RSU and Unite Ryerson candidates’ house of silence may come crashing down

If you follow student politics at Ryerson, you may have noticed something different about this student election. If you haven’t, let us spell it out for you — it’s a whole lot more interesting.

With political opposition to the reigning slate, Unite Ryerson, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has gone from a long-standing one-party system to something that vaguely resembles democracy.

And there is another unusual element to this year’s election — scandal. When news broke about vice-president education candidate Zidane Mohamed’s Facebook post, in which he condoned the killing of New York City police officers, there was an immediate and visceral backlash from the community. Mohamed’s comments were posted on a private Facebook account and he has apologized for them.

Former RSU president Melissa Palermo holds a stack of Unite Ryerson flyers she is handing out. She is campaigning with Unite Ryerson candidate Zidane Mohamed in Ryerson University's RCC building on Feb. 9, 2015. (Shannon Baldwin / Ryersonian Staff)

Former RSU president Melissa Palermo holds a stack of Unite Ryerson flyers she is handing out. She is campaigning with Unite Ryerson candidate Zidane Mohamed in Ryerson’s RCC building on Feb. 9, 2015. (Shannon Baldwin / Ryersonian Staff)

But the fact remains that the students he is asking to represent — as he mentioned in his apology — were, by and large, disgusted by the remarks. And shockingly, what has followed from the RSU and from his co-campaigners has been relative silence.

Pascale Diverlus, Unite Ryerson’s presidential candidate, commented on the scandal by essentially repeating Mohamed’s apology. But no meaningful action has been taken by anyone on the slate to distance themselves from Mohamed, or to somehow remedy the situation.

In a lot of ways, it’s typical of a student government that has for years faced no meaningful opposition.

But this year, with the most serious contest to Unite Ryerson and its predecessors in memory, its silence may be a serious political miscalculation.

Of course, if Mohamed is elected despite the controversy, it could prove that Unite Ryerson was right to remain silent. It has been a very long time since anyone unseated the incumbent slate. After years of apathy in student politics, it could be that we’re a long way from really shaking up the status quo.

This story also appeared in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Feb 11, 2015.

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