Counting the cost of change on campus

It happened quietly, with little fanfare and little information. University administration have decided to split space that had been for the sole use of the Women’s Resource Centre into two, with the WRC as part occupants and the Centre for Community-Engaged Learning the other. While administration has promised that the quality of service at the WRC will be maintained, there are significant doubts with the logic behind this decision, as well as the potential of administration to fulfill their promise.

There are justified worries about the WRC being capable of offering the same quality of service. This is not because of a lessening of funds — indeed, the funds available specifically for the WRC will remain the same. The concern is that the services offered are tied to the space being used in a way that many other campus services are not. Women use the centre because it offers a comfortable space, which is of vital importance when discussing some of the personal issues the WRC handles. Members of the Centre are justifiably worried that if that space is shared with others the trusting environment will be lost. Sharing the space — regardless of the other groups using it — threatens to destroy the environment many women on campus have come to use.

The university’s justification for the amalgamation of the two centres is poor. Their case is that the commonality between a centre for women and a centre for community learning is strong enough to justify yoking the two together. Yes, both offer services for the community. Yes, both attempt to provide good works for groups that need help, such as those with disabilities, those who lack the financial ability to consistently afford food and the inequalities that women continue to face. But with such categorization nearly any group could be linked together — disparities of this type will hardly lead to the efficiency of space the university hopes to achieve.

Rather, it seems that a shortage of space has, yet again, led to a design that lacks long term sense. The Centre for Community-Engaged Learning deserves space too, but with the amount of new buildings opening and the renovations taking place in old ones, a better solution can be found. There isn’t a clear reason why CCEL needs its space now — its services have existed in various forms for a while now. Although it can be claimed that they are due, the sacrifice that the campus community potentially faces makes it a risky move.

Much remains to be seen. It is possible, with proper planning and respect for the needs of the WRC, that the Centre can continue to perform its services to a high enough level. For example, the administration has promised isolated rooms for services to occur, such as the abortion counseling during the Campus Pro-Life demonstrations that occur each semester. While one on one counseling in such rooms is possible, the group sessions that the WRC puts on are only possible in the size of room that their main area offers. If this room is used by others — important as their work also is — women will feel much more uncomfortable confronting some difficult issues. Regardless of the steps made to accommodate these needs, the WRC staff find it hard to imagine how quality cannot be affected for the worse.

This paper has in large part stood behind the changes that have been occurring on campus. Growing pains are to be expected with the sweeping changes the university has in mind. For the most part the campus will benefit from them. Yet, situations like the WRC are a blight on the positive improvements the university has planned. If the concerns of the shared space are realized, does university administration have a plan to find new accommodations for CCEL? The recently installed door tells a different story. “Women’s Resource Centre” now sits below the name of the Centre for Community-Engaged Learning. The font of the former is smaller. The university is placing an important service in jeopardy — the hard work that the WRC has put in to make their space successful will be lost in much less time than it took to make.

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