Commentary, Opinion

Gerts, it hurts: I want you back

With vain hope in their hearts, students received an email from the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) on Oct. 28, hoping to read a promising update on the University Centre’s closure. However, students were disappointed by yet another delay: Gert’s, club spaces, and community spaces are still inaccessible. 

Initially, the McGill administration’s renovations to solve the University Centre’s HVAC, electrical, and asbestos issues were scheduled to be finished by winter 2019, with Gerts reopening by the end of fall 2018; obviously, this was delayed. In June 2019, the Deputy Provost announced that the new reopening date of reopening was slated for December 2019. McGill students are used to construction-related promises being broken, however, the continued closure of the University Centre until April 2020 will have a lasting impact on McGill students.

An entire graduating class of McGill students has never set foot in the University Centre since the university closed the building down for renovations in March 2018. Before its closure, the University Centre housed meeting places for a multitude of clubs, associations, and services. It also provided several large event spaces and housed SSMU’s offices. Now, student-led clubs have been relocated to buildings on and off-campus and have had more trouble than ever finding spaces while planning events. Separating the offices of services such as the McGill Student Emergency Response Team (MSERT), the Sexual Assault Center of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), and the Legal Information Clinic at McGill (LIM)  makes it more difficult for students to access these crucial resources. 

The closure of the University Centre erodes the already weak sense of community at McGill. As a university with an undergraduate population of over 24,000, it can be easy for students to feel like an anonymous face in a sea of thousands. For first-year students, many of whom are living away from their families for the first time, having a centralized location for clubs and services is a valuable and often overlooked way of reducing the anxiety that comes with being newly independent. 

For me, going to the University Centre during my first year feels like a distant memory, but it was definitely a useful resource while it was still around. From grabbing a coffee at La Prep to lounging on the beanbags in the napzone, the University Centre was a one-stop shop that I appreciated as a first-year student who was still trying to find my place in the McGill community. Being able to access club meetings, legal help as an international student, and a beloved student bar all in one building were assets that I took for granted. I believe that my first-year university experience would have been more difficult without the existence of the University Centre, simply due to its convenience. There is a distinct possibility that current first-year students feel the way I would’ve, plagued by the lack of a student center which they’ve never even known. 

Although it is difficult to assign blame to any one party for the continued delays on the University Centre reopening, the McGill administration must be more transparent and realistic about construction on campus. It must also be more mindful of students’ continued frustration and the difficulties that it causes for student-led clubs and new students as event spaces, services, and important resources are expelled to temporary spaces. The re-opening of the University Centre may not be able to single-handedly restore McGill school spirit, but having Gerts back would definitely help.

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