Rea Chatterjee speaks on resignation

Former SFSS executive cites lack of transparency and safety concerns

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This is a photo of the SFSS office. On their window is the SFSS logo in big print.
PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By: Chloë Arneson, Peak Associate and Karissa Ketter, News Editor

Editor’s Note: Previously, The Peak had reported that Eshana Baran was censured. However, she was not officially under censure proceedings, but was reprimanded by councillors. 

After months of conflict with the SFSS, former vice-president equity and sustainability Rea Chatterjee officially resigned on August 17. Council had been in the process of voting over a request for Chatterjee’s resignation, but postponed the decision indefinitely during their July 27 Council meeting. A few months ago, The Peak spoke with Chatterjee to learn more about their decision and how their time with the SFSS has impacted them. 

Chatterjee explained their decision to resign from the SFSS was due to the “toxic and dysfunctional” executive team and the emotional distress their term has caused. “Since the beginning of my term I’ve experienced so much,” Chatterjee told The Peak. “To list just a few — being verbally harassed and belittled by another executive, objectified by another councillor, left out of meetings and important decisions relating to equity which fall under my portfolio, [being] shut down and ignored during discussions, [and] been mocked when bringing up concerns.”

Former president Helen Sofia Pahou called an emergency meeting on July 27 to censure Chatterjee and request their resignation due to an ongoing internal investigation that involved “multiple equity-seeking groups” on campus. Chatterjee cites this investigation as their “breaking point.” They said, “I truly started to feel unsafe in my position as a queer, disabled, femme-presenting person of colour.” 

Despite facing harassment throughout their campaign, Chatterjee said they did not expect their term to be so difficult. “I didn’t think [ . . . ] I would feel unsafe coming into my office, and could physically not do my work without throwing up and would have to step down in three months.”

During the previous executive term, groups on campus began a complaint process to SFU admin. Chatterjee did not elaborate on the contents of the letter. Among the groups that signed were the Graduate Student Society, SFU350, Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry, and the Disability and Neurodiversity Alliance. Chatterjee cited that this letter was labelled “slanderous” and “other signatories and other individuals from the GSS or SFSS [were] not offered an opportunity to meet.” They added someone anonymously leaked the full letter, “which was confidential and highly sensitive,” to Council and framed it like it was Chatterjee who did so. “None of the other signatories sent it and only SFSS Executives had access to the letter. 

 “This whole investigation was weaponizing the confidentiality policy against me once for when I stood with the equity seeking groups and unions in the complaints process,” Chatterjee explained. As the vice president equity, this is a key part of their role. “I will never apologize for standing with the other equity seeking groups to hold SFU admin accountable.” 

Chatterjee believes the investigation was a “waste of student resources,” and distracted members from doing their jobs advocating for students. Chatterjee stated they “believe that the students deserve a full report of the amount of hours that has gone into this investigation, hours that were spent with the society lawyer, time used in Council meetings for every single councillor, added all up and calculated in dollar amount.” 

Several SFU student groups stood in solidarity with Chatterjee, including TSSU and SFU350 — who released a letter to show their support. SFU350 wrote, “Operations within the SFSS are needlessly complicated. Council meetings run hours over their allotted time, students sometimes aren’t given time to speak at council meetings, meeting minutes are complicated, council wastes time and resources on unnecessary investigations, and motions and policies passed or amended aren’t accessible to the public. This demonstrates the SFSS’s current practices do not favor transparency or democracy.” 

Chatterjee stated the other executives’ lack of commitment to building relationships with unions and equity-seeking groups played a large role in their decision to resign. “Marginalized students come into these positions to further equitable practices and make space for other marginalized students to be involved,” Chatterjee explained. “I have had no support system and there is no accountability process. As much as I have tried, this work cannot happen unless there is a true and genuine commitment from everyone to centre equity and truly listen to and amplify the most marginalized voices on your team.”

When the vice-president equity position was vacant, Chatterjee expressed concerns regarding the future relations between SFSS and various minority student groups. “Since the beginning of this term, relationships between the SFSS and the other unions and equity seeking groups have drastically been impacted,” they said. The vice-president external Eshana Baran, who also plays a large role in maintaining these relationships, was also reprimanded by councillors in discussions alongside Rea Cheatterjee, while not under official censure proceedings. “I sadly do not have any faith or trust in the majority of this executive committee to further the legacy of student activism and advocacy that has existed at SFU since its conception,” Chatterjee stated.

The problems that have arised within the first few months of the executives’ term may continue to affect the SFSS, Chatterjee claims. “As execs and Council increase in-camera sessions and fail to debrief membership ex-camera on non-confidential matters which were discussed, the more secrecy will build. All the executives ran on transparency — but I’m failing to see them follow through on that campaign promise,” they said.  

Now that they have stepped down from their position as vice president equity and sustainability, Chatterjee noted their work is far from over. “I’ve learned and grown so much in the past few months and met the most amazing and inspiring people through my work collaborating with organizers from various equity-seeking groups and other unions on campus,” they said. “Although I will be organizing from outside the SFSS, I hope that there is a future soon where people like me can come into these roles and be able to do good work without being put at risk.”

The Peak requested an interview with Helen Sofia Pahou, who was SFSS president at the time, but she did not respond by the deadline. At the time of publication, the vice-president equity and sustainability role has been filled by Sunghyun Choi.