Students, professors, staff, and other members of the McGill community gathered in James Square for a barbecue hosted by senior members of McGill’s administration on Sept. 13. Serving free burgers, veggie burgers, and hot dogs to approximately 3,500 people, the barbecue is the latest effort on the part of the administration to connect with students and the McGill community at large.
Susan Aberman, chief of staff for the Office of the Principal, was part of the team that helped plan the barbecue. She said her team chose to host a barbecue because of past successful lunch events.
“[A barbecue is] a nice social event for people to get together,” she said. “We did it at the end of last year … here in James Square. All the faculty came out. It was so successful [that] we thought, ‘let’s do it again.’”
This time, Julie Timmins, manager of events and stewardship for the Office of the Principal, ordered over 3,500 burgers. There were four grilling stations, each with a separate grill for veggie burgers.
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum informed students of the event by email on Sept. 6, formally inviting all members of the McGill community to join. On the day of the event, Munroe-Blum mingled with students and staff alike.
“It’s the beginning of the year [and] it’s my last year [as McGill’s principal],” Munroe-Blum told the Tribune. “[This barbecue is] a good way to start the year … just to have a community-building experience. And that’s something people have asked for—to have opportunities to just come together.”
Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson, who also greeted students at Activities Night the previous evening, explained at the barbecue that part of his job is to reach out to students and attend community events. He also touched upon the challenges that affected student-administration relationships last year, and how he hopes this year will be different.
“I’m very optimistic about this year,” he said. “It’s gotten off to a great start. I think what you see here is a reflection of people’s [attitudes] about the year.”
While many students were appreciative of the administration’s gesture, some still had reservations about the future.
“[Overcoming past challenges] is not going to be an issue of giving out free food,” Jaime Sanderson, U4 civil engineering, said. “[It will have to involve] communicating about the issues and actually making changes that are important. However, I can appreciate [the gesture].”
Jessica Si, U3 arts and science, echoed Sanderson’s sentiments.
“As students, I think we always want … to see more of our administration,” she said. “If you think of this as a stepping-stone, it’s a great way forward. If you were to ask if this is enough, then no, of course not. I think there needs to be better relations with the students.”
Other students were just happy for a free meal. Alex Sawaya, U2 engineering, spent the hour hanging out with friends and enjoying his burger.
“It’s very nice of [the administration] to do [this],” he said. “I think they really do care about us.”
According to Doug Sweet, director of media relations for McGill, the administration has planned other student-centred events for this year, including a pancake breakfast in a first-year residence hall, the annual skating party at McConnell Arena, and a continuation of last year’s community webcasts.