Former SFSS board members come forward after incident

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Last week, The Peak reported SFSS environmental representative Monique Ataei’s allegations of a physical altercation with member services officer Moe Kopahi on Oct. 11 (“SFSS internal conflict follows alleged physical altercation”).

Ataei claims that Kopahi inadvertently struck her with a cell phone during a disagreement in the SFSS board office. Ataei then called for Kopahi’s resignation, and also requested that she be allowed to resign her position after receiving her full stipend for the year.

Since the event, two former board members have come forward with corroborating accounts of how the SFSS can be a “hostile work environment.”

Meaghan Wilson, former external relations officer, wrote in an email statement to The Peak that she had been verbally threatened by current SFSS president Humza Khan after he accused her of spreading rumours about him. Wilson claims that Khan came into her office, closed the door behind him, and accused her of creating gossip about him.

“I remember that it got to a point where I asked him if he was threatening me, and he responded, ‘yes,’” stated Wilson; “After I had received confirmation, I remember sitting and just staring at my desk as he continued talking. I was intimidated.”

She continued, “He then got up and left. As he reached the door, he turned back, smiled, and said ‘consider this a threat.’ He then shut the door to my office. I sat at my desk for 10 minutes.”

Khan has declined to comment on any internal conflicts within the SFSS, past or present.

 

quotes1I asked him if he was threatening me, and he responded, ‘yes.’”

– Meaghan Wilson, former SFSS ERO

 

Wilson said that she then called for a closed-door meeting to address this incident, but she received “zero support” from other board members. She claims that she sought legal counsel soon after, but did not press charges because she felt it would not have lasting change within the SFSS.

The SFSS does not have a formal anti-harassment policy or an internal conflict resolution policy, although communications student Joseph Leivdal put forward a petition signed by 516 students at the AGM last Wednesday Oct. 23, in support of a motion to implement such a policy. Because the AGM did not reach the quorum of 250 voting members, Leivdal was unable to amend the agenda to include the motion.

Former communication, arts, and technology faculty representative, Jenni Rempel, has also come forward with allegations of workplace harassment, and in Nov. 2011 proposed a motion to allow teleconference and Skype attendance at meetings, because she “did not feel safe physically attending the meetings.”

She claims to have been bullied in person and over email by other board members, particularly executives, but was not able to resolve this internally. “My attempt to stop the behaviour through policy and board protocol was called a waste of time by other board members,” Rempel said.

“Gossip and unprofessional communication occurred frequently,” she said. When this happened during meetings, it was not reflected in the minutes. “I was introduced to this culture within moments of receiving my first e-mail as a board member through a series of personal attacks [on another member],” she continued.

 

Rempel claims to have been bullied in person and over email by other board members, particularly executives.

 

Last Wednesday morning, the SFSS called for a board meeting to publicly address the incident of Oct. 11, which ended in an agreement to hire an external mediator to investigate what transpired. Ataei insisted that she would not have “gone public” with the situation had it be handled in a timely and professional manner by other executive board members, as this was not the first time she had encountered inaction from her colleagues.

Ataei told The Peak that her personal drawer had been broken into in the past, and there was no subsequent formal acknowledgement or investigation. She also reported having difficulty getting an explanation for why one month of her stipend had been withheld.

While she agrees that member services officer Moe Kopahi did not deliberately hit her with his phone, he behaved aggressively after by throwing his phone against the wall and was “swearing and cursing.” Further alarming Ataei was the fact that she received a message from Khan about the incident three days later, although she claims that an eyewitness had texted Khan about the incident immediately after.

At last week’s board meeting, internal relations officer Kevin Zhang read a statement that included an apology for not following up with Ataei earlier after the incident. He continued: “I’m sorry that despite trying my best, I couldn’t make you feel empowered to work here.” According to Ataei, the initial text message had accused her of lying and asked her to “remain faithful to your morales[sic] and integrity.”

The Peak was unable to reach Zhang for comment.

The board has decided to bring in an external mediator to investigate the incident between Ataei and Kopahi, and stated that they wished to resolve the current situation before making any other comments on SFSS-related conflicts.

