Solidarity with SFPIRG! Call for Support

The Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) has released a call for support and begun a change.org petition, facing eviction from campus at the end of June. This is a crucial student organization, so if you know about their work, skip to the end and get involved! If not, read on for details:

SFPIRG is a student-funded and student-directed resource centre dedicated to social and environmental justice. Based at the Burnaby campus of Simon Fraser University, in a 1,300 square foot office near the Rotunda in West Mall Complex, SFPIRG’s membership includes all ~30,000 SFU students. Last year, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) ended decades of smooth tenancy agreements and decided not to renew SFPIRG’s lease, using the precarious position of the organization on campus as leverage in ongoing negotiations for space in the soon-to-be-completed Student Union Building (SUB). SFPIRG has been denied use of the organizational suites in the SUB by SFSS, and despite its status as an independent student society and decades of anti-oppressive educational work on campus, SFU Administration won’t lease the organization space on campus, either.

Why? Burnaby campus is about to have more space than ever for student groups, with the SUB to be completed this year. The SFSS’ board of student directors and its Chief Executive Officer (yes, the student society has a CEO now) control that space, and have repeatedly delayed negotiations, dodged direct questions, and slowed the process. For an example of this, see the following communication from the SFSS president:

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 [sic] given that we clearly cannot meet this particular requirement, we do not feel it would be useful to enumerate our other concerns.

The refusal to share concerns needlessly delays negotiations: you cannot work out differences that haven’t been articulated, unless someone in the room is mind-reading. When you’re facing eviction at the end of June as SFPIRG is, though, the effect of the delay changes entirely. Where did student directors get the idea to leverage another student society with an eviction date by misallocating student space? But we can skip the procedural argument: the “other conditions that the SFSS President’s letter mentions are “concerning” items as “accessibility to all students” and “space for our current staff.” Remember that SFPIRG is asking to lease organizational suite space in the SUB that is smaller than their current space. The SFSS says it denied SFPIRG because SFPIRG demanded that no other independent student organization be excluded from campus. [corrected 5 April]

SFPIRG’s solidarity is entirely consistent with the organization’s politics and history. Founded in 1981, SFPIRG has shared its space with student groups who discuss, debate, and plan everything from social movement working groups to anti-oppression workshops, from non-hierarchical student-led initiatives to discussions of economic policy. A quick perusal of their program shows this to be one space on campus where intersectionality in education is put into practice. SFPIRG is the kind of organization that the neoliberal university cannot abide: within its walls, students nurture their hope for a just society while having space to learn, grow, organize and sustain ourselves.

This history is enough to guarantee SFPIRG’S importance to campus life, but their solidarity has been extended beyond students. In solidarity with workers on Burnaby campus, they shared their space with signs, petitions, and clipboards stuffed with leaflets as 175 SFU cafeteria workers, all members of labour union Unite Here Local 40, were fired last year. Zailda Chan, then lead organizer for the SFU workers, connected with Left Alternative student organizers, faculty members, TSSU activists, campus community leaders, and the staff at SFPIRG. By the end of that campaign, the fired workers had raises, as well as the benefits, job security, and pension that Sodexo (the new food company) was hoping to retrench. SFPIRG is the kind of student society that SFU students need.

I’m less familiar with other student groups’ situations on campus, but unless something has changed since March 25th, the Students of African and Carribbean Ancestry didn’t have space either (they’re a club, not an independent student society, but that’s not a reason to kick them off campus). Embark is stuck downtown and doesn’t have space in the SUB, either. If you have links to details on other student groups’ situations, post them in the comments,

Compare this state of affairs, and that email, to the purposes of the society as laid down in the SFSS Constitution. So the accessibility provision, as well as the mandate to “to acquire or hold any lands, buildings, facilities or other assets for the use or benefit of the Society or the undergraduate students of Simon Fraser University.” What is it about SFPIRG that isn’t “of benefit” to students?

Is it Letters from the Inside, a program that connects student researchers to prisoners who don’t have access to educational materials while incarcerated? While we think about this, let’s recall that this prison system is maintained by a white supremacist settler-colonial state built on genocide and displacement, that it includes disproportionate numbers of Indigenous people and Black people, and that who goes there is determined by a legal system that was designed for colonization, privatization, and profit-making. Or is it the student-led action groups, including the Committee to End Ableism and Racialized Resistance and Healing? Each of these groups create space for people that have been excluded from other campus spaces by the systematically oppressive structure of “our engaged” colonial university.

Speaking for myself, I’m disappointed that SFU Administration has refused to directly lease space to SFPIRG. Since SFPIRG is an independent student society, it should have direct dealings with SFU Admin, rather than through an intermediary, right? This wouldn’t prevent SFSS from using the SUB to invite more corporate influence to campus in the form of SUBleases to businesses, but it would at least provide a space for SFPIRG to continue its crucial work. But that’s long-term. Right now, we need to get to work on:

Ways to help SFPIRG (from their Actions for Supporters card)

1. Attend their event in Convo Mall on Tuesday April 10th from 11am-1pm

2. Sign their online petition at Change.org

3. Sign up for campaign updates on our paper petition: outreach@sfpirg.ca

4. Share the campaign online with your friends and networks; give it a personal touch by including a selfie, and use the hashtags: #ineedSFPIRG #SFUneedsSFPIRG #SFU

5. Write a testimonial about why you need SFPIRG to stay on campus. Even a few sentences can have a huge impact. Visit www.sfpirg.ca for where to send your testimonial.

6. Invite us to come and speak about the campaign with your class, club, student union, labour union, or department. Email outreach@sfpirg.ca for scheduling info.

7. Volunteer with the Space Campaign to help save SFPIRG! Volunteers are needed for gathering petition signatures, leafleting, putting up posters, speaking with classes and clubs, and bringing more students together!

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