Staff at Glow and the Women’s Centre (WC) have revealed systemic working issues with WUSA and at times, UW, including poor communication and misunderstandings of marginalized students’ needs. The ongoing problems have contributed to delays in Glow’s push for more gender-neutral bathrooms, the WC’s initiative to stock free menstrual products, and the cancellation of Glow’s initiative to add PEP, a post-exposure HIV prevention drug, to the student dispensary.
Glow, RAISE (Racial Advocacy for Inclusion, Solidarity, and Equity), and the WC comprise the student equity services under WUSA. RAISE was unable to speak with Imprint for this article.
Delays and logistical difficulties
Sam Jones*, Glow’s former trans equity director, described how UW’s involvement with Glow’s gender-neutral bathroom initiative caused progress to slow down, due to the new need to present their findings to the university’s president. “The president just wants to be involved…which is fair, to some extent, but he also doesn’t have any say over what we’re doing,” Jones said.
Rebecca Elming, A representative for the university described the process the project went through, proposing lists of prospective changes and collecting feedback, as a standard process following the approval requirements of the PVP, the president’s direct reports (including the vice presidents). “There’s nothing in particular about this project that was outside of the norm of standard processes for doing this kind of work,” she said.
The delays also thwarted the initial plan to run an educational campaign alongside the initiative — communication that students expressed was necessary for the campaign to be better understood. “Everyone wants documented, formalized, analyzed, stats-driven data, saying that there’s a problem, despite the fact that every day we have students coming in telling us there’s a problem,” Jones said.
Stephanie Hand, the WC’s advocacy director, voiced similar frustration with roadblocks in the WC’s free menstrual product initiative. The WC initially proposed that plant operations would take over stocking duties after sufficient funding was received, but the plan was discontinued due to what Hand described as “horrible” response times from plant operations.
The project also faced internal funding issues due to brainstorming for the project occurring after the budget was set. Zoya Randhawa, a WC coordinator, said that despite the WC’s adjustments, incorporating the project into the budget and fundraising for it, “at times, it still feels like we’re just getting our feet off the ground with it in a way.”
Hand described communication between the WC and WUSA as a game of broken telephone. Hand, along with Samantha Beneteau, the WC’s other advocacy director, expressed the need for more information on grants available through WUSA and UW.
“[Menstrual products] are a right that every single person on campus should have access to, and the fact that it’s left to us is a little absurd,” Hand said.
“My expectation from [WUSA] staff is that they are accessible and take those concerns brought up by the Women’s Centre staff seriously, and that those points are being actively integrated into how we approach funding…so, fair point,” said WUSA president Stephanie Ye-Mowe.
The WC’s frustrations were further validated in the misunderstandings or lack of knowledge of Glow and WC’s initiatives, leading to incidents that threatened LGBTQ+ health initiatives and equity services’ ability to complete advocacy work.
In a WUSA council meeting on Sept. 26, 2021, then-vice president of student life (VPSL) Catherine Dong submitted a motion, memo 6.2.3, resolving that “Federation Services, whose mandates do not explicitly identify advocacy in their purpose, as outlined in Council Procedure 25 …shall not make advocacy part of their standard structures and operations.”
Council Procedure 25 defines the services as “student volunteer-run affiliates of the Federation instituted in order to address unmet needs identified as being important to the student body and best fulfilled by a component of the Federation of Students.”
Former Glow coordinator Midas Beglari said equity services were informed of the proposal two days before it was to be introduced.
At the council meeting, Beglari acknowledged that although Glow’s mandate does not use the word “advocacy,” the third point of their mandate states that Glow will “educate the campus community on issues pertaining to the queer and questioning community.”
“Even though the word advocacy is not in the mandate for Glow Centre and Women’s Centre, it is kind of implied…if it is just a matter of wording, I can see it easily changed to ‘educate and advocate,’” Beglari said.
During the same meeting, Dong stated that because equity services staff were not elected, they would not be as easily accountable or accessible to the students whose fees fund WUSA. Beglari responded that the proposal would not resolve the communication issues and that under the existing model, students could take direct action rather than hope their concerns were addressed properly. Beglari noted that historically, communication between Glow and WUSA diminished or ceased entirely after handing projects over to WUSA.
Documents obtained by Imprint from Beglari of their semestral feedback show consistently high performance. Beglari was terminated from their role as Glow coordinator in March 2022, in what they described as a “messy” manner.
Ye-Mowe said WUSA was working to find a balance between everyone’s concerns. “There’s a difference between what was written down and what was being done in practice. And [the] memo that was brought forward was an attempt to address that…there’s a mixture between you wanting to support grassroots voices because oftentimes the student-run services are a lot more effective at mobilizing students than central WUSA is. Simultaneously though, there’s a lot less oversight,” Ye-Mowe said.
One attempt at this was Ye-Mowe’s proposal last fall for a Student Experience Advisory Committee (SEAC), which was slated to meet once a month to provide guidance on “non-academic on-campus issues, campus wellness, campus safety, on-campus housing, sexual and gender-based violence response and prevention, equity, issues with specific on-campus support units and environmental sustainability.” The proposal did not require members to have equity training.
