News | Postgrads discuss gym hours controversy

Board officially reports CFS disaffiliation referendum results

On March 11, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) held both its March Council meeting and its Annual General Meeting (AGM) for Winter 2015.

Women-only gym hours

The AGM included a general discussion of the proposal to institute women-only hours at the McGill fitness centre, as PGSS may want to take a stance on the issue in the future. Sebastien Forte, a PhD student in Economics, expressed emphatic disagreement, calling the idea “a step backward in terms of thinking about gender equality.”

“What’s going on here is that you have individuals that normally have access to the public space, and that’s taken away based on their gender,” said Forte.

“The [Canadian] Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that you can’t be discriminated [against] based on gender. The decision not to access the gym because there are men around – that’s a choice, whereas the decision not to access the gym because you are banned from it based on your gender is not a choice,” he added.

Stéphanie Bergeron, McGill Graduate Association of Political Science Studies representative, offered a different perspective. “I [think] some people feel they don’t have access to public space because of their gender or orientation, and that’s what we should focus on right now,” she said.

Postgraduate Philosophy Students of McGill University Association representative Frédérick Armstrong agreed, arguing that “a legitimate proposition […] should be phrased in terms not of withdrawing rights from people but allowing people to do things they wouldn’t […] be able to otherwise.”

“So if women and LGBTQ [people] feel threatened, feel uncomfortable, or feel they are in a male-dominated space,” said Armstrong, “they should have the right to voice their opinions, and they should be able to have whatever is given free to men, because they don’t have to deal with other things that LGBTQ [people] and women have to deal [with] constantly and daily.”

PGSS External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet concurred, stating, “One of the reasons why the gym is available is to make sure that the student population is healthy. Chunks of the student population cannot benefit from the gym because they feel it’s an uncomfortable environment, and I think dedicating a sliver of time [to them] is not too much to ask.”

Other speakers noted that precedents exist for this proposal, citing the fact that the McGill pool already has women-only hours every week, and several other universities across Canada and the U.S. have instituted similar policies in their fitness centres. One student in attendance noted, “If it’s really illegal, we should have heard something by now.”

Ultimately, no conclusion was reached, and it was decided that an online platform would be created for PGSS members to voice their opinions on the subject.

Post-grads discuss decision to leave CFS

During the AGM, the PGSS Board of Directors reported the results of the referendum held in January, during which over 95 per cent of participating members voted to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). They explained that while these results were certainly a positive development in PGSS’s ongoing struggle to end its CFS membership, the legal fees incurred during this process have been extremely high.

“We’ve got the amount that we paid to lawyers, and we’ve also got the very hefty amount of fees that we paid to the CFS under protest, in order to […] actually have this referendum and get the really awesome results that we did,” Financial Affairs Officer, Nikki Meadows, noted at the meeting.

Meadows said that she hopes to get back at least a portion of the fees in the future, and that currently PGSS is running a deficit. The ideal solution to this, according to Meadows, would be “to increase PGSS student fees for around five years.”

Meadows also reported on the ongoing lease negotiations between PGSS and McGill, explaining that the rent for Thomson House would be increasing incrementally, and that the administration had asked PGSS to assume part of the cost of the building’s utilities. PGSS’s building fees will be increased in order to help offset these new expenses.