By: Paige Riding, News Writer
At the SFSS Board meeting on November 1, president Giovanni HoSang’s proposal to house the Rotunda groups in the upcoming Student Union Building was defeated by a 7–5 vote of the Board of Directors, as previously reported by The Peak.
A large audience attended the meeting to view the discussion and vote, and as a result there was a palpable sense of tension in the air. A lengthy discussion preceded the vote, with many members of the audience speaking in support of housing the Rotunda groups in the SUB.
Though HoSang’s motion failed, a second motion for them to be housed in the Undergrounds and Forum Chambers in the Maggie Benston Centre, did pass. According to the proposal, the projected cost of $320,000 would be covered by the SFSS Space Expansion Fund, the Accessibility Fund, and $120,000 that “CJSF has been collecting [ . . . ] to prepare for a move out of its current space. . .”
Members of the audience voiced their concerns about the displacement of the Rotunda groups, and the decision not to house them in the SUB.
Before the Board began their discussion on the motion, a guest named Annie Bhuiyan spoke on the impact Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) has had on her as a university student.
“SFPIRG [ . . . ] gives a space to feel at home on campus, and mak[es] me feel safe on campus. It lets me know that I can just go somewhere if I needed a space, if I needed something [ . . . ] or if I just needed someone to talk to. And the thought of them getting pushed out, or getting put in this situation where they’re uncertain about where they’re going to hold their meeting or where they’re going to have an office is awful,” she said.
“Unfortunately I haven’t had that sense of community from the SFSS, who would be an alternative kind of institution that could give me those resources,” Bhuiyan claimed in front of the Board.
Matt McDonald, Director of External Relations for the Graduate Student Society, provided financial reasons why HoSang’s SUB allocation would be preferred.
“If the Rotunda groups are not housed in the SUB, SFU has indicated to us that it will be prohibitively difficult for them to house them elsewhere on campus. The main idea was to use the Forum Chambers and Undergrounds, but they are old and need major renovations to be usable at all,” he explained.
“SFU has estimated the cost of this: originally it was $800,000, now they’ve bumped it up to 1.5 million because of the increased costs of construction in Vancouver. As you know, [the] Student Societies have been negotiating affordability and other issues [with regards to] the SFU budget . . . If we add one more expense, this is about the equivalent of a percent hike in international student tuition.”
McDonald proceeded to explain that, due to the structure of the building as it is, accessibility will remain an issue even after hefty renovations of these basement rooms. He touched on how problematic it would appear for the SFSS to prioritize video game rooms and nap rooms over “environmental and social justice groups to organize on issues, unique student voices heard and important information spread by radio, and for Black students to have a place to build community and advocate for their rights.”
CJSF Station Manager Magnus Thyvold’s statement explained that “SFU provided land [for the SUB]. When they provided that land, a commitment was made to provide housing for the independent, non-profit student societies. The language may not have been strong enough, but everybody knew what was meant when those commitments were made.
“That’s why our groups were asked to participate fully in the planning process . . . SFU had indicated to us [ . . . ] that they would not have provided the lease to let this whole project go forward had they known that this commitment was going to be withdrawn,” he said.
To have “long-standing, active, progressive organizations in support of students and providing opportunities for students on campus for decades” in jeopardy of being pushed off campus is a mistake, according to Thyvold.
Jennifer Chou, Arts & Social Sciences Representative, spoke about her experience volunteering in the past for one of the Rotunda groups potentially being displaced: Embark Sustainability. She noted their positive impact on the SFU community through Community Kitchens and free produce distribution to students. She also spoke positively about her experiences with SFPIRG and how they are a “hub of resources that are valuable to the community.”
Simran Uppal, Science Representative, stated that “SFSS Student Union groups should have priority over external groups.” This was a recurring answer from those who voted against the motion.
Tawanda Nigel Chitapi, VP Finance, said that “over time, I’ve learnt that not everyone is [extroverted] like me [ . . . ] and these groups of students, especially international students, they’ll just come here, they don’t have family, so a space such as this would be very beneficial to them. It brings a sense of home, a sense of community, around people that they relate with and can understand each other [ . . . ] I think it’s important that there be a space for students to get together and find a home.”
Following the vote, a necessary break, and other business, the Q&A period allowed guests to ask questions in a 20 minute block of time.
The Peak asked Board members to explain why they voted against the alternative allocation, particularly because most of the comments during the motion’s discussion were from those voting in favour of housing the Rotunda groups.
Only VP External Relations Jasdeep Gill answered this question, explaining, “I would like to preserve as much space as possible in the SUB for bookable, shareable space for students [ . . . ] I do view the external organizations as external, but I am in favour of housing them in our Forum Chambers and Undergrounds.”
When the Board was asked about concerns over funding of the renovation by The Peak, Chitapi answered, that funds were coming from the Space Expansion Fund.
“That’s the purpose of the fund, so they’re not being wasted, they’re being used for their [specified] purpose,” he said. “The focus of the Student Union Building was to make sure that there are as many spaces available for everyone, all of us here will have access to, instead of having some that are fixated for a certain group of people.”
A student who introduced herself as Emma Lynne protested this claim that these spaces will be available for everyone. “I think we have learned time and time again throughout history here at SFU, here in Canada is that, for a space to be for everyone, sometimes you need to create space for interest groups. Sometimes you need to create space for people that don’t have space that is for ‘everyone’. For me, that excuse sounds similar to the ‘#AllLivesMatter.’ People say Black lives matter because we need to draw attention to that.”
Ricky Castanedo Laredo, CJSF Music Coordinator, stated “ultimately, SFU still belongs to the community at large. This whole idea that because we [CJSF] are an external group, suddenly we’re demerited in some way is ridiculous. You’re going to enter community life after this. This is not where your life is going to end. To not have groups that can bridge that gap in that building that is specifically being built for said groups . . . It’s a building that you have control over how it’s going to be filled.”
HoSang himself had to say that “that specific question isn’t being answered by the board at this time,” asking guests to move on.
Another audience member pointed out that these groups already struggle to fulfill their functions in their current homes, and that the new arrangement would reduce their space.
Ana Lozitskaia expressed their concerns about the space’s accessibility, and how the new location would make these resources difficult to access for students with disabilities. They told the Board that, “by tearing those resources apart and placing them [where they] are inaccessible, you’re not only tearing us apart from the resources, you’re tearing us apart from ourselves because there is no place for us to meet,” they said.
“There is no place for us to connect [ . . . ] Please represent all students. Please remember the students you encounter may not be representative of everybody else on this campus.”