Incoming president and vice-president Tobi Solebo and Landon Tulk abstained from a motion at Wednesday's University Students' Council (USC) meeting.
Everyone else on council voted in favour. What motion stopped the two incoming executives from joining in unanimous support?
It was the first part of a motion titled "Support of Transgender and Non-Binary Students."
It included things like: tasking the executive to devise a plan to "create new and more accessible gender neutral washrooms on campus," tasking a USC standing committee to "review and revise current USC services to provide focused and life-saving mental health support programs for transgender and non-binary students" and asking the executive to draft a plan that would create "educational and outreach services with the purpose of combatting prejudice and stigmatization against transgender and non-binary students."
The motion was designed to address the needs of trans* students at Western and ensure they received the support of the USC.
While they received unanimous backing from council, the two people charged with leading the organization — and by extension, representing every student on campus — did not support the motion. Their abstention wasn't public, it only became so when the Gazette asked for council's voting records.
A study two years ago from our own University found that 35 per cent of trans* people in Ontario had contemplated suicide while 11 per cent had attempted suicide. The number of trans* people who have attempted suicide is 18 times higher than the general population.
There is clearly a concern for the safety of trans* students' physical well-being and mental health. Yet the incoming USC president and vice-president's votes when addressing the issue were akin to a shrug.
Let's be clear: this motion was not controversial. I'm a conservative and I would have gladly stood in council and supported this motion. A right-wing ideology is not an excuse to callously ignore the concerns of an entire segment of the student population.
Solebo's rationale for abstaining is confusing; he didn't want to take a position on something the executive was being tasked to do — but there isn't precedent for this explanation.
For example, at the summer meeting for last year's council, the USC executive were tasked with running programming on the original date of Homecoming despite Western's decision to change the date. Eddy Avila and Jamie Cleary did not abstain.
"As a council, we collectively agreed on this, so it's something to look forward to and work toward," Avila said at the time. "It just goes to show how invested our student council is in properly representing their constituents."
This logic became even further muddled when Solebo said he and Tulk would evaluate each vote on a "case-by-case basis" — after saying they didn't want to take a stand on votes that would dictate executive action. Oy vey!
Everything I have heard from the USC since I've been at Western has been about prioritizing the wellness of students. It's about ensuring every student at this University receives the adequate support they need. By not supporting this motion, Solebo and Tulk have betrayed the fundamental spirit of the organization they are set to lead. And abstaining is very much a sign that the incoming president and vice-president do not have the courage to choose a side regardless of the consequences.
Throughout my five years watching the USC, I have been befuddled, confused and exasperated by executive actions — but for the first time, I think I am genuinely repulsed. Regardless of whether or not Solebo and Tulk support trans* people in their private lives, as leaders of the student body, they have an obligation to support everyone.
They have failed at their most important job. By abstaining — essentially staying silent on the issue — they are complicit in creating an unwelcoming environment for trans* students, drawing into question their commitment to maintaining an inclusive environment for everyone at Western.