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U of T clubs having issues finding space around campus for meetings, events

Student Commons, other spaces slowly opening up for club bookings
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FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

With the return to in-person campus activities, clubs and extracurricular events have been having a difficult time finding open spaces around campus to hold different events and meetings. Due to COVID-19, many spots at U of T are unavailable for club use and many spaces have capacity limits as well.

Finding space on campus

Many groups, including the West Indian Students’ Association (WISA), have expressed that they’ve had difficulty finding spaces.

According to a spokesperson for WISA, “Trouble with finding event spaces on campus has limited the opportunity for members of WISA to interact with each other on a regular basis.”

The spokesperson wrote that the group held one in-person event this year, which took place outside with other COVID-19 safety protocols. However, holding events outside is no longer possible now that the weather has gotten colder. 

“Prior to the pandemic, students would have the opportunity to attend in-person club events where they could meet other like-minded students and students that are part of their community,” wrote the spokesperson. “Unfortunately, with a lot of classes being online today, this further limits the number of opportunities for club members to really interact.” 

They further suggested that U of T could allow clubs to use larger, empty classrooms on campus. The group has not yet been able to obtain permission from U of T to do so.

Another group that had trouble finding spaces is the Society of Undergraduate Drama Students (SUDS). In an email to The Varsity, President Cass Iacovelli described the difficulties and hardships the SUDS had encountered as a club that depends on physical meetings. “Without space, making theatre is nearly impossible. Drama needs spaces to create, perform, and do pretty much anything,” they said.

Iacovelli wrote that having practical experience is important for students looking to pursue theatre after university, and that lacking this experience sets students back when they’re looking for jobs. “The theatre spaces on campus also give us [access] to learning technical skills like lighting, sound engineering, and design as well as mentors in theatre staff,” wrote Iacovelli. 

Although the SUDS has managed to find a few solutions by moving off-campus, it has been financially difficult. Iacovelli hopes that the university will keep its COVID-19 policies in place while still allowing student groups to access physical spaces.

A spokesperson for the university wrote in an email to The Varsity, “We know from discussions with student leaders that the need for student spaces is a concern. As we plan for increased in-person activity this fall our first priority is to provide space for teaching and learning and for that reason the centrally shared classroom, auditorium and indoor common spaces on the St. George Campus have not been available.”

Spaces on campus

The 21 Sussex Clubhouse typically provides over 50 clubs and student groups with office space, but the space is not fully available due to the pandemic. According to Student Life of Clubs and Leadership Development, “space is granted annually to selected recognized campus groups through an application process governed by the Student Activity Space Committee.” 

Another space that has been closed is the Campus Life Resource Lounge, which is also located at 21 Sussex. Student Life describes the spot as “a place for student leaders to meet, eat their lunch, read a book, or simply relax between classes and meetings,” with meeting spaces and equipment for charging devices. This place is typically used by student leaders and members of recognized campus groups and clubs. 

According to the U of T spokesperson, some space is currently available to student groups at Hart House, New College, the UTSU Student Commons and any federated colleges at the St. George campus. Student groups at UTM were told by Ulife to contact the Centre for Student Engagement in order to book space. For space bookings at UTSC, students are able to get in touch with the Office of Student Experience and Wellbeing, as well as the SCSU. The U of T spokesperson noted that “UTSC is working closely with Environmental Health & Safety to review all plans for on-campus events and activities prior to them commencing.” 

Any recognized campus groups may book spaces. To make a booking, the contact person for the group listed with Ulife must fill out a Facilities Request Form. The signed form must then be submitted through an online portal. Any booking requests must be made at least five business days before the date. To cancel, the contact person has to notify Academic and Campus events at least three business days before the date; failure to do so will result in charges for the space. 

“We continue to look at what is possible under existing provincial regulations and are working with faculties and divisions to make more space available,” wrote the U of T spokesperson to The Varsity.