For the past week or two, students on campus have been talking about one thing – the closure of the University Center, commonly known as ‘SSMU’ or the Shatner Building. To everyone’s surprise, the news didn’t come from an email or a press release, but from a Facebook event page. The event page – created on September 29th, was created for an info session regarding the closure of the building set to take place on October 12.
The event page infuriated students, to say the least. Facebook user David McCusty posted, “What a joke. You couldn’t have announced this in an official press release? It needs to be via Facebook event? You didn’t take ANY public comment on this happening. I understand it may be necessary but even a small amount of transparency would have helped. Year after year SSMU has proved to be laughably incompetent in negotiating with the administration but this one really takes the cake.” The anger is justified, and the opinions in this statement are widely held by the entire student body, evident as another user, Benson Cook posted, “SSMU executives — paid by our student fees — can’t be bothered to write a brief press release announcing a change that will impact tens of thousands of the people who pay those fees. That’s not only unprofessional, it shows a flagrant disregard for basic bureaucratic competence, and outright disrespect for the McGill student body.”
SSMU’s administration last academic year was abysmal, to say the least, from bigotry statements about executives’ resignations to severe allegations of sexualized and gendered violence. Possibly in part due to the backlash, this event page was followed by an official email from the SSMU executive team providing more information on the matter.
What we now know is that the building will be closed starting early March 2018 to undergo a large renovations project which is set to be completed by Winter 2019. However, the building will be officially shut two weeks in advance on February 15, 2018. Those most affected by this situation are the multitude of student groups and organizations that call the building home. The statement goes on to say, “For the non-commercial occupants of the building, we are actively seeking opportunities for relocation with the support of the McGill University administration. We are continuing to work with the occupants to see how we can best provide support.” Unfortunately, this includes everyone’s beloved Gerts, that will lose its prime location. Where will students now spend countless hours after class relaxing? Everyone’s favourite Midnight Kitchen will also lose its spot, leaving students to spend money on overpriced and unhealthy food options available across campus. That’s not all, the space provides a prime location for club meetings and events; thus, finding a space big enough to accommodate all those students sounds near impossible. Where will the biannual Activities Night take place? So many unanswered questions.
Furthermore, crucial student resources such as the Legal Information Clinic, the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), McGill Student Emergency Response Team (M-SERT), Midnight Kitchen, The Black Students’ Network, Queer McGill, Walksafe, and Drivesafe will also have to find alternative office spaces.
The information session on October 12 did little to curb everyone’s concerns. Students are still worried about the displacement of student groups and the lack of transparency that SSMU has displayed yet again. For those interested in staying in the loop, there will be a second information session on November 15.
It is safe to say, the University Centre is an integral part of student life at McGill and for it to be closed for this long a duration is unfair to students. There should be a sufficient alternative set in place already – not disconcertment. For students not to have a place on campus for their respective needs is unacceptable. All we can do now is see how events unfold in the next few months.
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