequences would result should their demands be ignored and they did not provide any specific plans of action or tactics going forward.

The group is highly critical of what they say is a lack of commitment to combat rising tuition fees by the current RSU executive.

“We love Drake, but what has Drake done for my tuition?” one member asked, referencing the Frosh Week entertainer the RSU paid big money for. “Is he helping me pay for my books, my rent, my food?

“At this point, all it seems they’re focusing on is campus celebrity,” the member said.

The current RSU slate has not expressed a position on tuition fee increases.

Vice-president education Cormac McGee called for a “sustainable tuition fee” throughout his election campaign for the winning Transform Ryerson ticket in this year’s union election. He was also active with Rise for Ryerson, a Freeze the Fees counter-movement supporting last year’s tuition increases.

The Reignite members who spoke anonymously said they want to distinguish themselves from the Freeze the Fees protests. They said the protest included good work, but disagreed with its dependence on the former RSU executives who lost to Transform in last year’s election.

In spite of not being directly tied with the Occupy movement, Reignite has similarities. Starting as an anti-tuition hike campaign by University of California students in 2009, the international Occupy movement organized under participatory rule, where anyone could join and decisions were made by consensus. Occupy was criticized for ineffective organization and failing to set clear goals for what it hoped to achieve.

Undergraduate tuition in Canada has been on the rise for 10 years, reaching 3.2 per cent this year. It’s highest in Ontario, with students owing an average of $7,868 for this year.

Reignite said events are being planned, with a first meeting slated for Nov. 17.
Wth files from Latifa Abdin and Melissa Myers

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 4, 2015.

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