SFSS explains decision to close Student Union Building

The SUB will remain closed until February 18

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a study space inside the SUB building
The debate for closing the SUB took three hours. PHOTO: Kriti Monga / The Peak

By: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

On January 20, 2022, the SFSS emailed the student body informing them the Student Union Building (SUB) will be closed until February 18, 2022. In their email, they wrote, “In regards to high COVID-19 cases across the province and the return to campus mandated by Simon Fraser University (SFU), the SFSS Council does not believe SFU is taking appropriate measures to protect our membership.

“It is unfortunate that we have to make this decision, however, our concerns are the safety and health of those on campus.”

Former SFSS president Gabe Liosis and vice-president external relations Matthew Provost spoke with The Peak to discuss the Council’s decisions.

“We don’t believe that the university is doing enough to protect students,” said Liosis. He thinks the university’s mentality is that students are “going to get COVID-19 at some point. So you might as well just get used to that fact and move on with your life. We at the SFSS strongly disagree with that sentiment, and believe that it doesn’t really espouse the philosophy of community care.”

Liosis noted the Council was hesitant to close the SUB and their debate spanned over three hours. “So this was not an easy decision,” said Liosis. The Council recognized “The Student Union Building is a risky setting” because it encourages students to interact with others in close proximity where they cannot guarantee their safety. 

The motion to close the SUB was carried with 32 councillors voting yes, 9 voting no, and none abstaining to vote. 

“Our call on the university right now is that the Spring 2022 semester remains online until at least the Omicron wave peaks, and we see significant decline in the number of cases and hospitalizations,” said Liosis. 

Liosis reported the Council will determine at its February 16 meeting whether or not they will extend the closure. The criteria for this decision is currently unclear but Liosis predicts it will include factors such as COVID-19 cases, hospitalization rates, and their confidence they can guarantee safety for staff and students in the SUB. 

Liosis also predicts when the SUB does open, it will do so at reduced capacity. 

Prior to announcing the complete closure of the building, the SUB had been functioning at a reduced capacity. For the Fall 2021 semester, the SFSS re-organized and reduced seating to accommodate 150 people. Liosis noted the building can hold up to 1,000 individuals.

Provost noted some of the concerns that were outlined by fellow councillors at their meeting. Primarily, the concern around taking away space from students which will force them to cluster in other areas. 

SFSS’ decision to close the SUB has been met with some backlash on social media. “Students are now forced to overload into other areas of campus, which might increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission as it will be harder to physically distance,” said a student who started a petition to reopen the SUB. “The SFSS, a ‘student-focused’ organization has failed the students of SFU again as it seems like this move is a political move rather than a move that looks in the best interest of students.”

The SFSS statement noted, “We fully acknowledge the importance of the Student Union Building to both the mental and social health of those who use the building. However, we cannot and will not risk the lives of our staff and membership. We are not willing to contribute to a potential increase in COVID-19 case numbers on campus, and will not bear the brunt of decisions made by the university.”

The SUB was designed for social gathering. Provost noted that their staff has been forced to consistently remind students to social distance and wear masks properly. “We cannot guarantee that there won’t be exposure or transmission in the SUB.

“The truth is, this is not and will not continue to be enough without SFU also doing their part. It is unfortunate that we have to make this decision, however, our concerns are the safety and health of those on campus,” read their statement.

For updates on the SUB’s reopening, visit the SFSS website.