On Sept. 13, over 1,000 students barricaded the virtual entry doors to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)’s Fall 2021 Activities Night. Internet disconnection alerts flooded the screens of many confused students and club leaders. Although students might have anticipated a mediocre gaming platform with thousands of live participants to spell disaster, the degree to which the event failed was striking.
Activities Night is one of the most important opportunities for student involvement, especially this year, as student life makes a comeback following a year of remote learning. As the highlight of many students’ time in university, it is unfortunate that students were robbed of the chance to explore the broad array of student life at McGill. SSMU hosted the event on Gather.Town, a platform that allows users to walk around a virtual venue and send messages or start calls. However, the blame for the site’s technical failings should not be placed on its developers—it is common knowledge that online programs are prone to overload when flooded with users. Last year’s event was held on a different platform, Eventus, and did not experience mass technical difficulties. SSMU should have either tested the system prior to the event or at least had a backup plan, such as having prepared a list of organized Zoom links for each club or setting up a more reliable platform.
As a result, clubs were forced to find alternate avenues to interact. For example, some clubs posted their own Zoom meetings in the mass chat or on their individual social media accounts. SSMU did not immediately respond following the event, although they did post a blurry apology on a now-expired Instagram story and did dole out leftover Frosh goodies at a measly stand on McTavish. Karla Heisele Cubilla, SSMU vice-president (VP) of student life has since announced that a second Activities Night was on the way.
Although it was logical to hold the event online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, SSMU illogically hosted a party at the Muzique nightclub the following day. SSMU has been pushing for the university to implement a vaccine mandate and other accommodations, writing an open letter critiquing McGill’s Fall 2021 Plans and Accommodations, staging a protest of McGill’s COVID19 policies on Sept. 1, and partnering with WeCanVax to create #2Jabs4McGill to encourage students and staff to get vaccinated. SSMU’s disorganization with their online Activities Night while hosting an in-person party calls their integrity into question.
If SSMU did not allow Activities Night to be held in person, Muzique should not be an exception. While Muzique is an established business that must follow governmental COVID-19 protocols such as requiring vaccine passports and mandatory masks for entry, the regulations that make it a safe place to meet at this time could have been easily transferred over to an in-person Activities Night. Some student clubs under SSMU’s umbrella already conduct their own vaccine passport checks and require mask-wearing for participation, but most clubs have limited resources and members. The student union, on the other hand, is a large organization comprised of numerous staff and volunteers; they have all the resources they need to host a grand event.
SSMU could have easily made Activities Night a better experience had they only put in more effort. SSMU’s leaders are not only event hosts, but leaders who represent students and are meant to lead by example. Actions always speak louder than words: As helpful as their COVID-19 safety campaigns have been, the Muzique gathering suggests that SSMU puts their activism to the side when they want to have a night of fun.