Ye-Mowe said the SEAC was meant to help represent students in queer or racialized communities and improve equity services’ communication with campus services, stating that it was an attempt to balance “giving the full-time professional staff the space to figure things out and solve problems on their own” while addressing concerns of students who didn’t feel comfortable interacting with the services.
In a letter addressed to WUSA board members, equity services said they were not consulted on the creation of the committee and that the lack of required equity training was problematic. They also noted how the only equity-trained individuals in the room would be non-voting members, causing further strain on their time.
Jones emphasized how tiring it was having to constantly explain the needs of their communities. “As a trans person, this is an issue that affects me, it affects my friends. It’s very emotionally draining to be fighting people and having to explain what the need is when we’ve experienced medical issues because of it and we’re experiencing constant discrimination on a day-to-day basis.”
A high turnover rate and lack of full-time staff, with only one full-time equity specialist, also contributed to the lack of understanding of the true issues LGBTQ+ students face, according to Jones.
Ye-Mowe said equity services’ concerns, in part, was the reason for the delay and eventual suspension of the SEAC. “I really wish they’d given it a chance before criticizing it.”
The SEAC was suspended in January, where the board of directors resolved to allow the “appropriate staff to develop their own group separate from this committee that meets the similar purpose of supporting services, societies, and acting as a forum to receive and disperse information.”
Jones criticized a conversation they had with a staff member of Health Services who had praised Waterloo’s advocacy efforts in comparison to that of other universities. “Our students are still suffering and that doesn’t mean that just because another university is worse, that we can drop the ball…we should be pushing to be at the forefront of this,” Jones said.
Unknowledgeable or irresponsible staff
Poor communication between WUSA and equity services was especially evident following the introduction of Dong’s council motion. Despite two follow-up attempts initiated by equity services, wherein both parties expressed hope to facilitate stronger communication and mutual understandings, follow-up meetings between Glow and Dong did not take place until Nov. 10, 2021. In these meetings, Glow expressed their frustration with Dong, having received no information on her activities for two months with seemingly no consequences, a privilege they implied was not afforded to service coordinators.
In a formal complaint about Dong, equity services outlined Dong’s “unprofessional” behaviour, with a timeline citing Dong’s memo as the inciting incident, followed by a pattern of nonexistent or unproductive follow-ups and a failure to fulfill responsibilities of the VPSL role, including participating in routine meetings meant to support ongoing advocacy work.
A representative for WUSA stated that Dong was “not comfortable speaking on matters of an interpersonal nature, and consider[ed] the matter put to rest.”
Glow’s initiative to add post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to the student dispensary also faced setbacks which led to its cancellation. PEP is a regimen of retroactive antiviral drugs meant to prevent HIV transmission after potential exposure. PEP is currently covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, though costs for individuals range depending on their coverage and the drugs taken. PEP could cost over $1000 at the time of the initiative.
Former advocacy director Jeffrey Ren described a “communications breakdown” between Matthew Schwarze, then-vice president of operations and finance (VPOF), and Glow, with only one conversation taking place after Schwarze’s proposal of a reimbursement model.
“I’m sure that [VPOF] is a very tough role; they have a lot of things to consider. But I would say that I had a lot more of a rapport with the Graduate Students Association who did take the time to speak to us…they were much easier to talk to, they listened more and they tried harder to get an understanding of what was actually going on and what our actual requests were about,” he said.
In an email exchange between Ren and Schwarze, Schwarze suggested a reimbursement model for PEP, something Ren stated was only formalizing what was already happening, but with an additional caveat: Schwarze wrote that coverage for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an HIV prevention medication already covered by WUSA, would now become “wholly inaccessible, including by exception.” Ren replied that even the reimbursement model still contained oversights, writing, “We cannot expect that everyone at the university would be able to obtain some $1,900 or more on short notice…this proposal represents zero steps forward and one step back. ”
Due to Glow’s concerns with Schwarze’s proposal, WUSA backed down from the more restrictive policy.
Despite the difficulties, equity services staff members emphasized the importance of their work and of providing safe spaces for their communities.
“The Women’s Centre is definitely a safe space and a great space to kind of express any concerns…it really is like a welcoming space,” Hand said.
Beglari was equally clear on the positive impact Glow brought to them. “I love Glow. Glow is—was—my home away from home. I’m from a country [where] queerness is punishable by death…and it gave me a safe space, a safe space to exist.”
Nevertheless, the environment was challenging. “While I was working as a coordinator, there was a point [where] the job got very toxic. And there [were] a lot of microaggressions going on, and I couldn’t put my finger on it until I got fired,” Beglari said.
Imprint reached out to plant operations and Schwarze for comment. They did not respond to the request in time for publication.
*Name has been changed.
A previous version of this story said that Jeffrey Ren and Matthew Schwarze never spoke face-to-face.