Attempting to highlight the McGill administration’s encroachment on student autonomy, the Reclaim Your Campus campaign kicked off with an energized protest at both the Roddick and Milton Gates yesterday.
The campaign launch, orchestrated by SSMU in coordination with several other student groups, was intended to highlight what SSMU hopes will be a year-long campaign to reverse students’ continual loss of rights.
According to SSMU VP External Devin Alfaro, there are numerous groups on campus that are concerned about the administration’s stance on reducing student space and independence.
“It’s time to unite as many people as possible in a unified voice,” Alfaro said. “This event aims to speak for lots of people.”
Other issues raised included the need for a democratically elected Board of Governors, compensation for the Teaching Assistants (TA), a contract for MUNACA – the union representing non-academic workers at McGill – and a prioritization of student needs in general.
In reference to the TA strike last semester, Richard Hink, president of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), noted that while the union is currently fighting to receive withheld wages from the spring, it also wished to address the broader problem of student marginalization at McGill.
“We are…fighting alongside other campus groups to reaffirm McGill as a community instead of the corporation it is becoming,” Hink said in a press release.
Disgruntled students set out on foot from Roddick Gates toward the James Administration building as Critical Mass, a Montreal bike organization, which pushes for bikers’ rights in the city, gathered about 15 cyclists at the Milton Gates to join the main protestors.
The bike protest was supported by McGill’s Quebec Public Interest Research Group whose external coordinator, Indu Vashist, said that the demonstration was meant to draw attention to a recent undervaluing of bike culture at the University.
“[The administration’s] line was that they are interested in student safety, and while I completely agree that students should be safe on campus…cars have been given priority on the road rather than students,” Vashist said.
Critical Mass deliberately chose to ride past the security guards against the McGill-approved one-way flow of traffic by the Macdonald Engineering building. Students involved pointed to the administration’s misplaced importance to cars, the lack of a bike lane through campus, and an inadequate amount of bike parking available to students.
There has been concern expressed that permitting bikers to move against the traffic pattern particularly during campus construction is dangerous to students and cyclists alike.
Nadya Wilkinson, SSMU VP University Affairs, noted that several people have been seriously injured by bike riders on campus, and added that it is incredibly dangerous for cyclists coming from Montreal’s Milton bike path to speed through campus.
Wilkinson acknowledged that although there has been talk of putting a bike lane through campus, such a scenario is unlikely because it would require the removal of parking spaces. Parking fees were recently increased by 30 per cent in order to provide more funding for McGill’s Office of Sustainability, which would lose funding if spaces were removed.
“It would just be safest to separate cars, bikes, and people,” Wilkinson said.