SSMU AND QPIRG FACE BUD­GET CRI­SIS

Anti-racist ini­tia­tives at risk due to SSMU bud­get changes

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Nora Mccready and Inori Roy The Mcgill Daily

On Au­gust 16, Mcgill’s Union for Gen­der Em­pow­er­ment (UGE) pub­lished an open let­ter to the S tu­dents’ So­ci­ety of M cgill Univer­sity (SSMU), crit­i­ciz­ing SSMU for their use of “aus­ter­ity logic and lan­guage” in con­nec­tion with the po­ten­tial de­fund­ing of anti-r acist pro­grammes. The open let­ter , which w as co - signed by The Daily and other s tu­dent groups, ref­er­enced tw o spe­cific ini­tia­tiv es: Cul­tur e Shock and So­cial Jus­tice Days. While the let­ter al­leges that SSMU has defini­tiv ely de­cided to de­fund th­ese pr ogrammes, SSMU’S e xec­u­tive team r eleased a s tate­ment claim­ing that “no de­ci­sion has been made [...] to de­fund Cul­tur e Shock and So­cial Jus­tice Days.”

Cru­cial anti-racist pro­gram­ming

Cul­ture Shock and So­cial Jus­tice Days are event se­ries run by the Mcgill chap­ter of the Quebec Pub­lic In­ter­est Re­search Group (QPIRG), and co-funded by SSMU . While both have taken place an­nu­ally on cam­pus for the past 12 years, early ver­sions of Cul­ture Shock, orig­i­nally run by SSMU alone, were de­scribed as mis rep­re­sen­ta­tive of racial jus­tice. In 2006, QPIRG of­fered to jointly run the pro­gram, with a man­date to fo­cus on so­cial jus­tice is­sues. In re­cent years the event se­ries has fea­tured anti-racism work­shops, as well as key­note speak­ers like Oc­tavia’ s Blood edi­tor Wal­i­dah Imar is ha, and spo­ken word artist Joshua Allen, a prison abo­li­tion­ist and ac­tivist.

“Cul­ture Shock and So­cial Jus­tice Days are all about cen­ter­ing the s tories and ex­pe­ri­ences of marginal­ized folks ,” says De­lali Egy­ima, who has at­tended and vol­un­teered at the events in the past .“At the end of each event se­ries, I was al­ways left with the feel­ing that there’ s so much more learn­ing to be done. What I love most about th­ese event se­ries is know­ing that the folks fa­cil­i­tat­ing or giv­ing talks ar e be­ing paid for shar­ing knowl­edge that they are usu­ally forced to share for free. Know­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion like SSMU sees the im­por­tance of cre­at­ing dif­fer­ent a venues for the con­tin­u­ous sup­port of marginal­ized folks at McGill and in Mon­treal speaks vol­umes about their com­mit­ment to eq­uity.”

The threat of fund­ing cuts

Un­til re­cently, Cul­ture Shock and So­cial Jus­tice Days have been the only avail­able anti-racist pro­gram­ming on cam­pus funded by SSMU. This so­cial role has been threat­ened over the last sev­eral years due to fund­ing cuts. Un­til now, SSMU has sup­ported the pro­gram­ming on three fronts: pro­vid­ing mon­e­tary fund­ing, co-hir­ing staff, and of­fer­ing free space in which to hold e vents. The let­ter pub­lished by the UGE stated that as of 2015 , mon­e­tary fund­ing had been r educed from its ini­tial $ 10,000 to $ 2,040. In a sub­se­quent in­ter­view with The Daily, a QPIRG rep­re­sen­ta­tive stated that “the abil­ity for QPIRG to book r ooms in SSMU for the event se­ries might be taken away as well as the fund­ing.”

In essence , se ve­ral QPIRG boar d mem­bers ex­pressed con­cern to The D aily that the with­drawal of part of SSMU’ s sup­port could se­verely r educe the scale and po­ten­tial of Cul­ture Shock and S ocial Jus­tice Days. They feared that to lose all thr ee el­e­ments of that sup­port - fund­ing, staff, and space - w ould ef­fec­tively end the pro­gram­ming.

SSMU’S side of the story

In re­sponse to the U GE’S open let­ter, SS - MU’S ex­ec­u­tive team is­sued a state­ment to The Daily. In it, the ex­ec­u­tives ar­gued that, all things con­sid­ered, SSMU cur­rently pro­vides QPIRG with an ex­cep­tional level of fi­nan­cial and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port.

