By: Cecile Favron
Editor’s Note: The Peak Publications Society is an independent student society and participated in the process initiated by the Simon Fraser Student Society to express interest in organizational space in the Student Union Building. However, The Peak Publications Society is no longer pursuing office space in the Student Union Building and does not have an interest in the process.
The campus-based student societies that were denied space in the Student Union Building last semester have learned of another development in the allocation of office space by the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS).
The SFSS offered office space in Maggie Benston Centre to the campus radio station CJSF, but was unable to grant space to the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) — an organization dedicated to environmental and social justice — due to conditions outlined by the group, according to SFSS President Hangue Kim in an email to The Peak.
“We’re surprised and disappointed,” said SFPIRG communications coordinator Craig Pavelich. “We’re student societies, we need to serve students, we need to be on campus.”
Last semester, the SFSS put out a call for student organizations to state their interest in acquiring space in the new Student Union Building amid concern from SFPIRG and CJSF that their organizations would be left homeless when their leases expire in June 2018.
The independent student societies were informed at the end of last semester that their bids for office space in the Student Union Building were unsuccessful. The SFSS decided that four of the five available suites in the building would be designated for undergraduate clubs and student unions with the allocation of the final suite still undetermined.
Instead, the SFSS proposed to lease SFPIRG and CJSF alternative space in Maggie Benston Centre.
Embark Sustainability Society also submitted a bid for office space in the Student Union Building, but was denied and not offered an alternative. The SFSS cited that the society, currently based in West Mall Centre, was not at the same risk of losing space on campus.
According to a statement from communications coordinator Jao Dantes, Embark is no longer pursuing space in the Student Union Building following the decision.
Following the offer to house the radio station in Maggie Benston Centre, CJSF station manager Magnus Thyvold said the organization told the SFSS they were interested if there were no alternatives.
The SFSS said it is following up about specific plans to create a suitable space for the radio station in the Undergrounds or Forum Chambers. However, Thyvold indicated that the radio station was under the impression that the offer was not finalized, only that the SFSS would be looking into the potential of the space.
“It has certainly not been a very clear process,” said Thyvold. “We don’t really know what they are going to offer us in the end.”
When The Peak reached out to the SFSS for comment, the society suggested that the radio station contact the them directly to seek clarification.
“We prefer direct discussions with the groups we work with,” Kim added.
Pavelich stated that SFPIRG had also responded to the initial proposal to express their interest in the available spaces. However, the group stipulated that a set of conditions be met before it would accept the offer.
The conditions required that the space be accessible and suitable to the needs of their organization, renovations be paid for out of the funds already available to the SFSS for such expenses, rent not exceed the amount paid by the SFSS to the university in accordance with their lease agreement, and the independent student societies — CJSF, Embark, and SFPIRG — all be housed on campus.
SFPIRG also asked that the SFSS reconsider its decision to allocate the available spaces in the Student Union Building to clubs and student unions.
It was unclear which of those conditions the SFSS was unable to meet and if the conclusion that the independent society would not be granted space was coming from the SFSS Board of Directors, Pavelich said.
“Who is making these decisions,” added Pavelich. “Who is locking us all out? Who is leaving us in the cold?”
“We’re student societies, we need to serve students, we need to be on campus.” – Craig Pavelich, SFPIRG
In response to The Peak, Kim said that at this time the SFSS was unable to comment on which conditions it was unable to meet. However, he noted that the society had replied to a request for clarification from SFPIRG and preferred direct discussions with the group.
“We have been working in good faith to try and find a solution,” Kim said. “While we had hoped to find a solution that could work for external groups like SFPIRG and CJSF, it’s important to note that neither group is entitled to SFSS space.”
Kim added that the society was working with the university to determine how the Forum Chambers and the Undergrounds could be made to be accessible.
‘Out in the cold’
SFPIRG and CJSF rent their current office spaces in the Rotunda through the SFSS, but their leases are scheduled to run out next summer and the suites will be returned to the university when the Student Union Building is scheduled to open in fall 2018.
The university stated that it will not provide space on campus for the independent student societies and intends to “fully utilize” the Rotunda for its own priorities once the lease has been terminated.
“To be put out in the cold by both the larger institution and the student society — who I would argue is meant to be a leader on campus — is disappointing,” Pavelich stated.
The independent student societies said that their participation in earlier stages of planning for the Student Union Building led them to believe that the SFSS intended to offer them space in the building.
“I would say that when the project was initiated, part of the plan was that all these spaces would be transferred to the new building,” said Thyvold. However, the SFSS has said that space was never promised to the groups who participated in the consultation process around the new building.
CJSF and SFPIRG also expressed concern that the threat of losing space on campus has put the independent student societies on campus in competition with one another.
“It sort of seemed like the process was pitting these four different student-funded groups against each other, which is not something that we want to participate in,” added Jesse Wentzloff, the radio station’s public affairs and talk coordinator.
The SFSS responded that the society had not asked either group to compete for space on campus.
“We are looking to continue our conversation with the SFSS because I don’t believe that conversation is finished yet,” said Pavelich. “If we go off campus, we will be continuing to push to get back on.”
“We’ll be continuing to support SFPIRG in their struggle,” Thyvold added.
The SFSS also expressed a willingness to continue discussions with the student societies.
“We have remained open to conversations with both groups,” said Kim. “Instead of speaking with us, they have chosen to speak to others.”