On Thursday, February 13, the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) held a town hall to discuss space allocation in the new Student Union Building (SUB).
In addition to providing an in-depth overview and background on the situation, the event involved discussion from four panelists, including a previous SFSS board member who was present during the early stages of the SUB decision-making process.
Kalamity Hildebrandt, director of education and research at SFPIRG, started by providing some context about the issue, explaining that SFPIRG’s main concern is that the SFSS is treating “all possible interest in SUB space as being exactly the same [ . . . ] all of this we were told is in the interest of fairness.”
Hildebrandt noted the distinction between equity and equality. “This is not a world in which everybody’s needs are the same [ . . . ] we’re going to want to look not just at treating everybody the same [sic] we’re going to actually be wanting to strive for equitable outcomes for people.”
The first panelist to speak after this was Maisaloon Al-Ashkar, an SFU alum who has been involved with SFPIRG over the last four years as a volunteer and later as a board member.
She explained that although their early communication with the SFSS implied that SFPIRG would be housed in the SUB, “In more recent years it has become very clear how uncooperative and manipulative the SFSS has been in terms of the tactics that they are using to divide communities, to divide groups, and to deny people [sic] access and resources into the SUB.”
She emphasized connecting these struggles to “greater struggles around displacement, around colonial violence, around racialized violence.”
Giovanni Hosang, SFU student and President of SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA) spoke next. He talked about how he found a home with SOCA, which is one of the Rotunda groups that has not been granted space in the SUB.
In terms of the SFSS’s approved shared-space model for the SUB, Hosang notes that “I don’t know who in their right minds would come up with such a model [ . . . ] this doesn’t work for anybody.”
The next panelist was Kathleen Yang, former SFSS VP External Relations during 2015–16 term — a term Yang referred to as “the year the board secured an 85% vote in favor of obtaining a $60 million dollar loan for the purpose of constructing a student union building.” According to her bio, she also served on the Build SFU working group and was, for a while, part of the sublease negotiations with SFPIRG.
“As you can all tell, the SFSS is kind of a hot mess, and it’s always been a hot mess, so [sic] not much has changed,” Yang began. She later noted that “everyone who has been in the SFSS knows that for a fact so I don’t think it’s wrong for me to make that statement.”
She explained that her board in the year of 2015-16 did not prioritize figuring out space allocation for the reason that they were not sure if they could even build the SUB at the time, as they had yet to apply for bank loans.
Yang expressed her appreciation for the Rotunda groups, noting that “I learned so much about community organizing and myself and my interests through the Rotunda [ . . . ] it taught me so much and I would have never been elected without the support of the Rotunda groups.”
In regard to the decision of space allocation, Yang said “I think it was purposely left ambiguous [ . . . ] which groups were going to be allocated rooms [sic] because as soon as we would say, ‘this group is for sure not getting a space,’ obviously they would be against the Student Union Building.”
Yang is not surprised that the issue has come to this, “just because of the fact that it was put off for so long.”
In speaking about the SFSS, Yang noted that “it’s a very adversarial place.”
The last panelist was Steven Hall, a current SFU student and former Langara student. Hall experienced a similar situation previously at Langara, where the LGBTQ+ space was taken away.
Although Hall described having a home on campus that was strictly within the urban Aboriginal spaces at Langara, Hall mentioned having friends who were engaged in the Langara LGBTQ+ spaces who were deeply affected by the closure.
“To see how it affected the people that I love was quite scary [ . . . ] it was truly a lost and helpless situation.”
After describing this experience at Langara, Hall concluded “I’m very much against a shared-space model. I think it’s not supportive of our history, it doesn’t acknowledge [sic] the ancestors of our university.”