Anyone who attended Wednesday’s Rally to Save the Architecture Café, and even those who only heard about it secondhand, must have been heartened to see such a positive display of campus activity and communal feeling from the typically somnolent McGill student body. The Tribune certainly was. However, those good feelings were undermined by other, seemingly unrelated events towards the end of last week involving direct confrontations between members of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group and an increasingly aggressive campaign against it, which urges students to opt out of their $3.75-per-semester contribution to that group. Both sides have been guilty of misleading campaigns, with Opt-Out playing down its political motivations, labelling groups as ‘fringe’ rather than focusing on their content, and discussing only those QPIRG-affiliated groups it finds most distasteful. QPIRG is guilty of selectively listing only the most palatable-sounding working groups on its flyers and of creating a hostile environment around Opt-Out tables. Last week’s confrontation required McGill Security’s involvement. Contrary to the good vibes of the Architecture Café rally, these incidents reflect poorly on all of us.
As the Tribune has argued before, campus debate suffers from the hostile tone its participants often assume. Students frequently act in ways that are out of line with the ideals they claim to promote. It often appears to supposedly “apathetic” students that their “involved” peers are merely seeking the joy of opposition or victory for their own side, rather than constructive dialogue and genuine education.
Involvement in debate on campus is important, but it is also important to make sure we are informed and maintain a sense of perspective. One student wrote on the wall for the Arch Café rally’s Facebook event: “Revolutions only start when a society hits rock bottom, the only question is, are we there yet?” It is to this kind of excess that the principal can easily say, as she did to a McGill Daily reporter, “It’s just part of life in university.” Kids being kids. Juvenile outbursts are only to be expected, which is exactly why they don’t work.
When done right, when properly informed, and when directed towards campus issues—like Architecture Café and the bike ban—that actually affect students and over which they can have some influence, campus activism can be remarkable. There is plenty of room for improvement at McGill in this respect. The administration apparently feels they can operate just fine without consulting students, because our generally acquiescent student community will respond to even the most blatantly adversarial move with a collective shrug. The Tribune was as inspired by the Rally to Save the Architecture Café as we were dismayed by the shenanigans involving QPIRG and its opponents. As a community, let’s leave behind the gratuitous episodes of disrespect and increase those of unity, collegiality, and sincere dialogue, from which we all benefit.