By Emma Shehan
The upcoming undergraduate referendum regarding the proposed Student Union Building has made it clear that the student body is vastly divided, yet the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) has not recognized this.
Sparsely attended open panels and committee meetings, a lack of visibility for the ‘No’ campaign, and ignoring negative reactions and legitimate criticisms on social media through the use of blanket statements—CUSA seems more interested in telling students what they need than actually listening to students concerns.
The result is an upcoming referendum, littered with mass confusion that insults our right as students to know all the facts.
CUSA has built their platform on the promise of a building committed to the needs of students, but ignores our real concerns. When we ask about increasing funds for mental health or lowering tuition, they talk about foosball tables. When we suggest hiring more staff to maintain bathroom cleanliness, they talk about installing more bathrooms, which ultimately just adds more work to a cleaning staff stretched thin.
As for study space, yes it would be welcomed, but it is not being properly addressed. The proposed study space is just 2500 square feet—about the size of the classrooms on the first floor of the University Centre (UC). While it is clear that this is not nearly enough, CUSA attempts to cover this by offering 24-hour access. CUSA claims that many students would benefit from this, yet I find it hard to believe that the amount of students working 24/7 at Carleton is ample enough to justify added staff to ensure safety of those students. For example, the library stopped offering 24-hour service because they found the demand was not great enough to justify it.
Previously, CUSA has made an effort to create a lounge-type area dedicated to students. Called “the Spot,” and located on the third floor of the UC, it was perhaps a smaller version of what they are trying to create now. The Spot was poorly attended, and CUSA closed it down. It was not an issue with accessibility or being badly located, but simply lack of student interest. The Spot’s flop should be an indication of the lack of interest in a student space—like the kind that is being proposed now.
The miscommunication between CUSA and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) should also be another red flag to students. The GSA issued a statement regarding the survey sent out to students in November, stating that they had not consented to their name being added to the survey. More recently, the GSA issued a statement clarifying that at the moment, Carleton would seek to retain ownership rights, including naming rights, a statement which stands in direct opposition to CUSA’s hyperbole that the building would be ‘student owned.’
The fact that this building is advertised as a student-owned building is propaganda. To be perfectly clear: this building does not belong to us, it belongs to Carleton. The spread of misinformation and blatant lack of transparency surrounding this referendum further reinforces the GSA’s request that more consideration be made towards this decision. In their own words: “The GSA Board of Directors recognizes the need for more student space on-campus. However, the Board feels strongly that a referendum should not be rushed, and that students need to know exactly what they are voting for.”
I am by no means arguing that Carleton is perfect the way it is. CUSA has raised a valid point—we have poorly maintained washroom facilities, a lack of space for clubs, and a lack of water fountains. The proposed Student Union Building will not adequately resolve these issues. Instead, CUSA could be lobbying Carleton to hire additional cleaning staff. Additionally, mental health services at Carleton are grossly lacking—students wait an average of three weeks to see a counsellor on campus. A better use of Carleton’s cash pitch for the proposed building could be used to create better mental health services. A lack of meeting rooms for clubs and societies could be rectified through negotiations with Carleton to use the hundreds of classrooms which sit empty during evenings.
The short campaigning season seems designed to support CUSA’s lack of information and apparent lack of desire to understand and address student concerns. A lack of trust in CUSA has been growing in the student body for some time now, and it seems as though the student union building could bring this to a boiling point.
In order to support a more fair referendum, CUSA should increase their transparency and information, as well as allowing the ‘no’ campaign more equal footing in a clearly biased campaign. Students need to be better informed, and have more time than the allotted campaign season to reach a decision, which will have repercussions on future students for decades to come.