Queen's University — Since 1873
9th September 2011

Groups say space has historic importance

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Leaving the Grey House would alter the way Kingston’s Ontario Public Research Interest Group (OPIRG), the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre and the Education for Queer Issues Project (EQuIP) operate, say representatives from each group.

EQuIP, a committee under the umbrella of the AMS Social Issues Commission, is facing removal from the Grey House because of AMS policy. Jessie Sinclair, chair of EQuIP, said the attempt to remove the group from the space shows a disregard for marginalized students on campus.

“EQuIP did not make any mistakes or decisions that legitimize our eviction, and we are essential to maintaining the Grey House for what the students know it as: a safe space, a refuge, and a home for those that do not identify as part of the Queen’s norm,” Sinclair, ArtSci ’13, told the Journal via email.

She said the possibility of relocating the group to the Social Issues Commission’s office is “unacceptable.” “This ‘relocation’ will cause a loss of comfort in individuals who turn to EQuIP privately for office hours or a safe space to spend time in,” she said.

Sinclair said she’s hoping AMS officials will reconsider the decision but that EQuIP has strategies in place in the case that this doesn’t happen.

“We are not fighting for our committee’s best interests,” Sinclair said. “We are fighting for the past, present and future students of this institution who rely on and benefit from our irreplaceable services.” T.K. Pritchard, AMS social issues commissioner, hasn’t been involved with the decision to remove OPIRG and Levana from the Grey House. He said he’s been working with Sinclair and advocating for EQuIP’s stance on the issue.

“EQuIP offers an extremely valuable resource. [The Grey House is] the only queer space on campus,” Pritchard, ArtSci ’12, said. “I don’t think there’s really any other in Kingston either. In my mind, they need to have what they have.”

Though the AMS’s decision to remove EQuIP from the space is backed by their policy, Pritchard, the former chair of EQuIP, said this is never an issue that has come up before.

“This is the first year to my knowledge this policy’s been enforced with EQuIP,” he said.

Pritchard didn’t back the planned move of EQuIP to his office and said the Grey House was essential to EQuIP’s operations when he was chair last year. “They need to have a space for their resources. They need to hold private office hours. They need to remain a queer space for students because there isn’t another space,” he said. “Just because you’re in the SIC doesn’t mean you’re not homophobic. This space doesn’t function in that same way as the EQuIP office does.”

Though he’s not involved in meetings between OPIRG, Levana and the AMS at this point, he said the groups affect a lot of students and he would hate these students go unsupported.

“My recommendation is that we continue to support all students,” he said.

Vlada Bilyak, coordinator of the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre, said the organization has existed in the Grey House for almost 40 years.

“We started here in 1975 and it’s been home to so much organization around queer issues,” Bilyak, ArtSci ’10 said. “It’s all happened out of this house.”

The centre operates a women’s research library on the second floor of the building.

“It’s the oldest women’s and feminist’s research library in Canada,” she said.

Bilyak said the organization hasn’t chosen whether or not they are going to re-ratify as an AMS club yet.

“It’s still something that needs to be discussed as a collective consensus,” she said.

Kavita Bissoondial, OPIRG Kingston coordinator and ArtSci ’10, said OPIRG has had issues dealing with certain members of the AMS. “I’m so upset. I’m so angry,” she said. “Evicting these three groups is one thing, but … we were given an eviction letter and there were no groups assigned to any room in the Grey House.” Bissoondial said groups in the Grey House work together on projects like the upcoming OPIRG hip hop festival.

“Each group provides very different services, all of us do some sort of open office hours,” she said. “That house is the only dedicated space in Kingston to talking about and assisting queer people and queer issues.” While the group has not made a decision about re-ratifying, Bissoondial said she feels OPIRG is being pressured into it.

“If it’s determined … that we need to become an AMS-ratified club to stay in the space, then we’re probably going to likely have to become an AMS ratified club,” she said. “If we don’t have to, we’re not going to.”

—With files from Terra-Ann Arnone and Clare Clancy

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