The below is a recount of a 5-hour interview that took place between Anup Atwal, SCSYou’s Presidential Candidate in the upcoming SCSU elections, and the Underground team. The interview has been reduced to read-able format.
This is an in-depth look at SCSU President hopeful Anup Atwal.
By: Sergio Arangio, Senior Editor
The decision to run for president of the Scarborough Campus Student Union was a last-minute decision for Anup Atwal. A fourth-year neuroscience and statistics student, he told the Underground in an intensive interview that he considers himself more of an academic than someone with any political aspirations.
With a prior degree in religious studies and anthropology at the University of Alberta, Atwal has made a point of being deeply involved in university life, from clubs to social groups. Through the connections he made with students at UTSC, he says he was made aware of gripes with the SCSU, namely rumours of corruption and mismanagement of funds.
This led to him starting a petition called ‘#FREEZESCSUELECTIONS’ in January 2018 with Chemi Lhamo and Raymond Dang (currently VP equity and political science director at the SCSU) to put the 2018 board of directors and executives elections on hold in response to alleged wrongful disqualification of candidates. The experience prompted Atwal to dive into the rules and regulations governing the student union and made him resolve that the SCSU had problems that he wanted to shed light on.
Atwal then founded SCU Reform, a club with the mission of raising awareness of the student union’s inadequacies – namely calling for budget transparency and attention to supposed infringement of union bylaws.
Fast-forward to this January 2019, Atwal has decided to try to make a change from the inside by running for SCSU president – originally as an independent but now as part a reform-based slate called SCSYou.
What he plans to do if he wins
“Trust is just as easily made as it is broken,” Atwal says.
When asked about putting his $27,000 salary as president back into SCSU he says his plan would be to donate it to the campus life division. “I'm really not in it for the money,” he says. “Fortunately … I have been able to fund my University's using scholarships, grants and with the support of my parents – I have had that privilege.”
One change that he thinks is desperately needed in getting students involved in the union is online voting. “This is a commuter campus … you don’t really have a lot of time to come to campus just to vote for something. Having that platform of being able to engage with the student union at the comfort of your home … is like a no-brainer.”
Atwal also emphasizes that if such a voting system were to be put in place, reinforcing bylaws and policies would be necessary to make sure that the process is ethical.
Meanwhile, to ensure fairness in future SCSU elections, he wants to abolish the use of slates – that is, campaigning with a team under a shared name and platform to increase voting potential. He says this concept promotes favouritism as opposed to focusing on candidates’ actual qualifications for each role.
While Atwal admits to the irony of campaigning under a slate himself, he says the current election climate left him no choice but to play the game so that he can fix it if and when he wins. “I’m trying to show by example why slates … still lead to (animosity) if the people on the other side are pro-slates and want to use the slate dynamic in order to win an election.”
He is also adamant on imposing a one-term limit on any executive position to give other qualified students the chance to better campus life. “If you get the privilege and honour of serving, you do your term then you move on,” he says. “Being a student and being a leader is about teaching. If you cannot convey your skills to another student whom you think is also capable, I don’t think you’re really a leader.”
Moreover, he believes it’s important to allow international students to hold executive positions – the current rule is execs can only have a one-credit course schedule, whereas international students must have a full-time course load to fulfil their visa requirements. Atwal hopes to then amend the SCSU’s policies to allow international students the same opportunity as domestic students.
Also high among Atwal’s must-haves if he were to be elected would be lobbying for more prayer and meditation spaces from the university and cheaper parking and TTC passes for students.
Thoughts on the opposition
The main opposition to SCSYou is UTSC Shine Bright, led by Chemi Lhamo, who is running for president. While Atwal predicts a mixed slate of directors post-election, he doesn’t believe anyone except for Sarah Mohamed – running for VP campus life – is likely to win their respective races. He particularly criticizes the lack of talk around faith-based accommodation and justice for students from the opposition.
That said, he imagines the office atmosphere would be a bit awkward if he were to win the race alongside members of the opposition. Despite potential resistance from any incumbents from the Shine Bright slate, Atwal says he is more than willing and able to bridge the gap in order to give students the voice they deserve to improve their university experience.
“I’m not interested in telling people what to do,” Atwal says. “No voice (should be) disqualified simply for a political opinion.”
A union with accountability
With all of Atwal’s plans to reform the SCSU, he makes clear that he wants students to be at the heart of the decision-making process. One of his plans is to revisit the old UTSC to St. George campus shuttle bus plans that have remained in limbo for years. The goal would be to determine if it’s financially feasible and, if students decide they still want it, lobby for it.
At the core of his hopes for the future of the student union is finally having one that regularly consults with students on how to make their campus life better and actively lobbies the university to get their concerns and needs to the bargaining table. All the while keeping the actions of the SCSU public so that it can “keep the student body informed and also make sure that you’re being held accountable for what you’re promising and what you’re doing.”
Atwal thinks his campaign speaks to a large group of students looking for a fresh change to the way their student union is run.
“If you’re expecting to vote for someone who’s a career politician who’s … not willing to do a comprehensive assessment before decisions are made, then don’t vote for me.”