With the scheduled opening of the Student Commons just months away, it has become clear that several of the promises the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) first made to students over 10 years ago will not be realized. The project has since undergone several drastic changes and delays.
A fund intended to reserve $50,000 of the UTSU‘s operating budget annually for the Student Commons was liquidated immediately before the 2015 UTSU Executives took office, thus limiting the UTSU’s ability to offer all the amenities it initially had promised.
While the Student Commons may not be what students imagined it would be 10 years ago, it will provide students with a new space of their own. The Student Commons will provide areas for students to socialize and study, bookable spaces for student clubs, and a student-run café. Although this may pale in comparison to initial promises of a 600-person auditorium and three restaurants, the Student Commons’ emphasis on student space will fill a major void in student life at U of T.
When I first came to U of T, I was shocked that a university of this size seemed to lack spaces that were fully student-run. Compared to other schools across Canada, UTSG lacks many spaces that are explicitly designed to foster community. Consider that other universities have designated student centres similar to what the Student Commons will be, including the Nest at the University of British Columbia, the University Centre at McGill, and even the student centres at UTM and UTSC. At a school criticized by students for lacking a sense of community, this lack of student-run space seems particularly troubling, especially for commuter students who usually spend long days on campus. The Student Commons would provide alternatives to students whose current options are cramped lounges or libraries.
As UTSU President Mathias Memmel has acknowledged, the Student Commons comes with its fair share of baggage. Aside from the aforementioned change in facilities it will offer, the project is costing students far more than originally intended — accounted for by a $14.25 sessional levy starting in September — and it is already a year behind schedule.
Nevertheless, for a university that often feels alienating, it is invaluable to invest in spaces that create a sense of home on campus. With the project now almost complete, it represents an important development in campus life at U of T, despite not meeting all initial expectations.
Yasaman Mohaddes is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science and Sociology.