“In the 2016/2017 school year ,” ex­plained th es­tate­ment, “QPIRGw as given $2040 from the SSMU Op­er­at­ing Bud­get, [...]$1500 in ad­di­tional fund­ing for Cul­ture Shock, $1182 and ad­di­tional HR sup­ports for the hir­ing and sup­port of a Pop­u­lar Ed­u­ca­tion Co­or­di­na­tor for Cul­ture Shock and So­cial Jus­tice Days .”

The ex­ec­u­tives’ state­ment also men­tioned the fund­ing SSMU pro­vides for QPIRG’S Rad Frosh, and claimed that over­all they of­fer“more sup­ports than pro­vided to any other stu­dent group on cam­pus and with a sys­tem that is out­side the norm of that we of­fer other groups on cam­pus, mak­ing our re­la­tion­ship with QPIRG an out­lier in our stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures.”

Where should fund­ing come from?

QPIRG cur­rently re­ceives fund­ing both from SSMU’ s oper at­ing bud­get and fr om the SSMU F und­ing Pr ogramme, the lat­ter of which is fi­nanced through nine dif­fer­ent stu­dent fees . I t seems that SSMU is ur ging QPIRG to , ins tead, ap­ply for all their fund­ing for th­ese e vent se­ries thr ough the Fund­ing Pro­gramme.

QPIRG, how­ever, doesn ’t feel that this is an ad­e­quate so­lu­tion to bud­getary con­straints.

“Ap­ply­ing through the Fund­ing Pro­gramme is a very un­sta­ble model of fund­ing ,” aQPIRG rep­re­sen­ta­tive told The Daily, “as QPIRG would have to in­cur ex­penses with no guar­an­tee of what amount of fund­ing we would re­ceive. All of th­ese con­cerns were ex­pressed by QPIRG in our meet­ings with SSMU.”

The SSMU ex­ec­u­tives’ state­ment con­tin­ues as fol­lows: “We have also highly rec­om­mended that [QPIRG] in­crease their stu­dent fee if they do not feel it is suf­fi­cient to cover their op­er­a­tions and pro­gram­ming, and the SSMU would be happy to help sup­port this cam­paign.”

In rep on se, Q PI R Gs taff mem­bers told The Daily that to raise their stu­dent fee would go against the man­dates of both Cul­ture Shock and So­cial Jus­tice Days, which are in­tended to be col­lab­o­ra­tions with SSMU. Cru­cial ly, they ar­gued, it would also rep­re­sent ana qui­es­cence to the very same aus­ter­ity logic that QPIRG , as an or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to eq­uity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity, firmly op­poses.

Seek­ing com­mon ground

The fu­ture of Cul­ture Shock and So­cial Jus­tice Days is ten­u­ous and it’ s un­clear when a fi­nal de­ci­sion will be made . For their part, SSMU’S ex­ec­u­tive team has de­clined to com­ment fur­ther on this is­sue since re­leas­ing their ini­tial state­ment.

De­spite the ten­sion be­tween SSMU and QPIRG, how­ever, both have ex­pressed hope for up­com­ing dis­cus­sions, and reaf­firmed their com­mit­ment to anti- op­pres­sive and anti-aus­ter­ity ideals.

“We have to find solutions to‘ keep the lights on’ within th­ese [bud­getary] con­straints, es­pe­cially when ef­forts to in­crease our re­source pool( such as the SSMU Base fee) are un­suc­cess­ful ,” said the SSMU ex­ec­u­tive team in their state­ment .“While we would like to work to­wards find­ing the bes t pos­si­ble so­lu­tion, we need to be able to reach an agree­ment that works with the ac­tual ca­pac­i­ties of all par­ties in­volved. As marginal­ized peo­ple on this cam­pus who are ded­i­cated to the same is­sues, [...] we must work to­gether to find solutions to as­sist one an­other.”

The QPIRG board and staff ex­pressed sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments, writ­ing in a state­ment to The Daily, “We know that th­ese SSMU [ex­ec­u­tives] care about so­cial jus­tice pro­gram­ming and mak­ing changes at M cgill. So it’ s re­ally sad that this is hap­pen­ing and we re­ally don’t want to be fight­ing them! [...] We’d love to work with them on [th­ese pro­grammes].”

“What I love most about th­ese event se­ries is know­ing that the folks fa­cil­i­tat­ing or giv­ing talks are be­ing paid for shar­ing knowl­edge that they’re usu­ally forced to share for free.” —De­lali Egy­ima Pro­gramme Vol­un­teer

“We have also highly rec­om­mended that [QPIRG] in­crease their stu­dent fee if they do not feel it is suf­fi­cient to cover their op­er­a­tions and pro­gram­ming.” —State­ment from SSMU ex­ec­u­tives

Laura bren­nan | The Mcgill Daily

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