In the face of its impending displacement from campus, the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) has launched a petition asking SFU and the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) to lease them appropriate campus space.
The petition, directed towards SFU president Andrew Petter and vice-provost and associate vice-president academic Peter Keller, was launched a week ago and aims to collect as many signatures as possible.
As described on the petition page, SFPIRG is currently subleasing office space from the SFSS in the Rotunda; this sublease will expire in June 2018. Once the Student Unions Building (SUB) is built in fall 2018, the SFSS will no longer have its lease on the Rotunda. As of now, SFPIRG has not been offered space in the new SUB.
The petition is calling for a new lease altogether, but according to SFPIRG director of communications Craig Pavelich, the group’s immediate focus is extending the current sublease to give them more time to address the larger issue.
“Regardless of where we end up long term, our sublease [with the SFSS] expires at the end of June [. . .] and we are waiting to find out and actually hear from them if they will extend our sublease,” said Pavelich. “As it stands, if nothing changes, SFPIRG is being evicted in three months, and that is a very huge cause for concern.”
The petition page outlines what qualifies as an “appropriate space” that SFPIRG could lease in the longer term. The space must be “fully accessible to all students on campus,” including students with disabilities. It “must be functionally appropriate for a fully-functioning non-profit organization” and include enough space for the staff, students, and volunteers of the organization. SFPIRG has also made it clear that they will not accept a space that is leased to them by evicting or denying space to another independent student society. “We are not interested in seeing any of our fellow organizations rendered homeless because of institutional inaction or indifference,” reads the petition.
SFPIRG Space Campaign coordinator and graduate student Teresa Dettling brought up the last point in an interview with The Peak as speaking to the situation SFPIRG is currently experiencing with being offered space in the Forum Chambers and Undergrounds in Maggie Benston Centre. The SFU radio station CJSF is also currently looking at leasing the same spaces.
“We don’t want to be competing for space with another student society,” said Dettling. “We want everyone to be rehomed. By offering more than one group the same space, [SFU and the SFSS] are pitting us in competition.”
The petition is part of a larger campaign hosted by SFPIRG called the Space Campaign. Along with posters throughout the university and the online campaign, the organization is in the process of planning an event to increase awareness among students about the issue.
“The idea from the petition really came from working with our students, including Teresa, trying to find ways that we can simplify the message in order to reach out to students and make them aware of what is a very pressing issue for us at the moment,” said Pavelich.
Dettling commented on the positivity she has received when approaching SFU students on campus with the petition. “Every single person I’ve talked to has supported this issue,” said Dettling. “Petitioning is not easy, sometimes you get people who disagree with you. That’s not been the case here.”
She shared a testimony given by one of the students who supported the petition: “I had a student share with me the other day [who] said, ‘SFPIRG was the first place in my life that I felt like I belonged and I felt accepted.’ And that choked me up.”
When asked how students who want to support SFPIRG’s Space Campaign can do so, Pavelich recommended that students sign the petition, follow up with their elected student government representatives regarding the space issue, and contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved with petition signature gathering and outreach.
The group is currently in contact with SFSS and will meet with SFU next week to discuss the space issue. “SFU is wanting SFPIRG to go through the SFSS, so we’re following both channels,” said Pavelich.