Letter to the Editor: Shame on SSMU

Photo: Seng Chiat Haw
If you’re a McGill student, you’ve probably spent a considerable amount of time in the University Centre Building, also known as the William Shatner Building or simply, “SSMU Building”. In fact, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) website even calls it “one of the hubs of student life”. Few students have never been to Gerts, the lovable, affordable paragon of fun on campus. Even those less inclined to hang out at Gerts have almost certainly spent time in one of the SSMU building’s many meeting rooms, where clubs congregate and organize. Every year, Activities Night serves as a warm introduction to the hundreds of student groups and clubs on campus. The SSMU building is the university’s heart.

However, over the past few weeks, rumours have bubbled up about the potential closure of the SSMU building for an extended period of time.  Until very recently, nobody knew whether these were true or false. Only about a week ago did SSMU finally decided to address the rumours with a Facebook event announcing a “Building Closure Information Session”. Apparently, the SSMU Building will be closed from March 2018 through winter of 2019 in order to replace the building’s heating and ventilation systems. The need for maintenance is understandable, but SSMU’s handling of this event has been pathetic at best. Instead of an immediate press release providing more advance notice or a statement from SSMU addressing the rumours, SSMU has opted to casually broach what will inevitably be a serious issue on campus. Last Tuesday, SSMU finally sent out a press release and expanded their information sessions. While finally addressing some of my concerns, this was untimely and indicative of a lackadaisical attitude.

The closure won’t simply affect the Cafeteria, or the ballroom. This closure means that Gerts will be shut down for nearly a year. It pushes out groups like Midnight Kitchen and forces clubs to find other meeting places on a massive campus where congregation spaces can be hard to come by. Despite the sizable impact on students, SSMU acts as if they’ve done nothing wrong.

When major issues arise on campus, it’s fair to expect a timely, appropriate response from our student government. This was anything but.

Let’s first discuss the issue of transparency. Each semester, full time undergraduate students pay nearly $100 in fees to SSMU for programs administered or housed by them. What are we getting for our money? A student government that sits on its laurels instead of taking action to address the concerns of students?  For weeks, nobody knew what was true and what was false. Frankly, people still don’t know exactly what the scope of this will be. SSMU describes itself in a phrase on the “About Us” section of their website: “We are here to speak out for you and advocate for your interests”. When major issues arise on campus, it’s fair to expect a timely, appropriate response from our student government. This was anything but.

To add insult to injury, the Building Closure Information Session was originally only being held from 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM on a Thursday, a day replete with classes for many students—not to mention being in the middle of midterm season. So even if students wanted more information about the building closure, the event was hardly accessible. It took over a week of public anger and discontent for SSMU to finally capitulate and add a November 15th information session.

Furthermore, as some students noted, the event page is only in English. As of Fall 2016, 20.3% of McGill students claimed French as their mother tongue. The McGill University homepage describes the university as “Canada’s most international university … located in vibrant multicultural Montreal, in the francophone province of Quebec”. At a school that so prides itself on diversity, the student government should respect diversity. Last year, I was hopeful that with a President who has a francophone background, SSMU would be more responsive to students of all languages. This fiasco is hardly an auspicious start.

Need we remember last year’s sexual assault scandals, in which students discovered a concerted effort to cover up serious allegations of sexual violence against the VP External at the time. This scandal even led to the resignation of the SSMU President based on allegations of gendered violence against him. Last year, students learned that they couldn’t even count on their executives to stand with them, with victims of assault, with women. There’s no way to describe last year aside from the word “enraging”. I voted for change last spring because I was tired of business as usual. I was tired of the scandals and the incompetence.

Shame on you, SSMU, for continuing to demonstrate why election turnout rarely pushes above 25%. When it appears that things don’t get better, students will be disengaged from their representative bodies.

I’m confident that this year SSMU will not have these same issues, but with every lapse in their duties, my frustration with an unresponsive, unrepresentative student government grows. Students should be able to count on their representatives for timely responses when situations that arise. Last spring, executive board members were elected to SSMU on platforms centered around reform. Their handling of the SSMU building closure calls into question the legitimacy of this board’s commitment to change. Writing a bilingual press release early on and scheduling an accessible information session is not a Sisyphean task by any means.

Shame on you, SSMU, for continuing to demonstrate why election turnout rarely pushes above 25%. When it appears that things don’t get better, students will be disengaged from their representative bodies.

**The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.