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Fund razing 

The Saint Mary’s Student Association scales back support for the University Women’s Centre and the student paper.

Holly Taylor has to feel happy. Students at Saint Mary's University have voted to stabilize and more than double funding to the Saint Mary's University Women's Centre, which Taylor heads up as coordinator.

But that levy vote isn't all good. With it has come the news that the SMU Women's Centre is losing the financial and symbolic support of its own university's Students' Association.

In a September 26 and 27 referendum vote, students at SMU voted to approve to have a $2 fee tacked onto their $5,600 annual tuition to provide funding for the school's women's centre. That equals about $16,000 in permanent, annual funding, beginning next year.

But SMU Students' Association president Mitch Gillingwater and other members of the Students' Representative Council have decided not to renew $5,500 in annual SMUSA funding to the centre.

Taylor wonders if that's in the best interest of students.

"We do so much," she says.

The women's centre, from its living-room-sized office on the fifth floor of the student centre, advocates for female students when issues of gender inequality arise on campus and acts as a resource and referral centre—offering computer access, organization space, workshops, and free condoms and tampons.

But Taylor, who runs the four-year-old centre on a $4,000 annual salary while working on a graduate degree, says the centre helps more than women; she calls it an "all-in-one" centre.

"There's nothing like a diversity centre or a queer centre ," Taylor says. And "right now there's no sexual harassment advisor...they've changed to the conflict resolution advisor."

The women's centre, which also receives $2,000 in annual funding directly from the university (which it may also lose under the new levy scheme), has been serving this year as an ad hoc Queer Positive society, and, Taylor says they get a lot of people coming to the centre for sexual harassment counselling who are "expecting us to be counsellors."

"And our volunteers are not trained to deal with that situation. We can refer people to the conflict resolution office or counselling services. But, immediately, when someone is crying or upset, the first thing they don't want to hear is, "OK, go here.' They need someone to listen right away."

The new $16,000 (based on next September's enrolment) will help the women's centre deal with the many hats it must wear. But Taylor doesn't see why the $5,500 in renewable funding from SMUSA should be denied the centre automatically.

"We're actually providing very important and necessary services the university is not providing," she says.

Mitch Gillingwater, president of the Saint Mary's University Students' Association, says the governing body he heads is pleased the women's centre will now be able to expand programming and that the funding change isn't so much a slash as a matter of semantics.

"It's not that we're cutting the funding, it's that they wanted to be separate from that funding agreement and from us." To him, it's the same pot of money, just getting doled out in a different way.

Before the referendum, student money came into the SMUSA budget and SMUSA handed $5,500 back out to the Women's Centre. Now, $16,000 in student money will go directly to the women's centre and the original $5,500 will stay in the SMUSA pot to cover other expenses.

SMUSA annually funds applications from some of the 50-plus societies at SMU, doles out cash to charities (like the Nova Scotia-Gambia Association and Dalhousie University's Shinerama Cystic Fibrosis campaign), and gives out $40,000 in bursaries and scholarships.

Whether by levy or by SMUSA grant, in Gillingwater's eyes, it all comes from students' pockets.

He says it's not policy that societies receiving permanent funding through student levies are cut off from SMUSA funding, but "it is the case with the women's centre."

The women's centre isn't the only organization at Saint Mary's facing a change in its relationship with SMUSA: Come the end of the academic year, the office of student paper The Journal will be forced to move.

Editor-in-chief Amanda Wenek says she was informed in the summer that members of the Students' Representative Council had decided The Journal would be moving to another fifth-floor office in the student centre.

She says SMUSA does "great things for the school," but complains that some of the governing body's decisions have been "arbitrary" and have lacked appropriate consultation. "We were like, how do you know what our needs are when you never once came to us to ask what it takes to run a newspaper?"

Wenek says the new space is unacceptable for The Journal's 10 staff and additional volunteers. "This office was built for this newspaper. All the office furniture was built to fit this space.

"They want to move us into a much smaller space that's open concept...For a phone interview, it's crucial that you have private office space, where you're not interrupted and it's quiet."

Gillingwater says in The Journal's new space, editors will be "more than accommodated to put out a student paper" and that SMUSA is doing everything possible to make the late-April-scheduled move easier: hiring a professional space planner, installing new data and voice cables, and paying to clean the new office and the old one before several SMUSA departments take it over.

SMUSA doesn't fund The Journal—in part, a $4 annual student levy does—but the association provides use of the Huskies van and free rent in a space the university has placed in SMUSA's control.

And, SMUSA, as the only recognized student group on campus, technically governs the paper, which is a society. "The Journal," Gillingwater says, "can exist because we allow them to."

If The Journal's furniture won't fit in the new space—a primary concern of Wenek's—Gillingwater says SMUSA won't commit to paying for new desks.

"The Journal has its own operating budget of $80,000. SMUSA is not responsible for buying the journal new furniture," Gillingwater said.

Students, Wenek says, are aware of the office debate and they appear to support SMUSA; The Journal received one (pro-SMUSA) letter after an editorial by Wenek and a SMUSA-sponsored online forum, Wenek says, "was all bashing The Journal. I don't know if they don't know how to help or if they don't care."

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