Fighting for Grey House

Members from campus groups facing eviction want to maintain longstanding operations in the building

Campus groups like the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Kingston (OPIRG) have been asked to vacate the Grey House by Sept. 30.
Campus groups like the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Kingston (OPIRG) have been asked to vacate the Grey House by Sept. 30.
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The recent AMS decision to evict several longstanding campus groups from the Grey House reflects an abuse of power and disregards the importance of both the historical and contemporary work of these groups.

The decision, which came down on Aug. 29, requires the Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP), the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre and the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Kingston (OPIRG) to vacate our space in the Grey House by Sept. 30.

Our continued co-existence in the Grey House has become an essential part of our operations. It’s crucial to our ability to collectively build and nurture an environment of safety and inclusivity.

This is something the AMS had come to recognize when it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in April 2011 with OPIRG, Levana and the Queen’s Pride Project (QPP).

The MOU sought to recognize the historical importance of the space through the guarantee that “the often vulnerable organizations [which] occupy the Grey House have security above and beyond the normal yearly space allocation procedure.”

The contract states: “Insofar as the Society retains occupancy rights over the Grey House as part of its management of the Student Life Centre, it shall allocate space therein to” OPIRG, Levana, QPP and others.

On July 8, we learned that the current AMS executive refused to recognize the MOU that had been explicitly signed by former AMS president Safiah Chowdhury and vice-president of operations Ben Hartley when they were in office in April 2011.

Rather than seeking to correct this error that we believe could have been easily remedied, the AMS proceeded to issue our eviction notices less than two months later.

We did not sign a contract in April of this year only to have it rendered invalid by September.

The AMS is using several rationales to justify their actions. Arguments about policy or claims of allowing accessibility deflect from the AMS’s accountability to their members—members who need the essential services and spaces fought for and created in the Grey House that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

The application of policy should never override the AMS’s mandate to serve the diversity of students.

The reality is that within a span of five months we went from believing the AMS had started to recognize the importance of the work we do for their society’s members to receiving a notice of eviction from a space we have collectively occupied for decades.

The rationale that policy dictates AMS space only be “allocated” to “AMS-ratified” clubs denies what was recognized in our Memorandum Of Understanding: that the work we do is essential for AMS members and the space we occupy together is essential for that work.

The AMS’s decision to evict OPIRG, Levana and EQuIP based on policy technicalities not only shows a disregard for the historical and contemporary work of these organizations but is a willful abuse of power.

The groups occupying the Grey House have sought to create an environment that is supportive for the most vulnerable members of the Queen’s and Kingston communities for decades. We do so through various types of programming, running campaigns, offering workshops and reading groups, having open office hours, staffing our various libraries and archives, celebrating ourselves and our struggles and cultivating a physical space that is confidential and accessible to many marginalized students.

The work we do is crucial to our survival at Queen’s and in Kingston. Many of those involved in these projects are directly influenced by the types of discrimination we seek to eliminate.

We provide services that are essential in the lives of countless individuals. At other schools, the work we do is paid for and run by the university itself, often professionally staffed by multiple people.

We are proud that the services here are directed by students, giving us the opportunity to collaborate with and build relationships between undergraduate, graduate and professional students, staff, faculty and members of the Kingston community. We use the budgets we are able to attain through student fees or assembly-approved allocations to make the Queen’s and Kingston communities more livable for those who struggle.

By evicting these organizations, the AMS sends a message that when clubs’ and organizations’ needs don’t perfectly match up with the demands of policy, the work and, indeed, the very presence of hundreds of students can be kicked to the curb.

Fraser MacPherson is a member of OPIRG and Kym Nacita is a member of the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre

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