Following years of inaccessibility issues, Trinity College’s Junior Common Room (JCR) is receiving a jointly-funded student and administration XPRESS II Stair Lift. The Trinity College Meeting (TCM), Trinity’s direct democracy governance body, passed the proposal at its second meeting on October 17.
The Trinity College Literary Institute, or the Lit, is a levied club that holds weekly satirical debates in the JCR. The issue of accessibility was brought up to the Prime Minister of the Lit, Rhiannon Langford, during Trinity’s Clubs Fair. A student in a mobility device asked about getting involved when Langford realized they could not access the JCR.
That day, Langford emailed her concerns about accessibility and some possible solutions to Dean of Students Kristen Moore. Moore has held the position for just over a year now. She agreed to meet with Langford and Pierre Kochel, the Speaker of the Lit, a couple days before the first debate was scheduled.
“We go there and the entire dean’s office staff is there and they’ve totally ambushed us,” Langford said. “They’re like, ‘You have to leave the JCR or else there is going to be an [Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)] lawsuit against the Lit.’ And I’m like, ‘Wait, we’re a student group, how is there going to be a lawsuit?’ It was just in a super threatening way of asking us to move so it was not the best way of this happening, obviously.”
Administration asked the Lit to move to the Divinity Common Room (DCR) for the time being after speaking with the heads of divinity. Moore said they were happy to support the Lit’s activity, due to its importance in undergraduate life at the college.
“What we’ve made an arrangement with them is for them to be able to continue to hold their events as they would in the JCR,” Moore said. “The only modification that we’ve asked them to make is to space, it’s not to any of the content or activity.”
Langford asked Moore for more time to relocate the debates, which would have meant keeping the first debate in the JCR.
“She was like, ‘Absolutely not. This is a human rights issue,’ and all these things,” Langford said. “Which is fair, the reason I asked about the ramp is because I care about accessibility, but framing it like I’m going to get sued because I tried to get the ramp installed in the first place just seemed a bit ridiculous to me. I leave that thinking, ‘Okay, how is this going to get done?’”
Langford also said, “It’s not the end of the world that we are being kicked out of the room, it’s just the way that it is done and Trin is so special because we do have these student-led movements and students have led so much change and not giving students the dignity and respect to make those changes from our governance perspectives is kind of annoying.”
The day after the Lit was asked to move to the DCR, Rainbow Trin, the college’s LGBTQ club, was allowed to hold its semi-formal in the JCR. This prompted concerns from the Lit leaders that accessibility is not administration’s true concern.
“In my mind, I feel like it’s about liability and they’re just worried about that AODA lawsuit because if they truly cared about making accessible space, they would be doing some action on it already,” Langford said. “They’d be encouraging other student groups to not use it in the meantime.”
Regarding liability threats, Moore said, “I don’t think there have been any threats to [the college], but I think that sometimes in conversations to people we try to discuss the whole spectrum of the range of things.”
Moore also said that the Lit’s concern initiated conversation about accessibility. The JCR and administration has since asked the student heads to advise club presidents to look for accessible spaces for their events.
“It wasn’t necessarily that we were kind of seeking out the Lit… the reason why we talked about them specifically moving their space is because they came to us and highlighted the concern with not being accessible and that would mean being exclusive to someone who had indicated they wanted to participate,” Moore said.
Both Moore and Langford stressed the importance of the JCR to undergraduate life and expressed surprise that the room’s lack of accessibility has not been questioned before.
The Lit’s constitution mandates that meetings “shall be held in the Junior Common Room except with the concurrence of the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.”
“It’s one of the only spaces because it’s a private space within a public building… It’s kind of just students casually get together once a week and relax and laugh at each other,” Langford said. “For all those reasons, plus, we’re just really attached to this room. It’s student run. The admin has nothing to do with this room. We love the JCR.”
In order to fund the stair lift, administration pushed for student assistance from the Student Capital Campaigns Committee (SCCC), which usually convenes at the end of each semester.
The SCCC’s strategic plan says its mandate is to “Initiate and ﬁnancially support key capital initiatives for the betterment of the student experience at Trinity College” and “Support proposals and continue to explore initiatives that highlight the long term goals for the improvement of the student experience.”
In order to pass the lift proposal before the semester ends, TCM Chair Jaclyn Flom agreed to alter the schedule and call an SCCC meeting as soon as a proposal was ready.
“[Having meetings at the end of each semester] runs into issues with timing of the year, and it makes it very difficult for our building services team to be able to implement them over the summer, because they are looking at the project timeline for summer and the coming year — already by the fall and the winter, they are already planning.So, to sort of jam different things in that they weren’t anticipating makes it very difficult for things to happen in a timely fashion,” Moore said.
According to the second TCM’s minutes, the SCCC will fund $24,999 of the project, and the college will provide $25,000.
“At the end of the day, it is a project [that] we recognize is particularly important regardless of the amount of student contribution, so I think it’s one of those things [we’re] interested to see because honestly, it makes a really nice story when you have students who step up and say, ‘We’d like to put, however much money, however much it is that we’d like to put forward, because we consider this to be a really important issue for us, and we have changed our structure of how we normally do things because we want to see this happen sooner.’” Moore said.
In her proposal to the SCCC, Langford brought up student usage of the JCR: “Student groups are being denied access to the room due to Trinity’s failure to comply by accessibility laws,” the proposal reads. “In an effort to make student events inclusive to all, it is essential that this room be equipped with an accessible entrance as soon as possible.”
At the TCM, students passed the motion with 43 votes in favour and two abstentions. SCCC proposals for projects under $25,000 need to pass a two-thirds majority, but at only one TCM rather than two.
In her presentation to the TCM, Langford said, “The administration has been super awesome about making this one of their top construction priorities.”
Langford was interviewed before she could meet with Moore about making the official SCCC proposal, and both Langford and Moore were interviewed before the proposal passed.
Since it is a heritage building, Trinity College’s buildings have not been subject to strict laws regarding accessibility, but administration has been working on improvements over the past few years, including most recently, the near completion of an elevator from the basement of the Trinity College building to Seeley Hall.
The Lit will continue meeting in the DCR until the lift’s proposed completion in January.