Members describe a growing “toxic” environment
A contentious last council meeting of the summer highlights the Concordia Student Union’s (CSU) divisive internal culture, with some members saying there are accumulating instances of alleged racism and political bias.
The heated exchange happened during the discussion of a motion to publicly condemn the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Unite the Right, and any other groups with “identical goals and ideologies” at the special council meeting on Aug. 26.
Isaiah Joyner, Executive General Coordinator of the CSU, expressed that he did not recall an official anti-racism position in the CSU Positions Book and that the union should take a broader stance on the issue of racism, instead of denouncing individual organizations.
From there Joyner said the CSU could create “a stringent policy within the organization as to what we define as anti-racism, what we define as hate speech.”
The debate turned sour after the now former councillor Christopher Kalafatidis, who resigned during the meeting, accused Joyner of refusing to denounce the KKK, and insinuated that Joyner’s issue with the motion was geared towards the councillor presenting the motion, not the motion itself. The councillor presenting the motion was the now former councillor Mathew Levitsky-Kaminski, who resigned after the meeting.
Levitsky-Kaminski himself alleged to The Concordian that there is political bias against him on council because of his conservative views. “[The CSU] has a history of anti-conservative thought processes and approaches to certain situations,” said Levitsky-Kaminski.
During the meeting, Kalafatidis expressed disdain for Joyner’s opposition to the motion.“I just saw the general coordinator of the CSU refuse to condemn the KKK, because there’s something else we could be doing. That’s a ridiculous reason not to condemn the KKK,” said Kalafatidis. Joyner responded he did not appreciate the accusation that he, as a Black person, would refuse to condemn the KKK. “Think about what comes out of your mouth, before you say it, because it has an effect on people,” said Joyner. “It hurts.” Joyner became visibly distressed and walked away from the video call.
“Honestly, [it was] one of the most racist things that has ever been said to me in a professional context,”
Joyner said, in an interview with The Concordian after the meeting. Joyner denied the insinuation that he only spoke against the motion because of a personal issue with Levitsky-Kaminski. “That I would take something so sensitive to my community, to my culture, and to my experiences in life, and then think that I would put all of that aside, just to stick it to somebody?” Joyner continued.
Following Joyner’s departure in the council meeting, Executive Academic and Advocacy Coordinator Sarah Mazhero, another Black member of council, said, “This is so heartbreaking, that this is a cycle we have to repeat over and over.” The incident follows a highly contentious summer in which several motions were tensely debated, and members described an increasingly divisive environment.
Former councillor Danielle Vandolder-Beaudin interrupted Mazhero during her speech to ask if the council could keep the discussion “on track.” Chairperson Caitlin Robinson, who mediated the discussion, said she was not going to stop a Black council member from expressing herself and allowed her to continue.
Shortly after, both Kalafatidis and Vandolder-Beaudin left the council meeting video call and sent their resignation while the meeting was still in session, as confirmed by chairperson Robinson. Both Kalafatidis and Vandolder-Beaudin told The Concordian they resigned because they were graduating.
“I just felt like it was a waste of time at that point, and I was going to wait until the end of the meeting, but the moment a motion on condemning the KKK is ripped apart and criticized, that’s just when [I’ve] got to go. I felt like there was no point to being there anymore,” said Kalafatidis, later explaining his fast resignation in an interview.
Several members of the council told The Concordian that situations which come off as inappropriate or alleged racist comments or actions against other councillors are consistent in the CSU.
Councillor S. Shivaane described an incident involving Kalafatidis during a recent diversity training, where he said he never learned anything at these trainings, and left early with Vandolder-Beaudin. Kalafatidis has confirmed this instance with The Concordian, expressing that the CSU needs to do a better job at diversity training.
“I’m not saying I don’t want to do diversity training,” Kalafatidis said. “I’m just really well read on, I don’t know, let’s say, all the theories of racism that currently exist. No one at the [diversity training] has been able to say anything that I haven’t read on the internet before.”
Kalafatidis said he is not concerned about how his words will come off.
“I know at this point that anything I say will be misconstrued in a way that will be used against me. I could say literally anything, like I could even say we should condemn the KKK and I’ll get criticized for that, which is what happened at the meeting.”
S. Shivaane said in regards to Kalafatidis and Vandolder-Beaudin, “I think … their CSU track record [has] been very insensitive when it comes to issues relating to discrimination.”
Vandolder-Beaudin said that these allegations, “seem quite over exaggerated, trying to hurt my reputation when in reality these attacks are just stalling tactics to make sure things don’t get brought up or passed.”
For Joyner, what concerns him is the lack of willingness to communicate and be mindful about speaking on race issues with other members of council.
“People [are] dismissive, they don’t acknowledge their peers. [Council members have] been told ‘I hear you, but I don’t think that that’s an issue,’ or ‘I don’t think that that’s a concern,’” said Joyner. “When you dismiss your peers, or you’re so close-minded that you don’t want to hear your peers, this is a dangerous thing.”
Although Joyner expressed the need for a broader stance on anti-racism during the council meeting, the CSU Positions Book does currently have a position against racism. Joyner said that nevertheless there is a need to “create more [strict], stringent policies,” that would be maintained in the CSU.
At the meeting members agreed with the intent of the motion to denounce groups like the KKK and Unite the Right. But many, such as Joyner, felt the motion needed additional work and could have received more input from other councillors before presenting it to council.
We shouldn’t be doing the brainstorming in the meeting. Take it to the people outside the meeting and work on it together and bring the final product to council,” said Joyner.
Kalafatidis was adamant that the only reason people were against the KKK motion was due to an internal faction rivalry.
“There’s a lot of rivalry on council, and it’s no secret. I’m sure to anybody that the council’s a very toxic place and the reason it’s a toxic place is because there are different factions on council, and to me what happened was it was just a consequence of, you know, two factions — one faction lashing out against another faction.”
The motion to condemn the KKK and Unite the Right was eventually voted to be sent for amendment to the CSU’s BIPOC committee.
“By sending it to other committees it’s not going to condemn the KKK any much more that we needed to do during that meeting,” said Levitsky-Kaminski to The Concordian.
Joyner said that, despite ongoing tensions in the CSU, he does not want the union to be defined by such divisiness.“Anything good that happens is done both (sic) through collaboration which requires parties to come together and to listen, to hear each other, and to understand each other.”