It wasn’t too long ago that SSMU President Zach Newburgh, who ran on a campaign of essentially depoliticizing the student union (thus… attempting to render VP External completely useless?), led a crowd of boisterous undergraduates through campus demanding the “saving” of the ever in-perennial-existential-crisis Architecture Café. The closure of the Architecture Café, it was argued by those who vehemently opposed the McGill administration’s actions (resonant of a similar attempt just a few years back), was an indication of the growing marginalization of student life on campus, by first and foremost limiting the physical space available to and controlled by students themselves.
Yet the very elected representative who is at the head of the student body that has pledged support to expand and work on issues relating to student space is now attempting to limit student space on campus by bringing about a referendum question that seeks to completely weaken, near-well abolish, the General Assembly (GA) – the only open-democratic forum we have on campus through which the opinions of everyday students can be expressed equally and without marginalization from any colloquial “Man.”
I entered McGill six years ago, in 2005. Heavily interested in the student political scene, I immediately sought out ways to get involved. It was only in the following year, the 2006-2007 academic year, that the first GA took place. We discussed pretty damn controversial issues that year, including the now-infamous, but unfortunately forgotten-by-many, Héma-Quebec Blood Drive issue, an invasively divisive issue easily traceable in The McGill Daily archives. There were always problems of quorum and decorum, idiotic motions, and questionable intentions. Yet despite this, the GA provided a forum in which any student was allowed to come and participate actively, to the extent to which they were interested, in a discourse that affected them directly or perhaps indirectly, or maybe not at all in any capacity. Students were allowed an open space, allowed to create their own boundaries within this space, and control the rules. The GA, in essence, promotes precisely what so many of us learn on a theoretical level in our classes: an actualization of our ideas, knowledge, and ability.
The GA is a student-run space for all students. There are problems, yes, but many of these can be fixed in the most simplest of measures. There needs to be better advertisement: when undergrads come to McGill, make sure it’s one of the first things mentioned to them during the Orientation tour, by the newly elected SSMU executive; poster the call for motions and, for god’s sake, advertise the actual GA at least three weeks in advance. And Facebook should not be the only medium for marketing dissemination – campus publications should also get in on that action. Listen, Daily, if you could rally for student space in the form of the Architecture Café, do more for the GA.
And please, no more excuses about the GA not being representative of the student body – SSMU is? What’s the percentage required for quorum at a GA? And what was the percentage of voter turnout for the last election? Apparently issues of representation only become relevant when things get a little too heated for other groups of students, apparently more representative of all students than any other group.
Aside from virtually ridding students of the one open public forum they do have, Newburgh’s motion also takes out SSMU from striking next year alongside other Quebe universities’ student unions against tuition hikes. Thus, not only is the motion limiting student space to engage with campus politics, it is further limiting SSMU’s space in the broader realm of student politics. And why? Because some people can’t handle the words “Occupied Palestinian Territories” or “No Pants Fridays?”
The ever-demonized McGill administration is not the only institution limiting student space on campus; Zach Newburgh’s motion to “reform” the General Assembly ultimately is no different from actions taken by the administration – for whatever reason – to cramp space available for students to call their own. And it is also a form of censorship, an issue too many are afraid to discuss in public, but is acknowledged most voraciously by those well acquainted with the impetus behind the motion. The recent suspension of Midnight Kitchen should alert us to how precious and vulnerable the space that we can actually call our own, as students, actually is.
Save the GA, or else students three years from now are just going to put forward another referendum question to bring about a democratic public forum for student discourse on issues relevant to campus life and operations.
Vicious circles are for bicycles anyway.
Sana Saeed is a former Daily columnist, is currently a member of the DPS Board of Directors, and is in her final year of a Masters in Islamic Studies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.