The Complicated Relationship Between the KSA and KPIRG
Features / March 21, 2017
A tale of two student organisations
Joseph Keller, Web Editor
The two major student societies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University have a complicated relationship. Kwantlen Student Association President Alex McGowan says that the KSA has always been open and receptive to working with the Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group. However, staff and students close to KPIRG have found the group’s communications with the KSA to be “cordial,” but add that the Association has been largely unresponsive to KPIRG’s attempts to organise cooperative efforts between the two student societies.
“It’s obvious that there’s some tension between the two organisations. I don’t know where it stems from,” says KPIRG Founder and Administrative and Resource Coordinator Richard Hosein.
Kim McMartin is a KPIRG board member who was recently re-elected as the KSA’s constituency representative for students with disabilities. As part of her bid for council, she pledged to encourage greater collaboration between the two organisations. She believes that both groups are better when working together.
“We [at KPIRG] have been inviting the KSA to our events, to collaborate and communicate, and we have gone to them to be involved,” says McMartin. “We want to better support students and work together for them to feel safe and comfortable on campus while expressing their interests and things that they feel passionate about. That’s a goal that I think both groups can get behind.”
Hosein says the the KSA has been largely unresponsive to KPIRG’s attempts to collaborate. KPIRG members have reached out to the KSA in the past to try and include themselves in some of its initiatives, and have invited the KSA to participate in KPIRG’s plans. In most cases, he says, these attempts have been met with soft responses, non-answers, or silence. As a result, KSA involvement in KPIRG has been limited, and vice versa.
“Any time I’ve personally asked anyone at the KSA about supporting KPIRG in getting space or working in collaboration, I’ve mostly been met with no concrete responses,” says Hosein. “To me, that doesn’t seem like a very open communication stream.”
McGowan disagrees with the notion that there is an issue with receptiveness on the KSA’s end.
“I think that the KSA is always super open to collaboration with anyone, particularly KPIRG. We’ve always been keen to approach them with opportunities to work together and we’re always willing to meet with them when they want to talk about working together,” he says.
The somewhat chilly relations between the two organisations go back nearly as far as KPIRG’s founding, and span multiple generations of the KSA Council. Since those days, KPIRG’s push for office space on campus has been a constant source of contention.
Back in 2014—when KPIRG was still operating out of the Pride space in the Surrey campus’ Spruce building—KPIRG was, according to Hosein and McMartin, told informally by KSA council members that KPIRG would receive on-campus space in the renovated Birch building. The space was never allocated, and today, KPIRG rents off-campus office space which costs the organisation close to $30,000 per year.
“We need to be close to the student body, which means we need to be on campus,” says Hosein. “But in order to just stay alive with administrative and operational stability we were forced to lease space off campus.”
McGowan says that the question of space for KPIRG on campus comes down to availability. Recently, the KSA allocated space in the Birch building to several KSA-sponsored student clubs. McGowan explains that the decision was made to grant space to these groups rather than KPIRG because they do not have the resources to find off-campus accommodation.
He argues that KPIRG—as a student-funded society independent from the KSA—is able to foot the bill for space of its own.
“What this comes down to is that, ultimately, space is super tight for everyone on all campuses, particularly the Surrey campus. Student groups want to hold events on campus and have put in requests for space,” says McGowan. “We had hoped to be able to help KPIRG get space sooner, but unfortunately, when we were given some space in the Birch building, we had to look at what our priorities are for that space.”
While KPIRG’s annual budget is approximately $250,000, meaning they are in a better position to purchase space than any other student group at KPU, there are other things they would rather spend that money on. Hosein says that the KPIRG had to forgo Black History Month programming this year due to a lack of available funds.
Part of the problem for KPIRG-KSA relations, as observed by Hosein, is the quick turnover for KSA board members that is characteristic of any student union. KPIRG has worked to form relationships with KSA contacts only to have them move on, leaving KPIRG at square one with their replacements. Hosein also believes that KPIRG may not be fully trusted by the KSA.
“We’re always met with animosity with new incoming boards,” says Hosein. “There’s some sort of culture painting us as something that’s negative.”
According to McMartin, KSA board members have displayed a willingness to work with KPIRG before elections, only to distance themselves after taking office.
“It’s been hard. Especially when different executives, before they get elected, come to KPIRG and say, ‘We really want to fight for you,’ and then we don’t see them again,” says McMartin.
KPIRG members believe that both societies would be able to better accomplish their respective mandates if the two could build better ties. Many of the KSA’s initiatives focus on issues of social justice, which is what the KPIRG staff is dedicated to. Hosein specifically points to the KSA’s push for student housing as an initiative that could benefit from KPIRG’s participation. He also believes that KPIRG could benefit from the KSA’s greater reach and clout within the KPU community.
“We’re always open to working specifically with the constituencies of the KSA because of the nature of the work they do and the work KPIRG does,” says Hosein. “We really want there to be a united student front for social justice and environmental issues on campus.”
According to McMartin and Hosein, the only solution is a commitment to “genuine collaboration,” which Hosein says has briefly existed in the past. KPIRG feels that, since they have tried to reach out to the KSA, it’s up to the Association to make the next move. Hosein reasons that the KSA has more power to fix things because they have a broader mandate and scope with the KPU student body, whereas KPIRG is limited to social justice initiatives.
“[The KSA] really are the leaders on campus in many respects, and [KPIRG is] really quite marginalized being off-campus,” says Hosein. “I would say the ball is in the KSA’s court to strengthen ties and relationships.”
For his part, McGowan says that the KSA is open to working alongside its fellow student organisation.
“I’m surprised to hear that [KPIRG] thinks there’s an issue around collaboration,” says McGowan. “I think that KPIRG’s mandate on campus is an awesome one and it’s great that students have the opportunity to get involved around issues that they are passionate about. I’m always looking forward to seeing the good work that they potentially do.”