Stephanie Ye-Mowe, former WUSA president, passes away

Courtesy WUSA

Stephanie Ye-Mowe, WUSA executive from May 2021 to April 2023, has passed away. The cause of death has not been released. Ye-Mowe was in her last term of Knowledge Integration.

Ye-Mowe first served as WUSA’s vice-president of education from May 2021 to August 2022, and then ran for vice-president in the 2022 general election, for which they were acclaimed. Due to the sole candidate for WUSA president dropping out of the race earlier that year, the board decided Ye-Mowe would take on the role of president, which they held from August 2022 to April 2023. 

In an interview with Imprint at the time, Ye-Mowe said, “[W]hile I’m a bit apprehensive, I’m excited to see what this new Board has to offer the student body, and I thank them for entrusting me with this responsibility.”

In a post to the UW subreddit on Sept. 7, Ye-Mowe called her time as president “one of … the most disheartening and isolating eight months of [her] life”. She described “a deep culture of distrust, unaddressed conflict, and geuiune [sic] fear of students [in WUSA].” 

“It’s the reason why I can barely go into SLC without having a full on panic attack, and its the reason why I tried to commit suicide twice this summer,” their post reads. 

In the post, Ye-Mowe describes specific incidents that contributed to her feeling untrusted and unwelcome, mainly the move to the new governance model and how someone “twice [her] age” in WUSA began to view her as “a threat and fundamentally bad for the org” due in part to her skepticism regarding the new model. Ye-Mowe cites the fact that Simon Fraser Student Society trialed and abandoned a similar model in 2020 because it alienated student representatives from the organization’s work, and said that in many instances, “prominent voices” in WUSA would call students “‘selfish’, ‘short-sighted’, and ‘dumb’” when it came to making decisions and acting in their collective interest.

Under Ye-Mowe, WUSA moved into a new governance structure based on recommendations from the WUSA governance review, involving the major change of merging the Students’ Council and Board of Directors into one Board of Directors and the restructuring of the four executive roles into the roles of president and vice-president. According to the review, these changes are meant to address the “lack of a full transition to a standard governing board structure” and fix “role confusion and lack of accountability” due to the stated overlap of the roles of each governing party.

In Ye-Mowe’s post, they said that despite trusting people to act in students’ best interest and address the concerns of students, councillors and other directors, they were gaslighted, dismissed, “asked to implement a system [they] didn’t believe in, and then promptly resented for it.”

During Ye-Mowe’s presidency, WUSA also launched the Representative Survey Platform, which hoped to use information provided by a representative sample of undergraduate students to inform WUSA’s work, and several initiatives on satellite campuses, including the Supporting Stratford Project on the Stratford campus and and the Micro-Market on the Kitchener campus.

In their post, Ye-Mowe also expressed frustration at the reasons they felt hostility directed towards them, asking rhetorically, “For what? … For believing that advocacy is most effective when you gain and reciprocate the trust of those you seek to represent? When you meaningfully involve them in the process and see them as more than just survey respondants [sic]”

Ye-Mowe resigned from WUSA’s board of directors in September of this year, with her resignation letter stating that she was unable to continue with WUSA in good conscience due to her objection to the new governance structure and for continuously being made to feel “like the bad guy for wanting WUSA to do better for students.” Rory Norris, president of WUSA, spoke of Ye-Mowe’s dedication to students at UW. “She has consistently championed the needs of students in vital areas such as housing, affordability, accessibility, and more … Her presence on campus will be deeply missed by not only her friends, colleges, and classmates, but by all University of Waterloo students.”

“I know her activism on issues such as housing, food security and accessibility was very important to her,” said president and vice-chancellor Vivek Goel. “We all owe Stephanie a debt of gratitude for what she accomplished here.”

If you’re experiencing difficulties with your mental health, speak to loved ones and consult these resources: