Commentary | Editorial: Toward a student-run café in Shatner

This Thursday, SSMU Council has the rare opportunity to make a decision that students will actually care about. Councillors will debate whether to award a three-year contract for space on the first floor of Shatner – currently occupied by Caférama – to a student-run initiative or to a corporate food vendor. By choosing the latter, Council would be ignoring years of mobilization for student-controlled space, proving itself as responsive to student concerns as the inhabitants of James Admin.

Undergrads have expressed support for student-run initiatives at every opportunity. A General Assembly (GA) motion, passed last fall, mandates SSMU to prioritize student space, and students supported a referendum for a $1 fee increase to “improve student space on campus.” Every day, hundreds line up for Midnight Kitchen’s vegan offerings, and students and staff alike opt for the local offerings from the Architecture Café. Need more proof? Facebook, that flawless indicator of popular opinion, hosts a group called “We want a student-run café in Shatner.” At press time, it boasted 856 members.

Despite this campus’s obvious support for student-run food services, SSMU has bungled every opportunity to engage students in deciding what will fill the Caférama space. Council struck a Space Fee Committee in January to handle the extra $19,800 garnered from the new space fee. But committee members never even managed to meet, let alone hold the Town Halls they’d promised. Students were robbed of the chance to discuss how best to spend the new pile of their cash.

In the lead-up to the August 31 expiration of Caférama’s lease, three student initiatives and four corporate bodies have applied for the space. The SSMU Operations Committee has ranked the tenders – although at press time the list had not been made public – and Council will have to approve or reject the top option at Thursday’s meeting. Despite the strong push for student-controlled café space, the Operations Committee did not formally include “student-run” as one of the five broad headings used to evaluate the contenders.

Shatner is the last refuge for student space. The admin openly admitted its plans to centralize food services on campus before its takeover of the Architecture Café last fall. Since 2000, the University has taken over nine cafeterias formerly operated by student faculty or departmental associations as well as SSMU. With each cafeteria takeover, the University has made it clear that it does not trust students to handle their own space. After raising concerns with the costs of supporting another student-run operation, SSMU seems intent on following the admin’s lead.

SSMU has the mandate – and the financial support from students – to make a student-run space work. If none of the student-run options are listed in the Operations Committee report, Council should reject all proposals, and take time over the summer and fall to work with interested students to develop a plan that works. On Thursday, councillors should choose to act on behalf of their constituents. Unlike many of the fruitless discussions at Council, this decision actually matters.