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.
– 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.