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Loose Cannon: Student space feeling the squeeze

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

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  • Although student organizations continue to grow on this campus, the university has provided no more room to accommodate them.

    Although student organizations continue to grow on this campus, the university has provided no more room to accommodate them.

Written by Greg Beneteau

As one of the oldest publications on campus, The Peak has long been a place for students and community members to tell their stories using a variety of creative means: news reports, poetry, photography, visual art, long-form interviews, first person accounts and historical retrospectives.

With a focus on social justice, The Peak has skirted with controversy and encouraged debate about everything from gender norms to the inequalities created by capitalism. Undoubtedly, it fills a niche in the campus community that other publications – including The Ontarion and thecannon – do not.

So why is The Peak any less deserving of its office than the newly-created Student Help and Advocacy Centre?

Questions like these will occupy the CSA Board of Directors at its Wednesday meeting as they tried to figure out how to cram one more organization into the sardine can that we call “student space.”

The outcome of the space debate – which may also affect the Photo Arts Club, if The Peak is given the front end of the PAC office as compensation – is not yet known. But the issue is larger than which group is more entitled to a door and four walls.

Although student organizations continue to grow on this campus, the university has provided no more room to accommodate them. In fact, it can be argued that student space on campus is being systematically destroyed by neglect.

The townhouse that holds the CSA Foodbank and Bike Centre at the corner of Gordon Street and South Ring Road is a prime example. In its fifty-plus year history, the building has suffered from a sagging foundation, warped floors, water damage and mold problems. For years, tenants have asked the administration to provide more than piecemeal fixes to the seriously compromised construction.

Instead, the university is planning to demolish all six of the white houses on the corner and replace them with landscaping.

In the meantime, the Foodbank is being accommodated in a building across the street, but the Bike Centre's future is in limbo while the CSA searches a new home. (clarification: the CSA Bike Centre was originally slated to close on April 16th, but that date has since been pushed until at least August 10th).

Raithby House was once home to Student Volunteer Connections, the Student Support Network and the Multi-faith Resource Team. Two years ago, a triple threat of fire, flooding and destructive squirrel activity sent its former residents across the street to McNally House, where they waited for repairs.

These groups play an important role in campus life; they deserve better than to be stuck on the far end of campus. Yet the historical home of college professor and farmer George Raithby, built in 1882, remains uninhabited.

The University Centre itself was originally financed with student money, for use as a student space. Not just the second floor, mind you, but the majority of the building, was supposed to belong to students.

But the predecessor to the CSA was bankrupted by the university, which refused to collect student fees. The University Centre was then "appropriated" by the U of G in the 1970s. The CSA fought back in court and was rewarded with ownership of the second floor, which could be considered a consolation prize of sorts.

That legal battle happened a generation ago, but the fight for student space is far from over. The soon-to-be empty space at Gordon and South Ring is prime real estate. If the university decides to rebuild there, there is no guarantee that it will include student space in its plans.

Like death by a thousand cuts, we are being squeezed into smaller and smaller locations. To keep from losing any more ground, the CSA should adopt a give-and-take strategy for student space. For every square inch taken away by the university, our student representative must demand an equivalent amount of space somewhere else.

The CSA should also continue to push for the university to expand student space for clubs (there are more than 80) as well as places of worship and social hangouts.

Students are suffering from a serious space deficit. Rather than fighting over the little room there is left, we need to turn our attention to the bigger picture.

Correction: The CSA Bike Centre was originally slated to close on April 16th, but that date has since been pushed back until at least August 10th.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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