SFPIRG is at risk of losing space at SFU, and we need your help! Please sign our petition, and read on below for how else you can help support our call for space at SFU!
This page contains background information about the situation that we find ourselves in, an explanation of what we hope will happen and how you can help, and some ‘talking points’ to help you draft letters of support.
We ask SFU to support SFPIRG by doing the following:
- Lease appropriate space in the MBC directly to SFPIRG, near the Graduate Student Society; as an example, space like the office space in MBC 2234 (currently the SFSS Resource/Administration Office) could be adapted to suit the needs of the organization.
Background information for SFPIRG supporters
The Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) currently resides in TC 326, a lounge and office space in the Rotunda at SFU Burnaby. This space is leased to SFPIRG by the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), through a Sublease. The space the SFSS occupies in the Rotunda is leased to them by SFU, through a Head Lease. The Head Lease for all of the SFSS’s space in the Rotunda has no set expiry date, extending automatically until the new Student Union Building (SUB) opens and the SFSS moves into its new offices. The Sublease for SFPIRG’s space in the Rotunda expires on December 14th, 2018, with no possibility of extension.
In September 2017, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) put out a call for expressions of interest for the organizational suites available in the SUB. As one of the independent student societies that had participated in SUB consultations since the project’s inception in 2012, and as a student society interested in continuing to collaborate on the SFU student experience in the SUB, SFPIRG participated in this expression of interest process and submitted an application.
During a November 14th meeting, SFPIRG was told we had been denied organizational space in the forthcoming SUB, and was asked whether we would be interested in occupying existing SFSS space in the Maggie Benston Centre (MBC), specifically Forum Chambers, or the Undergrounds.
In January 2018, SFPIRG formally replied to this offer of space stating that the organization was indeed interested, but that SFPIRG moving into one of the suggested spaces could only happen under certain circumstances. Note that we were not thinking of these so much as ‘conditions’ in the sense of being ‘demands’ in a negotiation, but rather a recognition of real prerequisites that would need to be in place before SFPIRG could actually accept one of the spaces:
- that the space be accessible to all students, including students with disabilities – given our commitment to disability justice and accessibility for all members, and given legal obligations not to discriminate against students with disabilities, this is a core space need for SFPIRG.
- that the space meet operational needs – for a space to work it needs to be able to actually hold our permanent staff, workstudy students and volunteers, filing cabinets, etc…
- that any necessary renovations to make these SFSS-controlled spaces be accessible to all students, including students with disabilities, be funded by the Student Society Building Fund / Capital Levy (also known as the Space Expansion Fund) and the Accessibility Fund, SFSS funds that undergraduate students already pay into semesterly for the express purpose of covering the costs of needed renovations to SFSS-controlled space. SFPIRG does not have the money to cover this, and the SFSS does – asking us to cover costs when we simply do not have the funds is prohibitive – it is the same thing as denying us space.
- that no rent be charged on the space beyond the symbolic $1/year rent and standard operating costs, as calculated by SFU per square foot – equivalent to what SFU charges the SFSS for its space. Again, SFPIRG does not have the funds to pay rent and to demand it effectively nullifies the offer of space. Moreover, the SFSS should not seek to profit off of other student funded organizations – this ultimately does students a profound disservice.
- and that all three independent student societies currently under threat of displacement (Embark, CJSF 90.1FM and SFPIRG) receive long-term and sustainable homes on campus, whether through the SFSS or SFU.
The SFSS said that they were unable to meet these conditions, and stated that, given the language in SFPIRG’s letter, they understood SFPIRG to have rejected the offer.
When SFPIRG requested information about which of the conditions the SFSS felt it could not meet, and received the following response:
In response to your January 23, 2018 e-mail message, we confirm that we are not able to meet the following condition:
That all three independent student societies currently under threat of displacement (including Embark, CJSF, and SFPIRG) receive long-term and sustainable homes on campus, either through the SFSS or SFU.
We also have significant concerns with a number of the other conditions that you listed in your January 5th, 2018 letter. Given, however, that you communicated that all of your conditions needed to be met and we given that we clearly cannot meet this particular requirement, we do not feel it would be useful to enumerate our other concerns.
The circumstances outlined by SFPIRG were, with one exception, simply a statement of practical reality – if these are not in place, SFPIRG literally cannot use one of these spaces. The statement that we would also need all three independent student societies to have housing before accepting a space was one grounded in principle – we do not want to “climb over the bodies” of other at-risk organizations. That’s not who we are.
SFPIRG had hoped that the SFSS would be prepared to discuss the circumstances outlined in SFPIRG’s expression of interest in alternative space, but instead they chose to interpret the fact that SFPIRG has real concerns and needs as us rejecting the ‘offer.’ We would note that, even if the SFSS remained determined not to open up space in the SUB, it could nonetheless commit to working with the three societies under threat of displacement to try to find solutions – for example by advocating with the University on our behalf.
