On March 25, the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union held their annual Experience in Excellence awards event at Louis’ Pub. While the awards sought to celebrate a select group of students and staff, one award nominee declined his award.
Leigh Thomas, a third-year regional and urban planning student, rejected his nomination for the Pride Centre’s Doug Wilson Award during the event. Thomas says he did so in response to the
USSU’s decision to close their Women’s Centre, Help Centre and Pride Centre during the
campus-wide protests on March 23 that followed the USSU election results.
Thomas, who has been a long-time volunteer at the Pride Centre, says he specifically takes issue with USSU General Manager Caroline Cottrell’s role in the centres’ closures, saying that Cottrell went into the centres to ask volunteers and centre-goers to leave on the day of the closures.
“You have to take into account that there were volunteers in the space and other people that needed that space,” Thomas said. “[Cottrell] could have come in and said, ‘You have an hour — you need to vacate.’ Then, we could have decompressed people. She failed in that mutual respect… She had an active role in displacing us. It wasn’t just because she was the messenger.”
Thomas feels that the centres were closed during a critical time when they ought to have been open.
“[The centres] have their designated roles to offer safe spaces. A lot of places on campus are not safe for a lot of people — for marginalized groups on campus. These spaces are places for people to find peers and community support,” Thomas said.
On March 23, posters were placed on the centres’ doors that indicated that the USSU had closed them after receiving legal advice to do so. The signs encouraged those who required assistance to go to the Student Affairs and Outreach Team or the Student Wellness Centre. For Thomas, this was an ineffective way to redirect students looking for peer support.
“[Students] just got kicked out and sent to the Wellness Centre, but the Wellness Centre had no idea what to do or where people should go,” Thomas said. “They were sent off to all these different places and didn’t have a [fixed] location until later on in the day… It was like crisis management — all these people were displaced. We were running around making sure people were okay.”
Thomas says he has since filed a complaint concerning Cottrell’s treatment of volunteers with USSU President David D’Eon. At the time of publication, Thomas has not yet received any response from the USSU regarding the complaint or the specific legal reasons as to why the centres were closed during the protests.
“We haven’t heard anything, but the centres are open. It would be nice to hear more or to get an apology for those impacted,” Thomas said. “It’s our right to protest. We shouldn’t be kicked out of our safe spaces if we choose to use them. We are undergraduate students — these are our spaces.”
According to Thomas, his criticism extends beyond the USSU to the university’s administration as well.
“When the email from the vice-provost came out, we were talking about how it was contradictory,” Thomas said. “It was them talking about our rights, but we were the ones displaced. The institution itself failed. They closed the centres and kicked us out of the safe spaces. They just threw out everything that everyone [has been] working for since the beginning of these movements.”
When contacted by the Sheaf, Cottrell declined to comment on the closures of the centres.
Tanner Bayne / Culture Editor
Photo: Riley Deacon