After years of protests, campaigns, and consultation, a student-run café was finally opened on the third floor of the SSMU building, in the space previously occupied by Lola Rosa Xpress.
When the last student-run space on campus, the Architecture Café, was closed by the administration in 2010 due to unsubstantiated claims of “financial instability,” hundreds of students protested. For the next three years, SSMU took sporadic steps toward the opening of a new space. The 2011-12 SSMU executive set aside $200,000 for the café, and in 2012, a case competition was held to design a space.
In 2013, the then-SSMU executive held a “space campaign” to gather feedback on the use of student space. One suggestion was to use the room vacated by Travel CUTS/Campus Voyages for a student-run cafe. In the end, nothing came of either the case competition or the space campaign. Lease negotiations between SSMU and McGill have also complicated the matter by creating financial uncertainty.
An ideal student-run café would offer a non-corporate venue for student events that could circumvent typically limiting bureaucratic processes, and provide an accessible physical space that promotes community. The current café does not truly serve the purpose of a student space, it amounts to little more than a lunch counter, with seating in the second floor cafeteria shared by both Bocadillo and Bamboo Bowl.
Ostensibly, another advantage of a student café would be the opportunity for more affordable on-campus food. The food at the new café incorporates vegetarian and vegan entrées, but the prices are similar to other offerings on campus. This, along with its limited operating hours, fails to set the student-run café apart from other similar establishments on campus.
The current student-run café is not a viable alternative to a café with dedicated student space. Although SSMU executives and employees have promised that steps will be taken to create a real student space in the future, the slow and uncertain progress over the past three years suggests otherwise. This compromised space only kills momentum for the space that students deserve.
Student spaces at McGill are imperative in the midst of encroaching corporate interests. For an institution that claims to exist primarily for the benefit of its students, the University has been strangely dismissive of voices calling for a space that could facilitate conversation and organization in the student body. The current iteration of the student café is a first step, but doesn’t do nearly enough as a space for student expression and collaboration. Students must not be complacent and allow it to be the last step.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board