Because it has become clear that the SFSS will not lease space to SFPIRG, we are asking SFU to lease space directly to SFPIRG. With their move into the forthcoming SUB, the SFSS will be vacating their offices in the Maggie Benston Centre (MBC). Office space like that in MBC 2234 (currently the SFSS Resource / Administration Office) would meet SFPIRG’s operational needs. We anticipate that SFU will be resistant to this suggestion, as a major concern from SFU has been their own lack of office space – this is why we need your voice!
Help us get SFU to sit down at the table, and to lease space to us directly, so that SFPIRG can continue our important work on campus!
For a more detailed background of the issue of SFPIRG, space, and the SUB, please visit: https://sfpirg.ca/sfpirgs-response-sfss-board-directors-space-offer/
How you can help!
Your own story is the best story! We want SFU to hear from YOU about why you need SFPIRG to stay on campus! Here are some tips for writing your story.
You can write a statement about your positive experiences at SFPIRG, showing the university why this centre deserves to stay on campus! We suggest that testimonies speak specifically to the ways in which your social, academic and professional pursuits have been enhanced through the services you accessed from SFPIRG. Name dropping highly encouraged! Here is a sample on which you can model your own response.
With your permission, your write-up will be published on social media, SFPIRG’s website, in appeal letters to the university, and as printed posters that will be shared around campus. Please send your story to SFPIRG, and include a photo with your write-up (headshot, clearly visible face, no political language/symbology please) that can be used as part of this campaign!
Whether you write your own story, use some of the talking points below, or a combination of both, please be sure to include the “Ask” at the top of this page! This is the specific thing SFPIRG is asking for from SFU, which SFU absolutely has the power to do. We need your help convincing them to do so!
If sharing your story or this post on social media, please include these hashtags:
Below, we have provided many talking points about SFPIRG, the need for space, and SFPIRG’s programs and services. Feel free to use the ones that mean the most to you!
Please send your letter to:
- Andrew Petter
SFU President & Vice-Chancellor
- Peter Keller
SFU Vice-President, Academic and Provost
- Wade Parkhouse
SFU Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Academic
- Martin Pochurko
SFU Vice-President Finance & Administration
- Tim Rahilly
SFU Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President, Students & International
- Nancy Johnston
SFU Vice-Provost Students and International, Pro Tem
- Erin Biddlecombe
SFU Director of Operations, Planning, and Projects
- SFPIRG Space Campaign
Talking Points – About SFPIRG
- SFPIRG’s mission is to engage students and community in social and environmental justice. All students at SFU, both undergraduate and graduate, are members of SFPIRG – and have been since 1981! Areas of work include education, action, research, and community-building. SFPIRG brings together a diverse range of people and their work is all centred on a shared set of values. This includes a commitment to inclusive and accessible space, intersectional anti-oppression, decolonization and Indigenous sovereignties; self-representation, self-determination, and empowering student and community leadership; accountability, integrity, wholeness and healing; sustainability; and respectful communication.
- SFPIRG is a place for students to explore their values, and to learn that they can impact their communities for the better, both on and off campus. They are a visible presence of passionate and engaged community, which in turn energizes and encourages other students to become involved, whether it be with SFPIRG, with the Graduate Student Society, with Out on Campus or the Women’s Centre, in clubs and DSUs, with The Peak or CJSF Radio, or with any other student group on campus.
- Ultimately, a thread that runs through all the work at SFPIRG is advocating for a more just and inclusive world; one which prioritizes everyone’s wellness, access, and participation.
Talking Points – About Space
- As an independent student society that has been active at SFU for the past thirty-seven years, it is essential to SFPIRG’s work that they be accessible and responsive to students, and that students are able to find them in one of the hubs of student activity at SFU. With space on campus, such as in the MBC, they will not only be able to engage the general student population, they’ll also be more able to engage and collaborate with fellow student groups doing important work on campus, including the Graduate Student Society. They have a long history of working with other student groups. They have worked with the other independent student societies, including CJSF 90.1 FM, Embark, and The Peak. At the SFSS, they’ve worked with the Board of Directors, the Women’s Centre, Out on Campus, the First Nations Student Association, and, through the Student Union Resource Office, they have offered training and support to various clubs and student unions. From years of experience in the Rotunda, it’s clear that the potential for collaboration grows exponentially with physical proximity to other organizations.
- With space on campus, such as in the MBC, SFPIRG would be well situated to continue as a hub for student collaboration, student leadership, and community building; in their history, they have been a gathering point and launching pad for other groups on campus. For example, LGBTQ+ students on campus formed an SFPIRG Action Group in the 1990s which successfully advocated and lobbied for an inclusive physical space for LGBTQ+ community; this resulted in Out on Campus being established in its current space in the Transportation Centre. Similarly, Embark originated from student advocacy and organizing as an Action Group at SFPIRG, growing and eventually separating to become an independent student society.
