Lost in Transition
As Birch room renovations begin, student organizations are getting all turned around
Obtaining adequate space at Kwantlen Polytechnic University isn’t a new issue for many of the institution’s most prominent student groups. The Kwantlen Gaming Guild, one of the largest and most successful clubs on campus, was recently moved out of the Social Justice Space on the Surrey campus and put into another room in the Birch building. The Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group aired their grievances about a lack of space at their recent annual general meeting—the group has been without a permanent space since they came into existence around two years ago. KPIRG has been borrowing space from Pride Kwantlen, which in turn has left the collective without a safe and dedicated space. There are other groups on campus who are vying for space too, but instead are finding themselves in a revolving door of bureaucratic timelines.
In response to the space shortage, KPU is currently working on plans that will redistribute the space on the second floor of the Birch building, namely rooms 206, 208, and 209. The idea is to move around the cafeteria, take down some walls, and create more space for student-run organizations and clubs to conduct their business.
“Creating spaces for student organizations is a major concern for us,” says Jane Fee, deputy provost and vice provost for students. The role of a provost is to advocate for students, student organizations, staff, and faculties in university administration. She is one of the people speaking on behalf of students during key meetings.
According to Fee, a rough timeline for the project has been put in place. March was reserved for reviewing the project of reorganizing the Birch building’s second floor, along with the final budget. The month of May will be dedicated to design and the appropriation of a contractor. In June they get the permits, July and August they build. Their goal is to have the space open and ready by Sept. 1, just in time for the new fall semester.
These dates are all subject to change, but they do provide an approximate schedule of the renovations. In the meantime, the student groups who typically occupy that space are left counting the days until their new rooms are ready. Several of the groups have expressed concern that the plans haven’t been made clear to them.
“We were really surprised by it all,” says John Shkurtaj, an executive member of the Kwantlen Gaming Guild, one of the student groups most directly affected by the Birch room shuffle. Shkurtaj recalls receiving an email in December regarding the project of redistributing space in the Birch building. Since then contact has been scarce.
Deanna Fasciani, research coordinator for KPIRG, also commented on the lack of communication between those leading the project and the organizations being affected. She notes that not only are the rooms 208 and 209 shared by both KPIRG and a host of other student groups, the space was also originally intended to be Kwantlen Pride’s office, as well as a safe space on campus.
“Safe spaces are important for any modern university,” says Fascini. And so they should be. It might just be a couple of rooms next to a cafeteria, but this is an incredibly important space.”
The student groups have made it clear that space is a commodity at KPU and is constantly an issue. But while the intentions of the project are to create more space for KPU student organizations, the lack of communication and structure is costing these groups members and, as a result, their lifeblood.
“So many clubs suffer or dismantle due to a lack of people showing up,” says Shkurtaj. “We’ve already seen a drop in the number of people attending.” The KGG was moved from 208 to 206 just over a month ago with relatively little warning, and they feel this has caused some confusion to their members, resulting in lower attendance numbers.
During construction, it is unclear where the Birch groups will meet. Shkurtaj claims the KGG will assume that Birch 206 will continue to be available for them throughout the summer until told otherwise.
“And if there’s no space on campus we’ll just have to make due,” says Shkurtaj. He worries that this eviction, like the last one, will cost the KGG additional members.
“If we lose the room,” he says, “where are the people going to go?”
Richard Hosein, KPIRG’s administrative and resource organizer, says that KPIRG has been preparing for the contingency that they will be forced to move out of their room in Birch during the room renovations by reserving money for storage space that could house their records. However, like the KGG, they’re not sure what being temporarily evicted would mean for their ability to operate.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to KPIRG if we don’t have any daily operating space,” says Hosein. “We’re going to have to figure that out when the time comes. We may have to work from home, which would be absurd because we need to be available for students and we need to have a space for meetings.”
Hosein claims that, “The instability which results from not having a space has been detrimental to the mental health of staff, the development of the organization, and the participation from students.” All of which, he notes, are essential elements to the daily operations of a successful student society.
KPU needs student clubs. Clubs like Pride Kwantlen, for whom having a safe space to conduct meetings is invaluable. Clubs like the KGG, who have been able to achieve impressive student turnout at their events but are losing members due to the space issue. Groups like KPIRG who believe they are unable to fulfill their mandate without a permanent home. These groups have heard nothing but demands from the KSA, and little in the way of solutions.
Communication is going to be key in the search for space. If lines of communication don’t open up and a solid flow of information isn’t established between university student organizations and university administration, be it student-run or otherwise, in the end the victim will be campus culture and student involvement.