The 10-week-old lockout and effective closure of Simon Fraser University’s Out on Campus and Women’s Centre is unfairly targeting queer and trans students, locked-out employees and student volunteers say.
The Simon Fraser Student Society [SFSS] board voted unanimously on July 6 to lock out its unionized office staff, affecting 15 full-time and five student members, including those who operate the Women’s Centre and Out on Campus.
Craig Pavelich, the replacement Out on Campus volunteer and office coordinator, says the lockout hurts students who may not have other places to go. “It’s depriving students of fair access to space where they can feel safe. It’s really felt like home for a lot of people. [The lockout has] deprived them of that community space.”
Out on Campus provides lounge space and a resource library and serves as a place to socialize, organize and educate. It defines itself as a safe space for queer students, faculty, staff and their allies.
Third-year molecular biology and biochemistry student Alice Jourmel says that Out on Campus has been a pivotal part of her university experience and that it was one of the reasons she chose to attend SFU.
“I hope that it’s open again as soon as possible because it’s an absolutely vital resource to so many students here, and they deserve it,” says Jourmel.
Coordinator Nadine Chambers says the Women’s Centre is another critical resource on campus for many students. She explains that it is often the place where students come to ask questions about gender or sexuality before they’re ready to visit Out on Campus.
“The signs of a progressive and supportive university are spaces like these,” says Chambers.
She says that even if the lockout were to end tomorrow, the damage to often-marginalized student groups is not something that will be easily reversed. “[The board] need[s] to use the rest of their term to turn back this damage that they’ve done in this useless and pointless attack on these services,” says Chambers.
SFSS president Jeff McCann says the society is broke and the cuts need to be made for the sake of all students.
“It’s kind of interesting when people say, ‘End the lockout because those services aren’t being provided,’” says McCann. “Yes, right now and for the last 10 weeks those services aren’t being provided, but every single year the budget cuts are reducing programming by 40 percent, year after year after year.”
He says that unless the union makes concessions, other cuts will have to be made.
“We need to be able to find that balance,” says McCann. “Otherwise we’re not going to have an Out on Campus. We’re not going to be able to afford it. We’re not going to be able to afford anything that we do.”
Chambers says the board is making a false argument.
“The union has spent a considerable amount of time doing comparisons to other student unions and doing a really sound five-year financial plan,” says Chambers.
“I think that it is a lack of will and interest on the part of this current board to actually seriously entertain that, because it’s very clear that these services don’t matter to them,” she claims.