Loose Cannon: Meet the CSA's defiant ones
Wednesday, March 30, 20113 Comments
Feuding between two board members is threatening to interfere with operations at the CSA
In the iconic 1958 American film The Defiant Ones, two convicts (one black and one white) escape from a chain gang in the segregated South and go on the run.
Being shackled together, the two fugitives have to overcome some pretty big hang ups (the white convict, played by Tony Curtis, is a racist, much to the chagrin of a young Sidney Poitier). Through shared hardship, they eventually come to respect each other, and even display the beginnings of friendship.
At the end of the film, a freed Curtis has the chance to hop onto a passing freight train and escape. Instead, he tries to lift Poitier onto the car with him. They both fall to the ground and are recaptured, the wiser for having worked together toward a common goal.
If the Central Student Association were to mount a remake starring Communications and Corporate Affairs Commissioner Demetria Jackson and her predecessor Gavin Armstrong, it would be called The Defiantly Stubborn Ones, and neither of them would have made it farther than 50 feet.
In the 21st century, their personal feud serves as an important commentary, not on race relations, but on the destructiveness of ego.
It's no secret that the two CSA Board members don't see eye-to-eye. During last year's referendum on membership in the Canadian Federation of Students, Demetria volunteered with the "YES" campaign that advocated in favour of staying part of the CFS.
On the other hand, Armstrong is the primary contact to the CSA regarding the legal battle to leave the CFS. Both have struggled to remain on cordial terms throughout the year.
The animosity reached a head during the recent CSA elections. While supporting his partner Martin Straathof in the race for External Affairs, Armstrong mounted a borderline vicious attack campaign against Jackson, questioning her competence and calling her employment at the CSA a waste of money.
I'd be the first to defend criticism during an election campaign. However, it didn't completely escape my notice that that, unlike the other races in which Armstrong took an interest, he focused primarily on pointing out Jackson's weaknesses rather than trumpeting his candidate's strengths.
Instead of helping Straathof, I suspect that Armstrong's scorched earth campaign contributed to Jackson's overwhelming victory. It's also strained their relationship to the breaking point and threatened to interfere with normal operations at the CSA.
Jackson has stood down from two committees, the Student Executive Council and the Special Grants Committee, in response to what she called a "toxic" work environment.
"That committee and the culture that exists within it has become toxic to me, especially after recent elections and I refuse to sit on a committee that does so much damage to my psychological well being," she wrote in her executive report to the board on Wednesday.
Demetria and Gavin are the only members on Special Grants. Since the committee can no longer make quorum, it cannot use its $100,000 budget to help U of G student groups fund various activities, including conferences, travel, volunteerism and social events.
Before you think that this is a one-sided assault, I should point out that Jackson has ruled out using mediation or board intervention to address her conflict with Armstrong, preferring instead to disengage from a requirement of her portfolio.
"I'm not even at a place where I can stay in a room with Gavin without feeling physically and psychologically ill for more than 1 hour maximum," she wrote in an email. "Perhaps in the summer this is something we can revisit, but at this moment no, absolutely not."
As for seeking outside help, "I really don't have the time for it, and at times I feel as if I've spent way more time defending myself to him and others than doing the job that I was elected to do."
Dealing with critics can be hard work, but it's absolutely necessary. Shirking one's responsibilities is not only a poor way to handle office conflict, it's also a terrible way to start your second term on the CSA executive.
So, my message to the feuding parties is this: you're going to be shackled together for the next 12 months. Deal with your problems now, or risk missing the train.