On March 15, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council assembled to discuss two new motions regarding support for a Fall reading week and listened to a Special Committee’s recommendations on anti-Semitism. Council also discussed proposals for Fiat Lux, a large library renovation project to be completed over the coming years.
Fiat Lux Updates
Colleen Cook, Trenholme Dean of Libraries, and Diane Koen, Senior Director of Planning and Resources, spoke to Council about proposed Fiat Lux renovation plans, which aim to “[redefine] the library’s mandate” and bring it “into the 21st century.”
The Fiat Lux plan intends to introduce a more accessible and amenable space for student needs. Koen described a high tech library that will include increased seating, collaboration spaces, areas for quiet study and deep immersive work, audio visual centers, air conditioning and heating, as well as large auditorium spaces.
The project will involve limiting access to certain parts of the library as construction takes place over a period of years, and will prompt the library to focus on increased electronic access to its large collection.
“In order to accomplish this, we need to move a large portion of our print collection [that has] not circulated in many years to a storage facility, and then bring the books to [students] when [they] request them,” said Koen. “So we’re going to be focusing on a smaller print collection.”
Fiat Lux would involve a large construction undertaking that would take several years to complete. It would expose the older 1890s Redpath Hall, with the more recent 1950s Redpath — to which all students currently have access — taken down and replaced with a building that would connect more completely with the McLennan building.
“Phase 1 [the construction of a library collection storage building], in the best of all possible worlds, will be done in two and a half years,” Cook said. “The whole thing [will be complete] within five or six [years].”
Special Committee on Anti-Semitism
Council heard the recommendations of a Special Committee on anti-Semitism that was formed in the aftermath of the Fall 2017 General Assembly, an event that sparked allegations of anti-Semitism.
The Special Committee, composed of representatives from Am McGill, Chabad at McGill, Hillel McGill, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), Israel on Campus, the Jewish Studies Student Association (JSSA), as well a representative from each of the Board of Directors and Legislative Council, has worked to create a working definition of anti-Semitism that would make it easier for SSMU to act on anti-Semitic language and violence.
JSSA President Hannah Srour, who spoke on behalf of the Special Committee, explained that the committee’s proposed definition of anti-Semitism “would be based largely on the Ottawa Protocol, which was adopted by the Canadian Parliament, and has also been adopted by Ryerson University.”
The Special Committee’s recommendations were fully delineated in a motion presented to Council titled “Motion Regarding the Joint Board of Directors and Legislative Council Special Committee on Anti-Semitism.”
The motion demands that the SSMU hire a special researcher to research anti-Semitism on campus, organize workshops to educate students on issues relevant to anti-Semitism, and ensure that SSMU executives are given trainings on issues of anti-Semitism.
The motion was passed by consensus, with the exception of two points regarding the definition of anti-Semitism. These points included the act of denying Jewish people the right to self-determination and the act of criticizing Israel for its activities in the occupied Palestinian territories as examples of anti-Semitism. The sole dissenting group was IJV, whose disagreement on these points was recorded using footnotes within the motion.
Social Work Student Association Representative, Matthew Savage, asked the Council at large whether the contested points would take the proposed definition too far. “As someone who is pro-BDS, I am a little worried that I will automatically be labeled as an anti-Semite under this definition,” Savage said.
Shira Mattuck, president of Chabad at McGill’s student board, was involved in the creation of the motion. From the gallery, she responded to Savage that most of the definition was reached by consensus, and that all points of dissent were catalogued within the motion.
“These clauses were voted on by a majority of Jewish groups on campus, so I think that it’s really important that we hear the lived experiences of Jewish students and let Jewish students define anti-Semitism,” said Mattuck. “I think that the concerns you have are valid, but they are addressed in the footnotes.”
Support for a Fall Reading Week
Council also voted to approve a motion that would seek to promote a Fall Reading Week at McGill. McGill is among the minority of Canadian universities that do not currently have a Fall Reading Week.
SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva read the motion to Council, which called upon SSMU to “renew its stance to support a Fall Reading Week break at McGill University.” The approved motion will mandate the SSMU to actively lobby the university to implement a week-long break during the Fall semester of every year.
Council also voted to extend the Winter 2018 General Assembly deadline for the Fall Reading Week motion, so that it may be put to a referendum there.