Student groups feeling the squeeze on Symons Campus

Photo: Caitlin Jones
Photo: Caitlin Jones

Is the student group space dwindling on Trent campus? Or is there even enough group space on campus to begin with? This is a question that has surfaced due to the recent instance whereby Absynthe lost their space on campus.

Absynthe Magazine, Trent’s alternative press very recently lost its office in Champlain College, which had housed them for about 15 years.

The situation arose due to a restructuring of the college by which the college office space was altered to accommodate more student staff and house some Trent International Program (TIP) staff for one year.

They were, however, given the option to share space with the Frontier College, but saw that it would be realistically impractical and decided otherwise.

“It is not just about office space being lost for students, its about all space is being lost for students,” explained Editor in Chief Caitlin P. Jones.They shouldn’t be forcing student groups to look for other options when the university should be home to at least some of them, she added.

All over the university, Trent has lost space for student groups. Further, it is now trying to get the students to pay for the creation of new space through the student centre plan.

“I thinks that it is a slow deterioration, but now coming to think of it, there is no one on campus,” Jones pointed out.

Caitlin is not angry about the current situation, but she is frustrated at the lack of student space available.

According to her, this frustration is felt by lot of the student body, which has nowhere to be on campus and feels the lack of both group and student space in general.

She understands why the idea of student center was brought forward but at the same time questions why the students are the ones paying for it. Further, Jone says that instead of taking over student space maybe the university should be building new space for its administration.

“Universities are for the students and to have space for student groups missing from campus is disconcerting,” she added.

When asked about the situation with Absynthe, Champlain College Head Melanie Sedge explained that the magazine was offered space in the college office, but that they decided the space wouldn’t meet the needs and preferred to look elsewhere.

In response to the situation of student group space on campus more generally, she said that she couldn’t comment on the other colleges but that it would be great to have more space on campus for groups.

The problem is that in Champlain College, like most of the buildings at Trent, there isn’t physically the space for more of anything.

Sedge feels like there will always be changes the ebb and flow of clubs with student interest, but said it is important that what’s relevant and current is represented on campus.

Not being on campus makes it challenging for these groups and they have to be more creative in the ways they make their presence felt, or to be accessible to students.

On the other hand, Sedge said that she “can’t comment on as to if the space on campus is dwindling since the space has not necessarily changed at the college.”

Trent probably has some spaces available but needs to promote them to make students aware. Further, there could be opportunities to share spaces amongst student groups with similar needs or ones that need office only during certain times of the year.

Further evaluating who has space and finding out if its being used to the fullest potential are some of the ways in which this issue can be addressed. However, Sedge questioned how these spaces got allocated in the first place and stated that there should be an entire inventory on how it works.

“I am going to work as hard as I can here to make the space I do have physically more attractive for students, more accessible and try to promote those and I am open to ideas if students have ideas as to how to make more space with the physical infrastructure that we have,” she said.

Ultimately, she wants to have more students feeling connected on campus and that her role is to connect students to Champlain college and Trent for that matter.

Director of Colleges Barry Townshend agrees that student groups should have places to meet on campus but cautions that it is a common problem among Ontario universities to not have enough space for student groups to have their own separate offices.

Townshend explained that the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) has established guidelines for how much space would ideally exist for various purposes on a university campus, including different types of student space (study space, space for student groups, etc.)

As universities expand, though, he said, the problem becomes how to fund additional facilities – funding has not been forthcoming from the Province for this.

Therefore, the creation of additional space for student groups has historically come from capital projects driven by student unions and paid for largely by student fees. The referendum to create a new student centre here at Trent is in keeping with this tradition.

Townshend also noted that the process for determining which groups get space and how they qualify is beyond the scope of the colleges as there are many groups on this campus that are not affiliated with a specific college and there are many spaces where the colleges have no influence.

For the spaces within their influence, if there is to be a change in where a group is located, that would happen in the context of a conversation with those who would be affected.

“My top priority as the director of colleges is building a strong sense of community and a rich learning experience for students.”

Within the colleges, we are working on assessing how student-funded spaces in our areas are being used and what we can do to optimize their usage,” he added.

Student groups promote involvement on campus, help create a more diverse and vibrant campus, and play a vital role in creating a sense of community, said Mayra Asmar, vice president university and college affairs at the Trent Central Student Association.

But, student group space does not necessarily need to be housed on campus, as there are different locations that groups may want to have an office space, she explained. There are both advantages and disadvantages to having student space both on and off campus.

Being on-campus means being closer to students and giving students the ability to stop by in between classes, also being close to other student services. But on the other hand, the ability to access space is restricted as it is limited to only when the university is open.

Being off campus has its own advantages, bringing it closer to where students live. Having a space downtown may also promote more community involvement and access to larger spaces for events.

Asmar sees that Trent has an interesting relationship between students and available space. “As a current student at Trent I believe that Trent should make student space a priority,” she said, but noted that students do have access to room bookings, even if they can’t have a dedicated space.

Asmar wouldn’t say that there is no group space for students, as spaces do exist, but with the increasing student population at Trent the available spaces simply is not be sufficient.

The establishment of a completely new student centre would help create the space that Trent’s current buildings cannot accommodate, she opined.

The space could be dedicated to student groups and would be a great way to create another student focused space and atmosphere.

In the meantime, most of Trent’s groups and clubs are housed in the Sadleir House, which used to be part of Peter Robinson College.

As for Absynthe, the magazine is still looking for a space to call home.

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.