Student centre not worth the investment: GSA and TPSA

Both Trent graduate students and part- time students, who are very much a part of Trent despite their small population and sadly who are most often forgotten, voted down the Student Centre, that still remains to be built, today.

Graduate students said ‘No’ to the student centre twice in a referendum. They will still not support the student centre if it were to go to question again. Trent Part-time Student Association (TPSA) decided to delay their decision to support the centre until it becomes a reality. In an interview with Arthur, representatives from each association, Trent Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) and TPSA, justified their stance on the student centre.

President of GSA, A. Rathika Balthasar, said, “It is not worth the investment for current graduate students, and it doesn’t seem like it will be a worthwhile investment for the future graduate students either,” towards their opposition of student centre (SC).

Even though it is conceptually a great idea for the undergraduate students, from the graduate student perspective, Balthasar, does not feel that there are as of now any beneficial or extra activities planned to happen in the SC that are already not covered in other places on campus. It does not specifically meet the needs of the graduate students enough to gain their support.

She understands that its goal is to consider overall student needs, and there is the appeal of everything being centralized. But as of right now, the plans are so vague that it is hard to sell to the graduate student body, and this is according to her why they said no.

Graduate students were promised a maximum of 215 square foot space. This is actually smaller the current GSA office, and to make matters worse, the possibility of that space potentially shrinking is what GSA had to tell their membership. As of right now, Balthasar does not think the graduate students would support the student centre if it were to go to question again.

One of the biggest issues Trent graduate students currently see is, as Teaching Assistants (TA), they don’t have an adequate space to meet with students. If they had some space to book where they could have one on one meetings or TA hours, then that might be something appealing to graduate students, but not at the price of about $100 a year.

Not when it should be the university providing them that space, said Balthasar.

She shared on how President and Vice-Chancellor, Leo Groarke had approached her to ask what the school administration could do to gain approval of the concept of the student centre from the graduate students.

According to Balthasar, the idea is appealing to them as a long-term business plan if they were to receive income for their association. Another idea that has come up is an entrepreneurship centre, which might appeal to them. Again, these are all only conceptual ideas. If they were promised them, Balthasar guaranteed that she can see graduate students showing support, but to sell a vague idea is very difficult.

In addition, the SC being open 24 hours would appeal to graduate students, too. She explained that one big issue on campus is that the place basically shuts down when all the undergraduates leave in April. Sadly, it is often the case that they are almost forgotten along with the faculty and staff who are there throughout the summer.

The university does very much cater to the undergraduate population, which is understandable as it is the largest component. But when it comes to something like the SC, a huge building, one has to question if it will be run all through the summer, and if so, how it will be supported. Or, what would be the functions throughout the summer when most of the student population is not around, in terms of funding and staff of the SC, she said.

As it is, Trent is currently in debt, so “should we really be funding the construction of another building?” questioned Balthasar. There is also doubt concerning whether it can actually house all the things that people want it to, such as Academic Skills, pubs, food, and health services.

“The appeal of the student centre should be that it is centralized, but will they actually be able to centralize everything?” Balthasar asked.

The biggest downfall right now according to her is that they haven’t seen any plans, and need to see more concrete evidence of what they intend to do with the space.

The SC is the idea of Trent Central Student Association (TCSA), and it was merely something they took to their membership. It surprises Balthasar that students even voted for it in the first place. She said she can see them supporting the concept, but not to put that much money into it without having seen much of a design plan or execution strategy.

She guaranteed that they won’t get that kind of support from graduate students, since they are a group who want to see that if they are contributing financially to something, they will then get something out of it.

“It is a great idea, appealing space for undergraduates but so far it’s just been poorly executed, poorly planned, and poorly communicated,” she said. On all those fronts the TCSA have to improve in order to sell it to the students, to graduate students in particular.

She feels that it also comes down to Traill College; that is their college and it needs repairs. Lots of the colleges on campus need repairs, so, she questioned, does building a brand new building come ahead of maintaining the old ones?

It is a complicated issue, and Balthasar can’t be certain that the graduate students would say ‘Yes’ even if they promised them all these things that would appeal to them, she said. “Ultimately we believe that it is the student’s choice, it is their right to say ‘No’, and we can’t force people to do something. It all comes down to what the membership says,” declared Balthasar.

Similarly, the Executive Director of the Trent Part-time Student Association (TPSA), Helen Wallis, said that the idea of a Student Centre had come up several times over the years but the students had always voted it down.

She reminisced on how originally every Trent College had its own great, swinging pub on-site, three on campus (LEC, CC, OC) and two downtown (P.R., Traill). In addition there was a wonderful old house on East bank near the rowing club called The Commoner – a great venue shared by every student, she described.

Wallis reasoned that the student’s loyalty to and love for their own pubs, along with a fear that a shared student centre would diminish their popularity, was the original reason for voting against it.

However during the term of President Bonnie Patterson, the revelry was much dampened, she said. The Commoner was demolished over an Easter Weekend when the students were absent, P.R. was sold, Traill was diminished (although retained its great pub space), and the other pubs slowly lost ground, leaving only the Ceilie in Champlain, she said.

When this latest effort to create a SC arose, the TPSA executive, several of whom had been present for many of the earlier efforts, feared that to involve part-time students in paying to support something that many would never visit would be difficult to justify. Besides, there was also a doubt raised that in view of the voting history, and of the heavy involvement of the university in the funding and tenancy of the suggested building, the students might back out of the proposition eventually.

It was therefore agreed that TPSA would delay a decision awaiting the outcome, said Wallis. It was also agreed, however, that should a student centre ever become a reality, the association would support it by renting space there for an office and common room, she added.

In terms of their involvement towards the planning of the centre, the TPSA had a seat on the Student Centre Task Force Committee for which they had recruited a part-time student to occupy it. However, it was later found out that he had never attended a meeting. According to Wallis, they then found another student to sit on the committee, who at year-end informed that, to her knowledge, that no meetings had been held since her appointment. `the TPSA made a request to the committee’s support staff that they be kept informed and updated on future developments. However, to date they have not been made officially aware of any activity, regrets Wallis.

According to her, the fact that the students’ vote to support such a centre with financial imposition included provisos regarding the university’s participation, and certain controversies that have developed since regarding the project, justifies their reluctance to bring the matter forward to their students prematurely.

Meanwhile, come next academic year, Trent University students will have to pay an extra cost of $95.01 dollars for the construction of the student centre.

About Ugyen Wangmo 87 Articles
Ugyen Wangmo is a self trained media personal, steadfast to 'right to information'. She has about six years of media experience through a variety of roles as Reporter, Editor, Stringer, and Freelance writer. She graduated from Trent with a degree in Chemistry and Biology. When not nosing around for leads to write a thing or two about, she indulges in books, fashion, and dance.