Facebook photo draws criticism of newly elected UMSU president

A photo of recently elected University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) president Al Turnbull circulated on Facebook, drawing some criticism of the Fresh cabinet leader.

The photo in question shows Turnbull wearing a shirt with the text, “Cool story, babe. Now go make me a sandwich” and was shared on Facebook on Mar. 11.

Comments on the photo voiced concerns regarding the future relationship with Turnbull and the U of M Womyn’s Centre. One commenter on the shared photo also alerted users to a tweet from Turnbull’s public Twitter feed that read, “The most sexist thing every feminist ignores…feminism.”

A public status on the Fresh slate president’s Facebook profile was posted the same night that read, “so the criticism starts. perhaps people should wait and see first.” The status earned 76 “likes” at the time of print.

A comment on the status argued, “They judge Al and FRESH off a few pictures and the fact that you are an athlete [ . . . ] People need to educate themselves, rather than base their opinions on [how] the members of FRESH look.”

Turnbull, who explained that the shirt was worn on a football trip to Regina and was purchased for Turnbull and the remaining Bison linebackers, issued the following statement to the Manitoban.

“I would like to apologize for the photo and any offence it may have caused [ . . . ] I have been stapled many things throughout my campaign; however, I would like to remind everyone that I am not sexist [ . . . ] I would like to address the fact that I am excited to work with the feminist community, and the Womyn’s Centre in the coming fiscal year.”

“I respect all women. I believe that I will properly, and fairly represent all members of the union equally as I have committed to in my platform, and which 3,555 members of the union elected me to do,” he continued.

Turnbull also explained that the tweet in question was in response to a heated debate in which he was told that he should “refrain from discussing feminist theory (positively) without being a feminist.”

At the time of print, the initial online article breaking news of the photo in question garnered 25 comments, ranging from vehement support for Turnbull to strong criticism of the new executive.

Bison Sports assistant athletic director Curt Warkentin told the Manitoban that attention like this is part of the responsibility of being in a high-profile position, such as a Bison athlete and UMSU president, even if many see it as unfair.

“While the mistake made in this situation is an error in judgment and certainly disrespectful to women, it is not a situation in which the student has done something to physically hurt someone [ . . . ] There is a difference in what one represents and the actions of someone,” argued Warkentin.

Irene Fubara-Manuel, current UMSU women’s representative, addressed Turnbull’s shirt in a letter addressed to the new president submitted to the Manitoban.

“Honestly, a part of me is apprehensive of your upcoming term as UMSU president as I also fear for communities that have been marginalized into ‘minority’ status. The other part of me is more positive and eager to see you blossom as a subversive ally, such as the case of LGBT ally and Ravens linebacker, Brendon Ayanbadejo.”

“Do not let the student body down. I would like you to take this letter as a challenge – a dare if you must. You are seen as a privileged white boy who knows nothing about the struggles faced by women, immigrants, people of colour, LGBTTQ* people, disabled people, and people with low socio-economic status. I hope you will take your time next year to prove me wrong and work with the communities mentioned above,” Fubara-Manuel added.