Victoria College. Yassine Elbaradie/THE VARSITY

The Gardiner Gala, an annual event held at Victoria College to celebrate the relationship between the college and the Gardiner Museum, was postponed last week, which caught Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) off guard.

For the past three years, VUSAC has planned the event in cooperation with the Office of the Dean of Students at Victoria College. This year, however, VUSAC lost touch with the Dean’s Office during the month of December.

The office was responsible for communicating and handling contracts with the Gardiner. VUSAC nonetheless continued to plan the event. “There was a break in communication between parties when we needed to maintain that. If there had been a plan about what had to be done things would have worked out differently, but there seemed to be a breakdown in communication,” said Stuart Norton, VUSAC’s Scarlet & Gold Commissioner.

On January 4, following the winter break, the Dean’s Office assured VUSAC the event would still occur on January 14. The next day, however, VUSAC received an email from the Dean’s Office stating the event had to be postponed. “VUSAC representatives did not know why the event was postponed and felt they were not given enough notice or clarification. That wasn’t seen as appropriate,” said VUSAC co-president Benjamin Atkins.

VUSAC released a statement on Facebook — without agreement from the Dean’s Office who wanted to approve the statement beforehand — explaining the situation to students. “The dean helps with monetary contributions and supports us, but we are not the same. We are accountable to students and I’m concerned with creating space to ask questions,” said Norton, who did not want to censor the situation.

Within the week, VUSAC met with the dean, who confirmed the office was late ordering catering and that they did not want to agree to the package that the Gardiner offered, which would cost $40 per person. The office decided to postpone the event, but were also willing to provide an alternative semi-formal event for students at the Goldring Student Centre. “The Dean’s Office is covering the cost of an alternative event on Thursday, which is very kind of them, and we’ll still be holding the Gardiner Gala sometime this semester,” said Norton. “The initial reaction from students was anger, frustration and disappointment,” said Atkins. “VUSAC is grateful that the dean is covering a new event but students were left bewildered.”

“I think the future for us, we have to make sure we are not cut off from the Dean’s Office,” added Norton. “We’re trying to rework how we work together and how the two organizations can come together to provide programming for students.”

Issues with the dean’s office

“This event fits into a larger narrative of the Dean’s Office as being overinvolved in student affairs and not committed to student interests,” said Auni Ahsan, a third-year Victoria College student. “We have this body that doesn’t consult students but puts policy in place that makes it difficult for students to hold events here. When you look at the Dean’s Office, it is an ivory tower that is not transparent about where money is going,” Ahsan added. “Last year they built another wall that made the only accessible washroom available only by elevator. Did they consult students about it? No.”

When Jenna*, a Victoria College student, was sexually assaulted on campus last year, she felt mistreated by associates of the Dean’s Office. “I had to (painstakingly) repeat what had happened at least five times that night before going to the hospital, despite being overwhelmed and wanting nothing more than to go to bed…I felt there was more attention paid to spreading ‘awareness’ about what had happened (even that night) than was paid to making sure I was okay.” A few days after the incident, Jenna saw a post about the assault on Facebook, and although she was aware of the importance of warning the student body, she was not notified about the post beforehand. “There are issues with confidentiality, issues with taking responsibility, and issues with actually listening to and having respect for the students under their purview. I understand that mistakes are made and information leaks sometimes, but I could have had been given an apology.”

“I think what occurred with the Gardiner Gala and my experiences reflect an overall inadequacy at the Dean’s Office,” added Jenna.

The Office of the Dean at Victoria College declined to comment.

*Name changed at student’s request.

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