Wall divides Douglas students

A petition has been started to oppose the Douglas College student union's decision to cut its 'Pride Room' on the New Westminster campus in half.

The union's executive approved dividing Room 206 in the student union building in two last month. The executive said the space was needed for other groups to use and a wall was put up days later.

"It all came as quite a shock, and everything happened very, very quickly which makes us think we really weren't heard," said pride club president Katie Koenig. "It's a safe space for students to go to feel comfortable being themselves, to step outside of their student lives."

She said many students have not come out to their family and friends, and the room provides a place to go to socialize without being judged.

The announcement met with unfavourable reaction on the Douglas Students' Union (DSU) Pride Centre's Facebook site.

"This room is supposed to be a safe space. By sharing it with random people and random clubs it is not a safe space. There has to be another room, a bigger room, that can be split in two. They cannot take our room," wrote Kiki See. "We have correctly labelled the new wall in the Pride Center as the Berlin Wall."

"They're taking away a safe place that people need and it's not fair how we're supposed to share it with others, as it's been said it is OUR space, we don't know these people, which could become a big concern if we're expected to share it," said Meaghan McLean.

"How is this okay, like, at all?" questioned Kevin Taki. "Isn't there at least some process that we should have a voice in, as it's OUR space. I'm not okay with this, many other students are not okay with this."

Koenig said the wall, while solid, is far from being soundproof. That erodes the role of the space as a sanctuary, he added, and makes it more vulnerable to theft, a problem campus-wide.

In an email to the NewsLeader, DSU executive director Tim Rattel said those complaining on Facebook don't represent the actual pride membership on campus. He said there are only six or seven who attend meetings and the same one or two students use the room daily.

Rattel said the DSU has had a space crunch in recent years, with several clubs and groups seeking space for meetings or events.

The DSU is proud of its long history of providing a safe space and resource room to its LBGTQ members, he added.

"Indeed most colleges in B.C. can only dream of the space and resources the DSU provides," he said. "Even larger institutions don't have spaces comprable to the DSU's Pride Space."

He has no idea why anyone would say the space isn't safe.

"Are they referring to safe from thefts or 'a safe space' for LGBTQ members? We consider our entire building a 'safe space' from any form of harassment or intimidation. If an individual feels it is not, then the board is eager to look at ways of ensuring it is safe," said Rattel.

Rattel said with the renovation completed, the board intends to purchase a television for the space that will be secured. He admitted a computer was taken from the room, but a new one with anti-theft devices will be provided as soon as possible.

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