Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article reflect those of the author and not necessarily of SFU Volunteer Services.
On Wednesday February 10th, a major confrontation occurred on SFU campus grounds. It all happened when the Simon Fraser Public Research Interest Group (SFPIRG) was interrupted from their annual general meeting by a protest organized by select members of The Peak, SFU’s weekly circulated and student-run newspaper. Ironically enough, both organizations function at arm’s length from SFSS and share a commitment to foster and maintain democracy and commitment to the SFU community. This conflict, however, has proven to be anything but democratic.
SFPIRG was accused of not presenting an accurate financial statement for the past school year. The Peak team also asserted that paid staff must not run SFPIRG. It should, instead, consist of a mutually influential volunteer board of directors that administer the events and resources that SFPIRG offers.
What the protestors are not aware of is that SFPIRG is virtually run by volunteers. The organization only hires three staff members, and the remaining are all volunteers whose jobs range from managing library resources to organizing environmental awareness campaigns and public protests on social issues in The Lower Mainland.
In fact, SFPIRG proved to be the most desirable volunteer destination for students with a few extra hours on their hands and for those who seek to learn more about the world, gain work experiences and meet like-minded individuals.
Their library collection is carefully selected to promote magazines, videos and thousands of books on a variety of topics ranging in the social and environmental justice fields. A vast number of these resources are not found in the SFU library currently.
This is not to say that SFPIRG does not come without its share of shortcomings. When asked the question whether students would support paying a portion of their fees to a group that promotes environmental and social causes, Judith Bognar, a 4th year Psychology student said she supports the group but believes “they should be more transparent, (because) I don’t know much about what they do.” Sejal Rathee, a Computer Science student, was also in favor of supporting the group, but only “if it cost less than $5 per semester.”
SFPIRG does indeed cost students less than $5 per semester: Full-time students pay $3,compared to a meager $1.5 part-time students pay to keep the activist group running. As for Ms. Bognar’s concern that SFPIRG is “not transparent enough,” the major obstacle the group faces from attracting visitors is its awkward location above the transportation center. Major efforts are underway by the center’s volunteer coordinator, Emily Aspinwall, to implement a campus-wide outreach program to inform us of what SFPIRG is, what they do and where to find them.
It is the survival of groups such as SFPIRG that give the university campus a truly democratic face. The group has amassed collective efforts to ensure that staff and students have access to services and resources related to civic and environmental issues. What happens in the scenario that SFPIRG is cut off from the university life? Would The Peak writers be responsible for the protest that will eventually go after Out on Campus and the Women’s Center as well?
For more information about upcoming SFPIRG events and how you can support SFPIRG, please visit http://www.sfpirg.ca. You can also drop by the centre weekdays between 10:30am and 4:30pm.
By Jamal Saad