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Student associations mobilize on behalf of McGill’s equity office

Permanent funding sought for SEDE

In the face looming campus-wide budget cuts, those who value equity at McGill are mobilizing to protect the equity office and its mandate, despite the office itself being involved in no advocacy on its behalf.

What is sought is a permanent, sound financial structure for the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office.

SEDE was founded in 2005 in response to a McGill initiative to foster more equity on campus. It has been involved in organizing a variety of programs, including, most recently, Homework-Zone, which recruits McGill students to mentor children in Montreal’s less privileged neighbourhoods.

While SEDE’s permanent budget comes from the McGill administration, this money is not enough to fund all of its programs and pay its entire staff. This means that it also relies on an amalgamation of other funding sources to make up the difference.

In the past, these other sources have included McGill’s Sustainability Office, McGill Student Services, and several external groups. This portion of SEDE’s budget is temporary, as it must renegotiate funding from these organizations each year.

SEDE office manager Veronica Amberg acknowledged in an email to The Daily that this perpetual need to renegotiate funding “does create certain challenges for long- term planning.”

Since the Parti Québécois cancelled the tuition hike proposed by the previous Liberal government – and then made additional cuts in university funding to the tune of $124 million – the McGill administration has been vocally distressed about balancing its budget.

As the University moves to cut costs, McGill community members committed to equity and diversity are battling to keep the SEDE office from going under the knife.

On January 14, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society’s (PGSS) Equity and Diversity Committee put forward a motion to “actively support permanent funding for SEDE from McGill by writing a letter…to Associate Provost Lydia White and Deputy Provost Morton Mendelson that acknowledges SEDE’s achievements and requests maintaining financial support for SEDE’s ongoing work.”

PGSS Council failed to pass the motion, but Equity Commissioner Gretchen King believes that it wasn’t for a lack of support for the SEDE office or its mandate.

“We drafted the motion because some of SEDE’s permanent funding had been cut, and we wanted to support the continued existence and institutionalization of SEDE, which is also a funding issue,” King said. “Unfortunately, the debate got sidetracked by a conversation about how the McGill budget should be run in general.”

At their General Assembly (GA) on March 20, PGSS’s Equity and Diversity Committee is hoping to pass another motion “that expresses support of SEDE, forgetting the budgetary issue,” said King.

In the wake of the PGSS motion’s failure, the SSMU GA on February 4 will also hear a motion in support of SEDE, albeit one that is a more general endorsement of the office without any discussion of its funding structure.

SSMU Equity Commissioners Shaina Agbayani and Justin Koh drafted the motion. Koh explained that the motion came out of a desire to show that students support SEDE and care about equity at McGill.

“In this time of financial austerity, a lot of organizations are worried about budget cuts,” he said. “Because of SSMU’s commitment to equity, we thought that it would be a good time to officially affirm our collaborations with SEDE, because we’ve been working together for a long time.”

Lydia White is the Associate Provost for Policies, Procedures and Equity, making her the liaison between SEDE and the McGill administration. According to White, the problem is that SEDE has an insufficient budget to begin with.

“It’s clear to me that to fulfill all its goals, SEDE needs more money. Under the current [financial] climate, it might be quite difficult, at least for a while, to increase what they have,” White said in a phone interview with The Daily. “They have some wonderful initiatives, and they do need more funding. It’s not so much cuts, as lack of increases, that I think would be the concern.”