- If SFPIRG loses its space and is forced to relocate elsewhere, the SFU community risks losing one of the few hubs where students can come together to engage with social justice issues and explore alternatives to the status quo, as learners and also as leaders. SFPIRG is a place where students who are facing social barriers here at SFU can find emotional and practical support that is grounded in an awareness that social injustice is a real thing. They regularly hear from students that SFPIRG is one of the only places on campus they feel safe talking about their experiences of injustice. Students need more than simply space – they need a wide array of programming and support. SFPIRG is one organization meeting part of that need.
Talking Points – About Programs, Services, and Supports
- SFPIRG improves the academic conditions of students in a number of ways. They support student research by maintaining an extensive resource library that gives students access to diverse research materials they may not be able to find in the SFU libraries. Their library shares an online catalogue with the Women’s Centre and Out on Campus. They also work directly with student researchers, offering support and mentorship for students who wish to enhance their academic and project work through using an intersectional approach to the issues they are exploring. SFPIRG also supports undergraduate students’ academic lives by working with SFU instructors and Teaching Assistants on inclusive program development for a diverse student body.
- One of their programs, Letters for the Inside (LFTI), is a volunteer-driven research program that provides an opportunity for students to put their research skills to use in the real world. Prisoners from across the continent write in with research requests, and LFTI volunteers conduct the appropriate research and send the prisoners their findings. The goals of the program are: to educate SFU students, in an informal way, of some of the challenges faced by inmates; to battle the stigma associated with offenders and the criminal justice system; to provide information important for reintegration into the community; to provide information to inmates that feeds their imagination, thus improving the quality of life on the inside; and to develop relationships between those serving time and the wider community.
- SFPIRG is a space where people from diverse backgrounds can find community, and where they can clarify their values, and practice being active, ethical, engaged members of the broader community. Students who feel strongly about social and environmental justice can sometimes feel alienated on campus – SFPIRG provides a space where they can find other people who share their interests and values. Students have a number of ways to get involved. They can start or join an Action Group (student-led groups that work on a social or environmental justice issue of their choosing), or they can run for the SFPIRG Board and become a part of the governing body of the organization. Students can hone their research skills while doing good for others by volunteering with Letters for the Inside, a program that promotes access to information for incarcerated people, while encouraging students to engage critically with the justice system.
- Students also come to SFPIRG for support and connection in order to run reading and discussion groups, put on film series, and develop workshops. By coming together to learn about and take action on issues that are important to them and their communities, students develop vital skills such as collaboration, working compassionately and respectfully with others, project planning, and advocacy.
- SFPIRG supports students as socially responsible communities members through collaboration with SFU Student Engagement in their work to support students’ social, academic and professional development. For example, they have offered consulting and workshop facilitation for SFU’s leadership program, Passport to Leadership. This year, they are also working with a group of students involved with the Peer Educator program and Embark, who seek to promote the use of reusable coffee tumblers on campus.
- SFPIRG supports the financial conditions of students in several practical ways. They are a referring Community Resource Partner with Quest Food Exchange, a program that runs not-for-profit grocery markets, allowing low-income people to shop with dignity for food at significantly reduced cost; their referrals give students access to locations across Metro Vancouver. SFPIRG also offers multiple Work-Study positions through the SFU Financial Aid program; this allows students who care about social and environmental justice to support SFPIRG’s programs, explore their values, and follow their passions, at the same time as they earn money to cover their academic and living expenses. Students who have been involved with SFPIRG, whether as volunteers, Board members or Work-Study staff, receive valuable experience and opportunities for personal and professional development. They regularly provide references for these students in their applications for career opportunities, Co-op positions, leadership programs, cohort programs, and academic and educational programs. In addition to providing references, they mentor and support our students through resume writing and job interview processes.
- SFPIRG offers programming and education directly related to the health and wellbeing of students; they’ve provided programming on many health and wellbeing related issues, including healing from trauma, sexual health, ending sexual violence, and promoting health and sustainable activity through cycling. They also advise, support, and resource students, some whom are already involved at SFPIRG and many who drop in, who have experienced discrimination and violence.
- SFPIRG has also supported students’ health and wellbeing by offering practical training and education to other student groups and organizations on campus who are serving student needs. They have supported SFU Health Peers (part of SFU Student Engagement’s Peer Educators program) with training on recognizing and challenging bias and stigma in health-related settings and discourse. They have also offered Peer Support Skills training for service providers, including Out on Campus.
- They are an organization that values inclusivity; therefore, they value accessibility. They understand accessibility to be essential to health and wellness for many people, and they also understand it to have many facets – wheelchair and scooter access, but also needs for ASL, large print resources, childcare and transit subsidies, and more. They have staff who are well-trained in disability justice issues, and as an organization they have worked with the Radical Access Mapping Project (RAMP), a community organization that performs accessibility audits, to better understand what it takes to make a space or an event more accessible. They happily share the knowledge they have by offering workshops and training to other groups, and the community at large. In the Summer of 2014, they were happy to work with the SFSS Board and volunteers, providing a workshop on accessible concert organizing.