As a result of racism allegations, a blackface scandal and an internal human rights investigation, former University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) president Jibril Hussein and vice-president external affairs Breanna Belisle have resigned.
After Hussein’s resignation, he released a statement which said, “the UWSA prides itself on standing up for all BIPOC students, staff and community members.
“However, I believe that this is not the case and this institution sadly perpetuates the same pervasive racism and prejudice they claim to actively be against.”
In his resignation letter on Aug. 5, Hussein referred to the association as the “most toxic” work environment he has ever experienced.
He reported on his Instagram that at the June 16 UWSA board meeting, a board member accused him of “using [his] Blackness as a shield” in response to the allegations against the executive slate weeks prior.
He went on to claim “the association is racist,” and that it called into question his racial identity and remained complacent when violent threats against the executive team were brought to the board’s attention at a June 12 meeting.
Belisle’s letter backed Hussein’s concern and disappointment with the “continued perpetuation of pervasive racism and prejudice within the UWSA.”
At a June 16 meeting, the executive board was placed on paid leave while an independent investigation of the allegations was conducted by the university’s human rights and diversity office (HRDO). Hussein and Belisle resigned before the investigation’s completion.
This resignation follows complaints against the association’s handling of racism dating back to February, when former executives Noelle Sagher and Mahlet Cuff claimed to be harassed and intimidated on the basis of their gender and race by David Teffaine and Sam Cohn, volunteers working for the current slate’s campaign during elections.
Sagher said her reports to the chief elections commissioner of this intimidation were denied and undermined.
During elections, when the current slate was elected, Teffaine assumed a position with the board as student-at-large on the financial subcommittee.
After allegations in early June, an investigation request was filed on behalf of the UWSA executive and a video was released by the three executives and Teffaine addressing allegations against the executive board and against unnamed members.
The following day, a photo was released of Teffaine in blackface and he was removed from his positions with the association.
After their resignations, both Hussein’s and Belisle’s statements corroborated that the executive board had been barred from a number of meetings discussing budgets due to what Hussein described as a “potential conflict of interest.”
UWSA vice-president student affairs Melanie William remains on the executive board and is co-operating with the ongoing investigation.
This fall, the UWSA will hold an annual by-election to fill seats unfulfilled by the last election.
There have been two other instances where an executive position has been re-elected during a by-election. One in 2005, when there was no candidate on the ballot for what was then the position of vice-president internal and one in 2006, where a full executive slate was elected, but the vice-president internal position was vacated and then re-elected in the by-election.
An association spokesperson said in a statement the board is working with an external consultant to restructure the organization to “ensure the integrity of UWSA democratic processes, to create anti-oppressive leadership models and to minimize the harm caused to students from underserved communities.”