The University of Ottawa Muslim Students Association (UOMSA) is requesting more prayer space on campus. As enrolment has risen, so have their numbers and the space provided is no longer adequate for their needs.
As the UOMSA is requesting space for the religious purposes of a large number of students, it is without a doubt more pressing than many requests. However, space is an issue on this campus for everyone. The needs of one of the largest student groups on campus points to a larger problem.
Set on a 42.5-hectare triangle of land in the middle of an expanding city, the U of O has been pressed for space for many years. While more and taller buildings have been added to the space, the main area has remained relatively the same. With enrolment going up by 10,000 students since 2000, the need for space is more important than ever.
One of the biggest ways the U of O falls short is in meeting residence requirements for first year students. Incoming students are supposed to be guaranteed a residence spot, and university president Allan Rock has said he wants to double the number of students living on campus from 3,000 to 6,000 in the coming years. With little space to work with and pressure from residents to keep the number of students in Sandy Hill to a minimum, this promise has at times been difficult to keep.
In interviews with the Fulcrum, Rock has stated that student housing and a sense of community are priorities for the university administration. Private residences have been converted into student accommodations, a building at Rideau and Friel Streets was purchased, and a new residence is being built on Henderson Avenue.
Ensuring first-year students have a place to live is part of creating a sense of community on campus.
Ensuring there are spaces for student clubs and services is also part of creating a sense of community. This is where we meet new people, make friends, gain out-of-class experience, and they can be a great way to integrate students who never live in residence.
Social space for student clubs and services is also in need of an update. The Jock-Turcot University Centre was the brainchild of former Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) president Jock Tucot in 1965. Turcot died in a car crash while in office and students raised funds for the university centre in memoriam.
Built in 1973 to accommodate the needs of a much smaller student population, it still serves as the main building for clubs and services. Without space to expand, the building is now inadequate for the varied needs of a diverse student population.
It’s great that we have one of the biggest student populations in the province, but perhaps expanding admissions should also mean expanding facilities to meet the needs of students we already have. New spaces for research like ARC are fantastic for the university, but spaces for living, praying, and the services that make up a well-rounded university life are also essential.
With the upcoming Light Rail Transit (LRT), Rock has suggested that space issues may be alleviated as the campus expands around Lees. In the meantime, we’re left crowded into small spaces. UOMSA has proposed a space at the south end of campus, but it would alleviate only one of many needs for students on this campus.
When the university presents its plans going forward, it would be a step in the right direction to have the issue of social space given as much attention as housing and research.
So while some might pass campus politics off as trivial, it is important to keep an eye on student executives. You never know—they might one day take up other public office.