Commentary  Bridging campus and community

How QPIRG connects McGill to Montreal at large, students to community

Last week, Activities Night was once again astonishingly busy and popular. Clearly, McGill students have no lack of enthusiasm for getting involved. Yet, getting involved at McGill often means further immersing oneself into the “McGill bubble.” Campus engagement tends to be bound both figuratively and literally by the surrounding gates, limiting students’ passions to the McGill community. Although McGill sits in the middle of Montreal, it often feels about a million miles away, both to students and the people who live around the university.

McGill’s international status makes it easy to feel isolated. Academics and students come from all over the world to study here and in turn a lot of things about McGill are cosmopolitan – they would be the same wherever the university was located. We’re rightly very proud of that, but there is also a need for balance. Attending university shouldn’t just be about classes and books, as the hundreds of people at Activities Night would agree. McGill is a public university expected to serve the community and the pursuit of knowledge, and the University’s prestige should serve to further these goals, not hinder them.

In an attempt to arm students with tools for social change, and to fight trends of McGill insularity and elitism, QPIRG (the Quebec Public Interest Research Group) was formed in 1980. In 1988, a student referendum made QPIRG-McGill the first autonomous student-funded PIRG in Quebec. QPIRG-McGill is part of a network of PIRGs across Canada dedicated to community engagement and activism under the mandate of social and environmental justice, building stronger links between universities and the communities and societies around them.

Over the years QPIRG-McGill has accomplished this by coordinating the Convergence undergraduate journal and the Study in Action conference, providing discretionary funding for small events and projects in Montreal, hosting Rad Frosh, and working with SSMU on lecture and workshop series like Culture Shock and Social Justice Days. As well, QPIRG supports around a dozen working groups in which students and community members work together, ranging from the very local, like the Committee to Save Parc Oxygène (you can find the park at Hutchison and Prince Arthur), to the global, like Climate Justice Montreal. Some groups are more academic, like the KANATA journal, and some focus on needs outside the University, like the Immigrant Workers’ Center. However, one of the criteria for any funding from QPIRG is that the group has not received much from larger donors, fostering a diversity of small activist groups that often go on to grow and become more independent. It is solidarity, not charity.

And yes, QPIRG is political. Being engaged means having an opinion about how things should be, and working with others to build it. QPIRG is dedicated to giving students and community members the tools of knowledge and information, community, resources, and support with which to enact change and fight for one’s passions, within and beyond the McGill gates.

Lily Hoffman, Holly Nazar, and Shyam Patel are writing on behalf of the QPIRG Board of Directors. You can reach QPIRG at qpirg@ssmu.mcgill.ca.