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Durham students call out association

Union general manager calls protesters a “very small vocal minority”

Several Durham College students took part in a protest demanding more accountability from the school’s student union. (Photo supplied)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Three men who were ousted from their positions with Durham College’s student union last year are looking to hold the organization accountable.

Last June, Jaylan Hayles, Toosaa Bush and Geoffrey Olara were fired from their respective positions of president, vice-president internal and vice-president external from Durham College Students Inc. (DCSI), the school’s student association.

According to Jonathan Schulman, one of the men’s lawyers, Hayles, Bush, and Olara had indicated to the board of directors they wanted a third party to come in to discuss a new student health plan.

Soon after that meeting, the board gave itself the power to dismiss the executives, and on June 28, the three of them were terminated.

The three men claim they were never given a reason for their firing and believe it may have been racially motivated.

The trio is still considering their legal options, but in the meantime, they say they are focused on making DCSI meet its obligations to students.

They recently held a protest at the school and Hayles said they engaged with between 100 and 200 students.

Hayles told The Oshawa Express they want to ensure the funds the student association receives from students fees “are going in the right direction.”

He said there are rarely student-focused events on campus, and claims when events are held, students are asked to pay.

They are also clamouring for cheaper parking and food prices.

“Food is too expensive for students. You can go to the cafeteria, and buy a slice of pizza for $5, $7, or $10,” Hayles said.

He points out an entire pizza can be bought at certain restaurants for $12.

Durham College Students Inc. was established in 2017, giving the college its first dedicated student government in some time.

Following the 2016-17 academic year, the joint student association for Durham and UOIT was disbanded with the intention of creating separate organizations for each institution. The decision followed a period that saw the previous organization mired in controversy.

Hayles says the UOIT student union is “doing great,” and wonders why the same can’t be said at Durham.

“We have the same model. Why are we the only ones having problems,” he says.

But acting general manager Charles Wilson contends DCSI is performing its duty on campus.

“We are providing more services than ever before, and we are moving forward as an organization,” Wilson said. “If you look at this organization by any metric it is serving the students.”

Wilson says about 10 per cent of Durham’s student population utilizes the association’s outreach services such as the campus food bank and counselling.

“We are also providing millions of dollars in health care services,” he adds.

DCSI recently started up a legal aid service and is putting more focus on creating events to “help students de-stress,” according to Wilson.

As for the protest, he called it a “very small vocal minority.”

“If you look at the actual protest that was advertised all over Simcoe Street, there was less than 10 people attending,” he said. “This is a few people that are trying to make ado about nothing. We are continuing to serve our students, and we are trying to move forward as an organization.”

Hayles believes there is plenty of blame to spread around, starting with DCSI itself.

Hayles said when he, Bush and Olara brought their concerns to management and the board, “they shut us out.”

His criticism also befalls on senior management at Durham College itself, including president Don Lovisa, who he believes should step in to intervene.

“I think [Lovisa] is trying to push it to the side by saying it is a student association matter only,” he said. “The student association is Durham College’s child.”

To him, senior management should step up and help the students.

“If you guys are all getting paid these big dollars, and leading the college, and are the public figures we are supposed to be looking up to. Where are you now when we need you?” he asked.

When contacted for comment, Dr. Scotty Blakey, chief administrative officer and acting vice president of student affairs at Durham, responded.

“The students were protesting against the Durham College Students Inc. (DCSI), an organization independent of Durham College,” Blakey said.  “This type of demonstration is a normal part of student government, and as such there was no need for the college to intervene.”

Recently, the Ontario government announced fees related to student unions or associations would become optional in the 2019-2020 school year.

To Hayles, this puts the future of student associations, and the benefits they offer, in jeopardy.

“If done correctly, there is a lot of benefits for students on campus and students off campus,” he says.

However, he believes these changes could put more pressure on student associations to represent the best interests of students.

He pointed to the recent case of Ryerson’s student union president being impeached due to allegations of squandering almost $700,000 in student funds.

“It will keep them more accountable. They can’t just take the money and run away,” he says.

Wilson admitted the government’s proposed changes are causing a “difficult time for the industry.”

“There are some areas of concern. [Student associations] are working together as a provincial body to really adapt to it,” he said. “We are committed to serve students no matter what.”

In the end, Hayles says they are fighting for accountability and to educate students.

“My goal is awareness so students know their rights. I want people to be educated,” he says.

To him, they want to enhance the student association, not bring it down.

“These guys can be honest and say we’ve messed up, but we are willing to work with everyone to right their wrongs. I am willing to work with the student association and Durham College to make a brighter tomorrow not just for DC students, but students everywhere,” Hayles said. “Students are not just a number. They are not just somebody to push around. They are your friends, they are your colleagues, they are your community.”