The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) has lost their opt-outable student proposal fee for the second time in two years, making the organization’s future uncertain.
OPIRG Kingston is one of 21 Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) that exist on university campuses nationwide.
PIRGs are student-funded organizations that seek to engage students and members of the community in research initiatives, as well as participation in student-oriented events.
OPIRG lost its fee for the first time in Feb. 2012 after it had been present within student activity funds since 1992.
A “no” campaign emerged in Jan. 2012, titled NOPIRG, to contest OPIRG’s student fee. Hostilities between some members on both groups lead to student constables escorting members around campus for safety reasons.
OPIRG’s legitimacy was questioned earlier this week by a flyer distributed to student’s mailboxes around the Student Ghetto. The flyer, published anonymously, accused OPIRG of anti-Semitic and homophobic behaviour.
“These allegations are not worth defending, since all accusers would have to do is come and see for themselves what OPIRG does,” Erica Spink D’Souza, coordinator of OPIRG Kingston, told the Journal via email.
“We work towards inclusivity and against hate and oppression.” She said that accusations of anti-Semitism within OPIRG are unfounded.
“Taking a stance against Zionism or human rights abuses enacted by any country does not mean you are against a group of people or a religion from that country,” she said.
D’Souza said those who sent out the letter were strategic, as OPIRG was unable to respond during the voting period.
D’Souza said she and other OPIRG members are unsettled by the claims from campaigns such as NOPIRG
“We are disturbed by their dishonesty and disingenuousness in part and present defunding campaigns,” she said.
D’Souza said that OPIRG was disappointed with the outcome of the vote.
“The money that we received through [student fees] went back into the Queen’s community,” she said.
She said these fees funded music festivals, alternative frosh events and educational workshops along with social justice campaigns.
D’Souza said OPIRG will maintain its presence without student funding, although it may prove to be difficult.
“Without an annual AMS student optional levy, OPIRG will struggle to fund new initiatives … and turn our educational programming into action in the public interests,” she said.
She said OPIRG plans to meet with all of its volunteers in the near future to discuss funding options.
D’Souza said she believes students will reach out to OPIRG in support.
“Although campaigns like [the flyer] … subject our organization to slanderous claims, in the end we always gain more friends than enemies,” she said.
She said she encourages students to not buy into the claims of conservative-affiliated groups.
“We hope that students can critically recognize that a slander campaign has nothing to offer students besides being hateful,” she said. “These claims should be critically investigated.” Stuart Clark, ArtSci ’14, spearheaded the NOPIRG campaign in 2012, and re-instigated the campaign during this year’s referendum.
He maintained NOPIRG’s platform that said OPIRG misused student funding by not focusing on Queen’s-oriented groups and events.
“We talked about the salary of the OPIRG coordinator who was not elected and made more than the AMS president,” he said.
Clark said that it was not NOPIRG that distributed the letter in the Student Ghetto.
“There are a lot of groups out there who are dissatisfied with OPIRG and it could have very well been one of them,” he said. “[The flyer] certainly [was] unprecedented.”
Clark said there was a lack of a heated dispute between the two groups this year as OPIRG was no longer a “dominant player”.
He said OPIRG didn’t try to garner the support of the Queen’s community.
“They are going to go right back to what they did before.
The unfortunate part is that they’ve learned nothing,” Clark said.
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