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Administrators offer weak answers to Senate questions

Disability accessibility, queer-inclusive programs, and McGill’s Mental Health Services were just some of the hot button topics that administrators responded to with watered-down responses during yesterday’s Senate question period.

SSMU President Jake Itzkowitz questioned how committed McGill is to making the University a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people, considering the volunteer structure of the Safe Space program.

Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Morton Mendelson said that the University is committed, but noted that the Safe Space Program is in jeopardy.

“The future of Safe Space is uncertain and what the administration can do is limited,” he said. “It doesn’t have sustainable staffing.”

The Safe Space program – started by three volunteers – provides training to staff and faculty at McGill to better sensitize them to LGBT issues. The program is likely on the way out unless more volunteers can be found.

Jana Luker, Executive Director of Student Services, said she hoped to see the creation of a queer administrative position at McGill that would oversee the operations of Queer McGill, Student Services, and the Social Equity and Diversity in Education (SEDE) office – which could monitor the Safe Space program.

“If SEDE’s mandate were expanded to include a half-position person [to oversee the Safe Space program], then it would be able to continue,” she said, adding that Queer McGill and Student Services only provide services to students.

But Mendelson said it wouldn’t be possible given current budget cuts.

Jim Nicell, Associate Vice-Principal (University Services), responded to a question Senator Sean Waugh posed about disability accessibility, saying that McGill had tripled its budget – up to $400,000 this year – to improve accessibility.

“[Accessibility] is an issue of striking a balance with maintaining the heritage value of properties,” he said.

Several senators pointed out where McGill could be doing more. Senator and Music Professor Stefano Algieri followed up to Waugh, describing a student in a wheelchair who came to Pollack Hall for an audition and could not access to the stage.

Senator and Physical and Occupational Therapy Professor Beverlea Tallant also noted that snow clearing creates accessibility problems.

“A shovelled width for a path is not sufficient for a wheelchair. Certainly no one in a wheelchair could access the Brown Building by the top entrance,” Tallant said.

Finally, Arts Senator Daniel King questioned what McGill could do to improve communication between Mental Health Services and the rest of the University.

Mendelson shied away from making any concrete commitments, responding only that Luker was drafting a review of Mental Health Services and would be implementing “a framework to move forward.”

King suggested that regular meetings could occur between the Director of Mental Health Services and the Deans.