Written by Zach Siddiqui, Copy Editor
Seeing how far one snag in event planning has snowballed, I wonder . . . when chaos theory pioneer Edward Lorenz coined the term “butterfly effect,” what was his real inspiration?
Did his alma mater, MIT, have a student government with negotiating power shoddier than Drake’s diss tracks vis-à-vis Pusha-T’s lyrical coup d’etats? Like insect wings stirring hurricanes, the most basic part of planning SFU’s annual Fall Kickoff has led to a complete farce.
It doesn’t take advanced mathematics to understand that things are not great with SFU’s 2018 welcome-back festivities. The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) has cancelled 2018’s Fall Kickoff. Instead, they will “partner” with UBC’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) for UBC’s Welcome Back BBQ on September 14, hosting a joint event.
The CliffsNotes: the SFSS couldn’t book Convocation Mall for Friday, September 21. SFU allegedly told them the Kickoff was “pencilled in,” but later confirmed a conflict with another event. SFU couldn’t give them September 21, or the SFSS’s second choice, September 28, but offered September 14 and 20, among other days.
The SFSS declined. At their July 6 board of directors meeting, they elected to pose SFU an ultimatum: give the SFSS September 21, or the student society would “walk away” from the welcome-back event.
Just a little while after that, Fall Kickoff was cancelled.
A little while after that, the SFSS announced their team-up with AMS.
Wait — what?
I’m grateful to AMS. I respect the SFSS’s efforts to salvage a rough situation. But to compose this malformed mashup with UBC’s event as a substitute for Fall Kickoff is unwise. The actions preceding Fall Kickoff’s loss were unwise. I’m disappointed, and worryingly, there’s nothing to suggest that students won’t continue to be disappointed in SFU’s campus scene.
As “deranged sorority girl” Rebecca Martinson told her Delta Gamma sisters in her ill-fated and incredibly offensive email back in 2013: tie yourselves down, because this’ll be a rough ride.
SFSS’s conduct in dealing with SFU: misguided from the get-go
The SFSS board decided on an ultimatum — September 21 or nothing. Here’s the thing: an ultimatum only works if the person receiving it faces undesirable consequences from choosing the thing you don’t want them to choose. But SFU has a negligible stake in Fall Kickoff’s fate.
Nancy Johnston, SFU’s vice provost students and international, does mention in a Peak interview that SFU was “very supportive” of the event, and “were disappointed that none of the alternate dates for Convo Mall were deemed acceptable by the SFSS who then chose to move the event off campus.” That doesn’t change the fact that SFU’s administration is hardly reliant on the Kickoff.
The SFSS might as well have been like, “You have two options, SFU: give us what we want, or else, you have no choice but to forget about us, and not give us what we want, instead.”
What a dynamite bargaining strategy.
Partnering with AMS undermines SFU pride and culture, nonexistent as it already is, and has logistical holes
While the Welcome Back BBQ is a patch to the loss of Fall Kickoff, it’s not a particularly good patch. On a scale of one to 10, this patch is the Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper someone bought on their road trip through the United States and tied around their wounds to stem the bleeding from being mauled by all five Sharknados consecutively.
Optics-wise, it’s embarrassing. Yeah, SFU’s campus life scene is bad. Is it seriously so bad that we cannot have one big annual event without needing another university’s students to rescue us? If I were an incoming first-year, I would desperately try to dissociate myself from this, and potentially from reality itself, if doing so would obliviate this tomfoolery from my mind.
Consider too that the BBQ happens at UBC’s Vancouver campus. Some SFU students live as far out as Maple Ridge and Langley. Depending on where you are, it could be an hour’s drive, or two to three hours if not more to transit, and that’s just one way. Even campus-to-campus travel times aren’t cute, unless you happen to be driving a car from Harbour Centre, and that still leaves the trip home.
Also, AMS has actually already started selling BBQ tickets. Early Bird and Super Early Bird tickets, along with the associated lower prices, are already sold out. On Thursday, The Ubyssey, UBC’s student newspaper, reported on the AMS’s decision to work with the SFSS, and based on comments from AMS’s events manager, while ticket costs for us are still not finalized, they will likely cost more than they do for UBC students. Ticket availability for UBC won’t change, but they’ll add 1,500 tickets to save spots for us.
I don’t blame AMS for that. But I hold the SFSS accountable for necessitating it. Not only must SFU students go to another school for an SFU welcome experience, but we must also pay more than other attendees, and have fewer tickets available to us?
“Partnership” is a misnomer. Partnership would imply equal input in hosting and executing the event and equal benefits for attendees. The above issues are immediate clues that this is not a collaboration at all, but simply UBC’s student society guiding a metaphorical drowning peasant population to shore.
Unfortunately, equality just isn’t possible in this two-bit hack parable of collusion with Russia. With Welcome Back BBQ tickets already out, a Facebook event page in place, and a musical line-up announced, among other things, AMS has obviously already gotten their affairs in order. The SFSS has entered at a stage where there is simply little to contribute — so far, the only confirmed item within that “little” is some funding for extra security personnel.
So where do we go from here?
What I hope is that the SFSS learns from this. I call on the society to learn to negotiate more professionally and successfully, instead of attempting stupid power moves worthy of Riverdale’s second season. I call on them to learn how to plan more error margin. (If your entire event falls apart without the one exact date in one exact venue that you wanted, which you incidentally attempted to book barely a couple of months ahead, then you don’t understand event planning.) I call on them to learn to recover from setbacks without undercutting students in the process.
What I fear is that the SFSS might learn nothing. Why am I skeptical? Because the shortcomings that led the student society to this point have always been present in their negotiations with other entities.
In the July 6 board meeting, a recurring point of frustration SFSS members expressed was the supposed inadequacy of the administration’s communication with them. If allegations made more than once by others on campus over the course of the past few years are to be believed, this is exactly the problem that much of the SFU community has with the SFSS.
For instance, when the SFSS elected to eventually relinquish the Rotunda to SFU, displacing its resident independent student groups, and later denied those groups Student Union Building (SUB) real estate, Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) communications director Craig Pavelich claimed that the SFSS was complicit in “[leading SFPIRG] to believe that there would be space for student organizations in the SUB.”
When The Peak interviewed Kalarupini Koraljka Roy, coordinator of vegan lunch service Veggie Lunch, about the potential loss of her space in Forum Chambers — a side-effect of CJSF’s displacement from the Rotunda and possible move into Forum Chambers — Roy noted poor communication from the SFSS about what her subsequent options for space could be, concluding that this was likely because “once this happens, there won’t be any more [space] for me.”
Gideon Wong, one of the owners of Minimart in Maggie Benston Centre, spoke out about their store’s murky destiny. Wong alleged that Build SFU general manager Marc Fontaine originally led him to think that Minimart would have space in the SUB, only to later claim, in Wong’s words, that they “[hadn’t] decided yet [on] which people would get the space.”
There are multiple sides to all stories, of course — the SFSS have given their statements on these allegations, and there is ambiguity in each individual case concerning the true events. Taken together though, I see what seems like a common thread: too many people at SFU leave their dealings with the SFSS unhappy.
The only difference in the Fall Kickoff debacle is that, this time, the SFSS negotiated poorly in a context where the other party could actually deny them what they wanted.
I respect the SFSS, and I truly don’t mean to belittle or condescend to its leaders. But circumstances obligate me to point out that, until something changes in the SFSS’s fundamental conduct, students might continue to pay the prices of such mismanagement — one being the lack of truly satisfactory SFU events.
Students shouldn’t have to settle for what feels like a literal pity party. It’s disappointing that that’s all we get to have here.