University of Saskatchewan students are taking a new approach to student groups and how they can affect the arts.
The student group, called Saskatoon Public Interest Research Group, are actively petitioning to pass the referendum necessary to establish Saskatoon’s own PIRG. The mandate of the PIRG at the U of S would be to facilitate ideas into action by funding projects, events and initiatives that students believe would benefit the campus and the community.
“I think that there are tons of us at the university who have great ideas about how to promote social good on campus and in the community” said SPIRG event organizer Amanda Bestvater.
The group will be holding the event at Louis’ on Wednesday, Nov. 6. The event will showcase a variety of local talent including Kay the Aquanaut, Jeans Boots, Howl Howl and Helium 3. “The purpose of this event is to bring together a bunch of students with all kinds of perspectives and ideas and introduce them to the idea of a Public Interest Research Group,” said Bestvater. “I’m really hoping that this event will raise awareness within the student body about how a PIRG can help bring their ideas into existence, and I’m hoping that everybody has lots of post-midterms, de-stressing fun.”
Public interest research expands beyond what typical research usually happens at an academic institution. This includes raising awareness, advocacy, capacity building and support for any and all things associated with social, economical and environmental justice.
There are PIRGs established on university campuses across six provinces, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. The list of community projects these PIRGs have undertaken is extensive, ranging from arts festivals and progressive movie screenings to fair trade initiatives and solidarity movements. Even the University of Regina has an active PIRG, while the U of S has yet to establish one.
“PIRGs are immensely beneficial for all universities and their communities at large, and in my eyes the benefits really are limitless,” said Amanda Guthrie, another SPIRG member. “PIRGs are about empowering students and community members to go out and make change and we at SPIRG see an immense need for this right now. I believe the U of S not only should have a PIRG but needs a PIRG, because we currently lack the resources and space to make those types of endeavours towards social, environmental and economical justice.”
In order to establish a PIRG at the U of S, students must bring a petition signed by 5 per cent of undergraduate students to student council. After a vote by student council, students will get the chance to vote in a referendum to approve the introduction of a fee starting the following school year with the option to op-out for those who are disinterested.
Though many Canadian PIRGs charge as much as $10 in funding from each student, SPIRG is suggesting $2.50 per semester. The funding for SPIRG would come from this new fee, and in turn SPIRG would be able to provide funding and resources to initiatives by students working for social change. Any student who has paid the additional student yearly fee will have access to request funding for a project or working group.
“It is important for students to realize, that for less than the price of a grande caramel macchiato, they can access resources, space, and people who want to help them achieve their goals,” Guthrie said. “Students will be able to utilize funding in numerous ways. This is exciting because SPIRG will be whatever U of S students want it to be, while creating social, environmental and economic change.”
Many Canadian PIRGs allow for community members to pay a fee for membership into the organization even if they are not enrolled in the university, something the SPIRG hopes to achieve. Students and community members alike would have the opportunity to use SPIRG to benefit their own groups, such as arts or business initiatives.
The examples of current projects at other PIRGs are varied and often represent specific student or community needs. In Kingston, Ont. students and artists have founded a group through their university’s PIRG called the Kingston Mayworks Collective. This group “believes that bridging art and labour can bring about social change” is the approach given on their website.
At other universities, including McGill and U of R, PIRGs grow community gardens on campus, donate the crops to outreach centres as well as promote awareness for sustainability, food production and land use. Regardless of what ambitions students foster, PIRGs across Canada campaign to make communities better places.
“I think the event on Nov. 6 will be a rowdy time for students who want to hang out and dance a lot, and learn how to get involved,” Amanda Bestvater. “We invite the whole student body to come out to the event to listen to some good music and learn how they can create change.”
Those who wish to learn more about the plan to make SPIRG a reality or join in themselves can attend one of the weekly meetings Wednesdays at 4:30 p.m. in room B406 of the Health Sciences building. Additionally, the Saskatoon Public Interest Research Group Facebook page regularly updates their activities.
Photo: Supplied by SPIRG