An email regarding security at club events has some students accusing administrators of prejudice, SSMU execs calling for a reformed policy on room bookings, and the administration insisting the whole thing was a misunderstanding.
In an email sent on February 2, McGill events administrator Debbie Yacoulis asked SSMU VP (Clubs and Services) Sarah Olle to provide advance warning of any events held by QPIRG, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), and the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA). Yacoulis claimed that advance time was needed to grant these groups security clearance for their events.
Olle forwarded the email to members of the three organizations mentioned. The message came as a surprise to the MSA. The group is currently drafting a request for a formal apology.
“Our events are never controversial and we never have problems. Most of our events are [attended by] Muslims coming for more knowledge,” said Anais Massot, VP (External) for the MSA.
Massot has been with the MSA for three years and could not recall any group events where extra security was needed.
Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson explained that the email did not reflect University policy, which mandates that security needs are to be determined on an event-by-event basis
“I don’t see it as being an issue; I see it as being a mistake,” Mendelson said.
Yacoulis emailed Olle after learning that the MSA planned to host a lecture entitled “The Essentials of Islamic Knowledge and Practice.”
Olle is familiar with the University’s event-by-event policy and said that the email from Yacoulis was confusing.
“It’s always been on a per event basis, which I think is a good system because you can’t assume that just because a group is a certain group, its events will be a certain way,” Olle said.
Jim Nicell, McGill’s Associate Vice-Principal (University Services), echoed Mendelson’s statement, reaffirming the University’s per event security policy.
“The message that was delivered was incorrect and did not represent in any way the position of this University in the way that we deal with events,” Nicell said.
Khaled Kteily, SPHR VP (Membership and Development) believed the three groups were singled out because of their pro-Palestinian stances on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“The only commonality that I can see here is that these [three] organizations are supportive of what is happening in Palestine,” Kteily said.
Massot saw a similar trend. “SPHR is pro-Palestinian, QPIRG does a lot of events that are [pro-Palestinian]…and we’re Muslim, so I guess we fall into that category as well,” she said.
Anna Malla, QPIRG’s internal coordinator, was upset but not particularly surprised upon reading the email.
“I know that we do get profiled to a certain degree, but the degree to which this is a situation of actual racial profiling of speakers really shocked me. They specifically have been flagging events that have Palestinian speakers,” Malla said.
Rebecca Dooley, VP (University Affairs) indicated that other groups have been profiled by the administration. Dooley described a “human tunnel” of security guards at the Senate meeting where the university’s research policy was discussed. The issue attracted students opposed to military research on campus. Dooley said the increased security presence was likely brought in to restrain these students.
“They weren’t violent, but it was just assumed that students with that sort of opinion were going to be aggressive, and violent, and disruptive,” Dooley said.
When security is required at events, the club must cover the additional costs.
Kteily said this was an unfair burden to place on clubs.
“If they are going to mandate additional security guards, the very least that could be done is that McGill cover these costs. Realistically, we are dealing with a budget that is in the thousands of dollars at best,” Kteily said.
Nicell stood by the University’s policy.
“At a certain point, if there’s no subsidies available for carrying out those events, it’s going to have to be carried by the group itself,” Nicell said.
For Olle, the initial email points to problems with the University’s policy that extend beyond the cost of security. Olle explained that since policies are developed by high-ranking administrators, the actual regulations are not always communicated effectively to the people who help clubs book events.
For instance, Olle also mentioned an email she received from an administrative assistant who referred to Choose Life as “Abortion McGill.”
Olle said she sees this as indicative of inadequate knowledge of clubs among lower-level administrators.
“The knowledge trickle-down about what’s happening gets very convoluted when it gets to those lower levels,” Olle said. “I hope that this does continue to push the University to come up with a more comprehensive, clear policy about events on campus…because I just think this is just another example to show that what they’re doing right now doesn’t work.”