On February 8, one day into the “surprise resignation party” of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson, a Facebook event was created titled“The James 6th Floor occupiers do NOT represent me.” The number of attendees has been rising since its creation. At press time, the event has 1,802 students attending.
The event description states that event organizers are “looking to create a new campus group dedicated to creating positive change for McGill without the use of confrontational tactics.” A letter, written collaboratively and addressed to the McGill administration and SSMU, condemns and disassociates from an “occupying minority” citing the ongoing occupation of James Administration building and last week’s AUS General Assembly. At press time, 294 students had signed the letter.
The McGill Daily spoke with two of the four students who created the event: Diego Zuluaga Laguna and Beni Broniscer Fisch.
The McGill Daily: Why did you create this event, and how do you feel about the reaction it has had on Facebook?
Beni Broniscer Fisch: In just over a day we’ve had almost [1,800] people, so it’s absolutely incredible, and it’s been really amazing because people have been posting on the event page coming up with all sort of different ideas to affect positive change on campus – taking our message as a starting point and coming up with their own ideas of how we can make a better campus, so that was incredible. The whole idea behind the event was that, since November, we’ve had a really small group of students who are very vocal, and very activist, who’ve been monopolizing the political discourse at the expense of the vast majority of students who don’t necessarily come out to the GAs [General Assemblies] or don’t necessarily make their voices heard to the same extent, but are not satisfied with what’s going on. They do not agree with the occupation of the James Administration building, they do not agree with the radical tactics that have been employed, and we want to wake up the silent majority so that these people can have their say as well.
Diego Zuluaga Laguna: The idea was very spontaneous… The occupation of the James building was the last straw for us; it was the last sign that really told us we had to mobilize.
BF: [The students on the sixth floor of the James building] gave an interview on CKUT today claiming that they never claimed to represent all the student body, and I think, to some extent, they have a point… We never intended it to mean that the sixth floor occupiers claim to represent the entire student body, but they are the most vocal. Just seeing what was happening over the past few months, it seems as if they speak on behalf of all the student body even if they don’t claim to do so. It’s the lack of another voice, a more moderate voice that we believe that a majority of students share on campus, and that was the whole purpose behind the creation of the event – to allow these people who do not agree with these tactics to show that they don’t agree.
ZL: I would put it as there are two fronts that we want to address, and they’re both related to apathy. We want to make political discourse moderate enough or open enough so that everyone can voice their opinions without fear, or without the fear of being belittled or dismissed by another group of people. We [also] want to try to persuade people that what happens on campus right now, in terms of what is decided at the GAs, is really going to influence them. I have this feeling that a lot of people, like I said, they feel like, ‘It’s not going to change anything for me,’ but it is. It is going to change stuff for you and it’s going to change stuff for the people who come after us, and we want them to realize that and to engage themselves more.
MD: Are there some concrete actions that you’re hoping will come out of this group to get people more engaged?
ZL: The reality was that the event was so spontaneous that we didn’t really put forward any measures a priori, but, then, as people started joining the event and commenting on it they were actually starting to propose things.
BF: This event is only the beginning… We are going to put out some concrete measures in the coming days addressing the issues or the dysfunctional nature of the GAs, how [we] can reform GAs to better reflect the student body, and promote a more moderate discourse on campus where all students can feel welcome to have their input and not feel like they’re overwhelmed by a small minority of very vocal students.
MD: Do you have other project ideas? For instance, the letter calls McGill’s current methods of student engagement and consultation “insufficient.” Are there other issues that you are looking to address besides GA reform?
ZL: We are thinking about starting a group that will address these issues on a more sustained and permanent basis. What we’re looking for first is to create the group, then have a constructive discussion of what we are going to promote… For concrete reforms, we have so far very few because we are only beginning the group right now.
BF: Right now we are a small number of students who are trying to jump start this process, but we want to get input from all sorts of people… We may be the initiators of this process but it’s really supposed to be something inclusive that represents the whole student body.
– Compiled by Erin Hudson