I was sitting in front of the Redpath Library between classes, listening in on a conversation between two indignant girls, when a man – looking to be in his thirties – walked into my sun.
“Excuse me,” he said, “do you know how to pay tuition?” I thought about this for a moment. The question seemed simple, so I gave him a simple answer.
“I believe you pay online,” I said.
“Where online?” he asked. The man spoke curtly, seemed hurried, a bit tense.
“I believe you pay on Minerva,” I guessed. He looked relieved when I said this, but I felt dishonest. So I told him what I was ashamed to say in the beginning.
I stood up, took a step toward him and spoke softly so the girls to my side would not overhear me: “Well, actually, my parents pay my tuition,” I said. “So I’m not really sure where you pay, or how.”
I directed him to the McGill Service Point where, I hoped, he could work out what seemed to be something urgent. That was the last I saw of him. But I haven’t stopped thinking about the encounter, about why I felt embarrassed because of it.
I’m not blaming myself for not knowing. But it made me consider how little I understand money and obligations and transactions and bureaucracy. I’m sure there are other students who would not have been able to answer that man’s question.
Sure, there are students who admirably pay their own tuition. But when I read that the Arts Undergraduate Society is, for whatever reasons, $30,000 or so in debt, it makes me realize that we really are students, learning from our mistakes, trying to make sense of life and complicated things.
Learning through hardship often serves you well. But sometimes you might learn the wrong thing. When I went to the Architecture Café rally, I really didn’t feel for the cause. I hoped that the Café would reopen because I loved going there. But as the crowd cheered against the administration, against corporatism, against McGill food services, I only felt more dissociated.
To me, the issue was not about the injustices of corporatism or the plight of student-run organizations – issues I don’t often think about. The issue was about the Café. Of course, it’s all related, but the efficacy of a rally hinges on empathy. If I only know that my dad pays my tuition, should I really know why corporatism is considered bad?
I’m no philistine – maybe I’m feigning a bit of ignorance. But when I think about losing the Café, I think about losing good muffins, cheap coffee, that out-of-tune piano, a concentration of cute girls, dusty couches. I didn’t love the Architecture Café because students ran it; I loved it because there was no other place on campus like it.
I hope the Architecture Café reopens. I hope this is not a eulogy. The Café doesn’t need to be a study space – it already was one. During the time I spent there, I ate countless muffins, drank too much coffee, read hundreds of pages, played some blues on the piano, flirted with girls whom I never saw again.
Those were all formative experiences I would fight to relive, experiences I hold fondly in my memory. If the rally had rekindled more fond memories, perhaps I would have felt more involved. I don’t think I’m alone in my thoughts. In a similar way of thinking, perhaps the reason I haven’t attended any rallies against tuition hikes is because I don’t pay my tuition.