a, Opinion

Renovations threaten what it means to be a McGill Student

School spirit is traditionally displayed at homecoming games and by students donning their university’s insignia. McGill instead possesses a unique type of school spirit, binding students together in a way that no football game or homecoming party ever could: Coping with the school’s decrepit and aging facilities. But with the recent round of renovations—the Arts Building portico stabilization project, replacing and remodelling the Students’ Society of McGill University lounge, and the Fiat Lux library plan—this shared experience is being threatened.

I first realized the universality of the McGill experience when I saw Eric Schreiber’s photo essay Ugly McGill. It was the realization of the feeling that students all seem to have when walking through the downtown campus, a beautiful amalgam of an Orwellian nightmare and the ice planet Hoth. The feeling that this place is ugly and falling apart, and its frequent lack of sense—why can’t we use the Redpath library doors again?—defines the student experience, and makes it our own.

As my graduation nears, it seems ever more likely that the McGill that I have come to love is on the precipice of extinction.

But renovations threaten this unique McGillian experience. Fiat Lux offers natural light and additional seating space—concepts wholly foreign to the McGill experience. The portico stabilization project will restore the pristine and historical façade, but do away with the inconvenience of circling a construction zone. The SSMU couches, with their multiple stains a living metaphor of the melting pot of McGill, will be replaced. Is the addition of modern, shiny library, some new couches, and a portico that is safe to walk under really worth losing the essence of being a student at McGill?

Despite the lack of traditional school spirit, the shared McGill experience bonds students together more tightly than a shared team or matching leather jackets ever could. Lumpy and stained SSMU couches; the soul-sucking brutalist behemoth that is the McLennan library; the thrill of the knowledge that a chunk of the Arts Building could fall and crush you at any moment—these are the experiences that define student life at McGill.

Whether in Arts or Engineering, every McGill student knows the trials and tribulations of McGill’s construction zone. For one student, this experience could be the long walks through the fluorescent halls of McLennan during exam season, circling successive floors in search of that elusive empty seat and wondering where Ferrier even is. For another, it may manifest while watching prospective students and their parents snapping pictures of the Arts Building, temporary structural support beams artfully hidden by a screen with a printed image of the original portico. Mention such experiences to another student and, though the details may vary, they are guaranteed to have similar tales of their own. While this may not quite qualify as pride, there is a definite sense of camaraderie in this knowledge.

As my graduation nears, it seems ever more likely that the McGill that I have come to love is on the precipice of extinction. The Arts Building’s probability of collapse is on the decline. McLennan-Redpath is slated to lose its fluorescent allure. If I return to McGill in 20 years and find the campus filled with shiny new buildings, designed to properly cater to the needs of students, I will not smile. Instead my heart will be filled with sadness, for it will no longer be my McGill. My McGill will always be ugly, it will always be decrepit, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Zachary Carson is a fourth year joint honours political science and international development student. He enjoys listening to Canadaland podcasts, watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and dogs.

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