A search for space and community after the SSMU Building closure

The Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) Centre has been the heart of student life at McGill since its completion in 1965. From napping in the lounge, to grabbing a drink at Gerts Bar, to popping by the Peer Support Centre for a chat, the centre was students’ go-to for virtually anything.

When the building closed for renovations in March 2018, the community hub it provided also disappeared. Clubs and services have been forced to relocate off campus, Gerts is no longer a weeknight option, and students have become increasingly frustrated and confused. In this hectic period, SSMU now needs to reweave the threads of the student community.

“We are trying to alleviate the issues as much as we can,” SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer said. “I want to emphasize that it’s a team effort, and we’re all trying to make sure people aren’t impacted [by the building closure] as much as they could be.”

Without a hub for students to access many of SSMU’s clubs and services, it has become increasingly difficult for students to find their favourite clubs or  discover a new place to meet up with fellow students. Finding a community space on campus helps students balance their academic and social lives while at university. Without a meeting place, it has become difficult for new students to become involved in the campus goings-on.

“There’s a severe imbalance between studying all the time and just not getting involved at all because you feel like classes are just pounding down on you,” Sophia Esterle, SSMU Vice-President of Student Life said. “Involvement is really key because you find a community and people who like [the same] things you do [….] In terms of how people can find their community, they can’t walk around the university centre and hang out there anymore, and that’s really a shame, but it’s just not going to be possible this year.”

Students are feeling the impact of the building closure every day. It’s an inconvenience for everyone, but it’s not a hopeless situation. Although every SSMU member is counting down the days until the building opens again, there are still ways for students to become involved in the McGill community.

For students, clubs offer a space to convene outside of class and help them develop closer bonds with their peers. From art to politics, there is an extracurricular out there for everyone. Regardless of skill set, students can join university clubs to extend their social networks and try something new. Joining an extracurricular activity can help students who feel isolated meet like-minded people with common interests and unwind after a long day of hard work. Experiences from extracurriculars are what most students will remember after graduation, so it’s important to get out there and create valuable memories.

Even clubs for which building space is essential to their operations continue to service the community. Students need only check SSMU’s building closure website to see where these clubs are now located. The Plate Club is based out of Peel Street, Midnight Kitchen is servicing students out of their Saint-Henri kitchen, and the Players’ Theatre will temporarily stage productions at the Mainline Theatre.

Attending campus activity fairs, where there are plenty of student groups and representatives present, is a valuable first step. Activities Night takes place during the first couple weeks of each semester.Attendees are often surprised to discover the eclectic range of clubs and communities available on campus. Starting with small steps—such as attending events like Activities Night, a club’s welcome event, or SSMU’s biannual Volunteer Fair—students can form friendships and survey a variety of interests while exploring a new community.

For those looking to get involved more promptly, a full list of university clubs is available on SSMU’s website year-round. Among the more unusual offerings are the McGill Students’ Circus Collective, McGill Students’ Wine Society, and McGill Students’ Astronomy Club. With over 250 extracurriculars available for students to explore, there are plenty of opportunities for them to find their niche.

Ultimately, community is defined by the people who are a part of it, not where its office is. Even though there isn’t a physical building to house a student hub anymore, the people are still here. The core of the McGill community always has been here, and it always will be.

“I don’t think the community finds itself through a specific group or a specific building. It’s the connections you make,” Esterle said. “I really hope that the 7,500 people who attended Activities Night this year have been able to find some of those connections, even if it was just a five-minute conversation. Maybe, it will be a longer conversation the next time they see them at the next event. I don’t think that the entire community is found through the building. I think it’s just found through the people.”

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