Analyzing Tradition, Student Safety, Democracy, Impeachment and Beyond
St. Francis Xavier University administration has decided that, as of September 2018, the residences of Cameron Hall and MacKinnon Hall, that is; MacPherson, TNT, MacDonald, MacNeil and Chillis, former single-gender residences, will now be co-ed. Due to the nature of the buildings, the residences were never truly completely closed off from the other houses, but now there will be no separation whatsoever. This decision was inevitably met with outrage and push- back from the student body.
The purpose of this article is not to lend support to either the University’s decision nor the #saveuniversityave movement, but rather, to analyze and critique the arguments of the multiple groups on campus who have a stake in the decision.
This controversy on campus is by no means black and white but an incredibly murky mixture of both ideas rooted in evidence and emotion. The Xaverian Weekly believes it is important to stay neutral on this hotly contested subject. We have opened up our platform to everyone who wishes to express their thoughts on this matters. In this issue you will see many contributions that express the opinion that University Ave residences should remain single-gender. These students most of whom currently live in either Cameron or MacKinnon Hall have made it clear that they want the administration to hear what they have to say. However, just because one side may be able to yell louder, doesn’t mean that those with the opposing view do not deserve to be heard as well. As Psychology professor, Dr. Karen Blair tweeted during the Special Council, “the rights of a minority should never be subject to the whim of the majority.”
Those who did not have a pleasant experience in residence due to forms of harassment and/ or hazing are voicing their own concerns. We are not accusing any one particular group or individual in engaging in this behaviour but ignoring the documentation that StFX has on file in terms of these incidents occurring in the past would be dismissive of the conversation at hand. At the Special Council meeting on Saturday February 3, Sirois addressed the room the room bursting of students decked out in house colours and stated that though the good aspect of these residences must be preserved, the negative aspects far-out-weigh the positive and those must be altered.
Leaving aside the fact that this decision was made unilaterally by the University, it is concerning that the Students’ Union decided to offer their support without consultation with the student body as a whole. When speaking to VP Residence Rebecca Messay, she made it clear that the statement published by the U was not penned by SU President Annie Sirois alone. Each member of the executive team signed off before it was released. This distinction may seem irrelevant, yet many have been pointing the finger solely at the President for backing the University. Despite having the full support of the executive team, the statement clearly shocked many students. Though the purpose of the Students’ Union isn’t always to “ fight” the University, those “for students by students” should be aware that transparency between leaders and their constituents only strengthens the student body as a whole. Because there was no initial survey and councillors were not consulted beforehand, we must ask ourselves if this is inherently democratic even though it is within their purview to do so?
Though many students are unwilling to accept the likely changes, it is understandable to see why the university has made this decision after so many years of second chances. Aside from overall safety- be that hazing sexual assault, or violence of any kind, there are also many other points to consider.
An important point that has been brought up is that co-ed, and eventually gender neutral residences are, by nature more inclusive than single-gendered. Many LGBTQ+ students have spoken out about feeling uncomfortable in residences and the bathroom situations in many are deplorable for anyone who does not necessarily identify as cisgender. The changes that are coming to fruition will hopefully start conversations and bring a beginning of the end to “toxic” traditions.
A petition has been created calling for the impeachment of both President Annie Sirois and Vice President Academic Patrick Panet-Raymond. In the petition, creator Spencer Morse states that he feels it evident that the two do not believe in impartial representation and are no longer able to execute the requirements of their positions adequately.
In addition to his arguments, he cites a meme that Sirois tweeted the night of the Special Council. His own personal sentiments aside because of the StFX Students’ Union President does not use a professional “President” Twitter account, but rather a personal account to convey presidential information in addition to personal content, some feel that a line was crossed when the meme was tweeted that could be interpreted as mocking students who are intent upon blocking changes to University Avenue.
The office of Student Life has cited other residences namely Bishops Hall as the “poster child” example of the success of the success that is turning gender segregated spaces to co-ed ones. Burke and Fraser used to be male only and Plessis female-only. These residences often faced the same conduct challenges that Cameron and McKinnon Hall have experienced over the past decade. When the building was remodeled and the three residences were turned into co-ed living spaces, conduct allegedly improved, notably with much less significant instances of property damage.
Despite the potential for positive change, another aspect is that there will now be one floor of the soon-to-be-reopened MacIsaac Hall set aside for students wishing to live in a female-only floor. Though this is seemingly a compromise of sorts, there are still many men who wish to have the same opportunity. Even Jacqueline De Leebeeck from the Student Life of office acknowledges that there are students who, for cultural, religious, or simply individual preferences, would rather be in a single-gender floor. Yet this option will now only be available for female students. It also begs the question of whether this new floor on Mac will simply become a mini TNT/Chillis in which case, what good will come of moving the houses from one side of campus to another?
On Feburary 11, the Students’ Union Representative Council will be re-convening to decide whether or not they will of officially support the University’s decision to change the residences to co-ed. The Xaverian Weekly implores their readers to make their voices heard no matter what side of this debate they may fall on.