The concept of an Equalities Resource Centre (ERC) on the third floor of the Student Union Building (SUB) came to fruition last year with an open letter signed by a handful of student groups, but that vision for the space could be replaced by a student health clinic.
On Friday, November 6 a few members of the UFV Pride Collective and UFV Feminist Initiative club met on the floor of U-House to discuss options for an action plan for the ERC, in light of an article published on November 4 in The Cascade.
The article, “SUS discusses possibility of student clinic on campus,” was about a proposal from local doctor Darin Cherniwchan for a student health clinic on campus. At the October Student Union Society (SUS) board meeting, the directors listened to the idea, posed questions, and discussed suggestions as to where the health clinic could go. One suggestion was to put it in a small set of rooms on the third floor of the SUB.
This is the same space that the UFV Pride Collective has been lobbying for since spring of 2014. President of the Feminist Initiative Kyle Stamm spearheaded an open letter campaign at that time to the university, saying that UFV needs a safe space on campus for marginalized students to go if they experience prejudice or discrimination, which could also function as a learning and resource centre to promote awareness about human rights and social issues. The idea passed through the SUS board of directors, and an “equalities committee” was formed, but the centre has not opened, though the SUB opened in April 2015.
At the October board meeting, SUS VP external Sukhi Brar said that because conceptually the ERC and a Peer Resource and Leadership Centre (PRLC) have similar features (both are services that respond to student need and refer them to more information and resources), it could be redundant to have both centres.
The first floor of the SUB houses the PRLC, comprised of an office space and reception area. It started operations at the end of October and is currently running on a $50,000 grant from Coast Capital Savings that can be renewed for up to three years. It is run by a staff member who oversees the centre, work-study students, and student volunteers. Volunteers undergo a five-day training session and two specialized monthly training sessions. The goal of the resource centre is to direct students to services and / or resources within UFV.
In its current framework, director of Student Life and Development Kyle Baillie stated that the PRLC could partner with other initiatives that cater to specific student needs —for example, workshops with UFV’s Positive Space campaign or peer counselling.
SUS president Thomas Davies later explains that even though the spaces of the PRLC and the ERC are different, their overall objectives would be similar.
“In particular, they [will] have particular designated trained staff on those items, which is something we couldn’t have even provided with our model. So the central premise of what we were envisioning as the ERC and what the board had approved as an ERC, that is where the overlap exists,” he says.
The idea of using the space initially considered for the ERC for a student health clinic instead was floated at the board meeting. A health clinic had been informally discussed at SUS in 2013, the same year the SUB broke ground, but there was no serious follow-up. Now, SUS has a proposal led by a medical professional who has written support from a few departments at UFV.
This has caused concern within the UFV Pride and the Feminist Initiative groups. Stamm says that the two student resource centres would not be as alike as they seem.
“If [the PRLC] were to expand to include a safe space, they can’t provide that with what’s actually available there,” he says. He noted that the large and open glass area in front of the centre as well as the small lounge in front of Student Life offices could make the area feel too open to discuss matters of a potentially sensitive nature.
The third-floor space experiences lower foot-traffic than the first, has no reception desk, and is completely enclosed with one public room and two office spaces.
According to the SUS press release in April 2015 that announced the dedicated space for the ERC, the original idea for the centre was to house resources in a public area, dedicate one office to members of the Pride Collective and Feminist Initiative who are volunteering to staff the centre, and one office for the equalities officer who, with the help of the equalities committee, would oversee the inclusion and mandate of the centre.
However, Brar says the equalities committee has had trouble meeting this semester — partially because the original equalities officer Sunny Kim (who is now the clubs and association officer) left the position. Brar says SUS is in the process of hiring for the position again, and that may contribute to the committee meeting more regularly.
“It hasn’t been decided by the committee,” she says. “There hasn’t been an official equalities [committee] meeting because that’s chaired by the equalities officer, who is yet to be hired.”
Many other universities have designated spaces for their LGBTQ communities. SFU’s Out on Campus, for example, has a lounge with couches, a small kitchen with a microwave and complimentary tea, and a resource library — most of which is run by student volunteers.
However, in light of the new health clinic proposal and the idea that students in crisis or facing discrimination can be directed to resources through the PRLC on the first floor, the handful of members from the Pride Collective and Feminist Initiative have discussed other options for acquiring a dedicated space.
In the end, they motioned to look into becoming a not-for-profit organization. This could potentially allow future students in the Pride Collective to find and negotiate space on campus with UFV and sign a memorandum of understanding with the university to use it.