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30 COMMENTS

        • There is involvement for sure, but it’s less and less. The project started out as a purely SFSS project (when Marc himself was on the SFSS and working with other people like Jeff McCann that actually knew how to get shit done) but once Build SFU was established I believe most responsibility is with that team. Someone else is free to correct me on this point though.

          • Regardless of Marc Fontaine’s character, let’s not forget that his assistant is more qualified for his position than he is.

            The SUB project is a farce. Rather than put pressure on the administration and government our “union” chooses to put expenses back on students – as if we don’t already have a tuition problem. Furthermore, don’t forget the sports arena that this project is funding – pretty convenient for SFU’s administration which just imposed the tyranny of learning outcomes on students so that it may get into the NCAA sports league. This goes all the way to the top.

            Let’s also not forget that when Humza threatened Meghan there had been questions circulating regarding the allegations against Humza for pocketing events money. I bet if we had a financial investigation we would find much more sinister things going on. I got to witness Humza, now the president, tell the last AGM with a straight face that the investigation of these allegations “found no evidence that money was being pocketed”. And this is what we call accountability? We don’t need this “society”, what we need is a union. Furthermore, we need a university administration that speaks up when it sees abuses like this – rather than stay quiet in the hope that their precious sports arena will not be put at risk if there is an investigation.

  1. To pretend they can resolve one incident – the phone incident – without any connection being made to the patterns of systemic harassment is the office is laughable at best. Moreover, incidents of harassment are NOT appropriate territory for mediation. Mediation is for interpersonal disagreements; harassment and violence are not interpersonal disagreements. What needs to happen is that these “bros” who think it’s cool to belittle, demean, and threaten the women they work with need to resign, or barring that, step aside until they complete an intensive anti-harassment training program. Anything else indicated that the SFSS doesn’t think harassment of women officers should be taken seriously.
    As a side note, the fact that Leivdal was having to seek an agenda amendment – that is, that the problem of not having a harassment policy was not already on the AGM agenda , even with these problems coming to light – should be a source of embarrassment for the entire SFSS board, all of its students, and our entire university. If they want to engage in any damage control, they should be calling a meeting to get this process underway immediately.

  2. Also doesn’t all of this give credence to the fact that SFSS is ineffective at this point. For the average student the organization does nothing but takes money from them. Not sure I am in the minority or majority, but personally I have only needed the SFSS once in my university tenure thus far and that was when the TA strike was going on. Instead of advocating for students the organization simply looked around held one or two meetings and concluded they couldn’t do anything. Yet when this organization wants to build Student Union Buildings or crappy music videos which are 2 years late the organization finds a way to be there

  3. So, even Ataei claims that this incident is accidental. Furthermore, Ataei is calling for resignation, relieving herself of her responsibilities and duties while getting the rest of her pay.
    Yes, there may be an internal problem BUT did Ataei have to exaggerate the incident just to get the issue out?

    • I doubt there are any exaggerations but yes, clearly she did have to get these issues out. We’d never have found out about the rest otherwise,would we? Those dudebros have been most unhelpful in resolving the issue…

  4. the author includes wilson’s claim that she was threatened, but does not specify how she was threatened, nor does it substantiate her claim. that is the essence of rumour-spreading, and it reeks of irresponsible, sensationalist reporting.

    • A) The Peak is reporting Meghan’s “claim”, as you said, it’s relaying what was said. In no way is it irresponsible to include statements from involved individuals. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the article says that what she said is fact.
      B) Humza and Kevin had chances to respond- and didn’t. Esther DID try to get statements from both sides. She even contacted a friend of mine on Board who isn’t involved with this scandal.
      C) I know there are more people who haven’t come forward yet dealing with sexism, bullying, and exclusion in the SFSS environment. While few have come forward yet, Meghan and Jenni did. It’s rude to claim that they’re spreading rumours. They have no reason to tarnish the reputation of current directors yet have connected their name publicly to the issue and are standing up and saying something where others might be scared or still stuck in the situation.

  5. I am a girl, and it seems crazy to me how other girls can create so much drama over events that could have been treated oh so differently. I guess it happens because for some “the only thing that matters when you graduate is your taste in shoes. #betseyjohnson #SFU” (c)