SFPIRG hosts “Putting Students back in SUB” workshop

SFPIRG’s informational session focussed on uncertainty about Rotunda groups’ space in the SUB


By: Lubaba Mahmud, Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: This article is a recap of an event that occurred on campus. The discussion that occurred represented one specific point-of-view of events related to Rotunda groups and the SUB. 

SFU’s long-awaited Student Union Building (SUB) has been the source of much controversy, as previously reported by The Peak. The Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) recently hosted an informational session titled “Putting STUDENTS Back in ‘Student Union Building’” as part of its Dis/Orientation Week 2019 — an alternative orientation week of events intended to offer critical analysis, insight, and research about a range of social and environmental justice issues to the SFU community.

The SFPIRG is a student-funded resource centre dedicated to social and environmental justice. SFPIRG’s Director of Communications, Craig Pavelich, hosted the presentation on Thursday September 19 in the SFPIRG lounge. This event’s aim was to inform guests on the history of the SUB and why multiple student organisations are at risk of displacement from campus. Pavelich, a long-time campus presence, is quick to emphasize that the presentation is his interpretation of events, and should not be seen as the official position of SFPIRG.

Pavelich recounted the following history of the SUB:

In Spring 2012, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) held a referendum asking students to fund a new Student Union Building and Stadium. After it passed, the SFSS and SFU began working on the $65 million project called ‘BuildSFU.’ BuildSFU invited the Rotunda groups to discuss their organisational needs in the SUB in order to accommodate them accordingly in June of 2014 . The Rotunda groups include SFPIRG, Out On Campus (OOC), The Women’s Centre, The First Nations Student Association (FNSA) and Students of Caribbean & African Ancestry (SOCA). These groups were all subleased their current spaces in the Rotunda by the SFSS Board, to whom SFU leased the rotunda.

He explained that in Spring 2015, the Rotunda head lease between SFU and SFSS was renegotiated, so that the lease’s end date was set in the same time period as the SUB’s initial opening in Fall 2017. This was based on the understanding that Rotunda groups would be housed in the SUB, according to Pavelich. Later, due to various construction delays, SFU extended Rotunda head lease to a month-to-month basis until the SUB was completed. 

However, Pavelich noted with serious disappointment, “[In] November 2017, SFSS management and Board members met with Rotunda groups, telling them that they would not be [given space] in the building. Instead, they would be using a shared space model to give bookable space to clubs and student unions.” 

He adds that the Rotunda groups “asked SFSS to honor what they led everybody to believe over the years — to put everybody in the [Student Union] building.“

However according to Pavelich, there was little dialogue. “[The SFSS] invited groups to attend their board meeting in September 2018 to talk about the space issue. They indicated that they would continue to meet and dialogue with the groups. Despite requests from us to meet, as they said they would, they never replied. . .” He adds that in November 2018, SFPIRG received a message declining the invitation to meet, as they had “come to a decision in terms of space.

“No public discussion or decision about the space had ever occurred. There’s nothing in their minutes, it was all in private.”

Sharing recent updates with the audience, Pavelich said “In Spring 2019 a new Student Society board was elected. In May of this year, their new President, Giovanni HoSang, put forward an alternative shared space model, which would put all Rotunda groups into the SUB. [But] they didn’t have a decision about it yet.” 

He further added, “In Summer ‘19, reps from student society board and management met with Rotunda groups to discuss their space needs. We were told that this was for the new ED’s [Executive Director] benefit so that she could learn what’s going on. We have asked to meet with them to continue that conversation about putting everybody in the space. We have not heard back from them.”

Pavelich expressed serious concern about the precarious housing situation of Rotunda groups. “SFPIRG, CFSF, [and] SOCA are at risk of being pushed off campus.” he said. He encouraged students to be more proactive about Rotunda group’s housing crisis and to voice any concerns to SFSS Board members.