Collège de Maisonneuve students staged a demonstration on May 13 in defense of autonomous student spaces at the CEGEP in an escalation of pressure tactics in the context of negotiations with the administration. Around 40 students marched on the streets of the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district for about thirty minutes, and then continued the protest inside the building of the CEGEP.
The CEGEP’s student association, the Société Générale des Étudiantes et Étudiants du Collège de Maisonneuve (SOGÉÉCOM), has been negotiating an agreement with the administration for the past two years, regarding among other things the allocation of rooms to student organizations affiliated with the SOGÉÉCOM.
“For years, many organizations, such as our Women’s Committee, haven’t had access to rooms because the administration refuses to let us [use] the rooms. Some are empty, locked, unused, [and] we don’t have access [to them],” said SOGÉÉCOM member Émilie in an interview with The Daily in French.
The association held an internal protest inside the Maisonneuve building earlier this year, which it deemed relatively successful. “[The action] bore fruit; we saw that the tone during the negotiations had changed. It shows that struggle-based student unionism is […] one of the only ways to obtain gains [in this context],” SOGÉÉCOM spokesperson Hadrien told The Daily in French.
This time, the students decided to take to the streets.
The demonstration was closely followed by a police vehicle and by the CEGEP’s security personnel once the students entered the building. A police officer threatened to fine the demonstrators if they did not use the sidewalk, but did not follow through on the threat.
The protesters aimed not only to put increased pressure on the administration, but also to shed light on its role in the broader issues of gentrification and accessibility of education.
“As an escalation of pressure tactics, we decided to […] walk on the street, particularly because Hochelaga is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada, [while Maisonneuve is] a selective CEGEP, a rather rich CEGEP, and the administration doesn’t help the students in the neighbourhood get an education,” SOGÉÉCOM member Elizabeth Lapierre told The Daily in French.
Hadrien echoed this sentiment, connecting Maisonneuve’s admission policies with its internal practices.
“Maisonneuve is also an actor in the gentrification of the neighbourhood because they do not discriminate positively in favour of the people who live in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, and most of the student community comes from rich, bourgeois neighbourhoods, so there is a total disconnect with their community space,” said Hadrien. “This disconnect is also felt inside the CEGEP, with the student association, with people who are already marginal and who are being marginalized even more by this lack of recognition.”
Émilie highlighted the importance of autonomous, student-run spaces in educational institutions.
“[We are negotiating this agreement] to have more rooms for our organizations, to support student life separate from that organized by the administration, […which is] very institutionalized, very regulated, and also very boring and often cliché,” she said. “It’s really with a goal of autonomous management [that we want] to give life to this environment ourselves, organize ourselves there, give life to our creativity, to our actions, to our [political] stances.”