On Thursday September 15, 2016 the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), an anti-abortion advocacy group, visited the Trafalgar campus without invitation to "conduct outreach" for their cause. Most recently, on Tuesday September 20, 2016 the same group attended the Davis campus unannounced.
Sheridan Student Union expressed concern surrounding these activities since the group had not been invited by the College, the SSU or any student group we’re aware of. While the Sheridan Student Union encourages free speech in all of our student spaces, we believe that external non-student groups should only address such issues respectfully in appropriate forums and only if invited by faculty, student groups or the administration.
As a result of this visit, feedback came pouring in from the Sheridan community. Students expressed that they were “shocked to hear this happened on campus”, upset by the imagery displayed by this group and questioning why such an event was allowed to take place on campus. Many students were affected by these visits, and discussions ensued about the subsequent implications this free and unfettered access could have in Sheridan spaces.
On Wednesday, September 21, 2016, Sheridan Student Union hosted an Open Forum for the Sheridan community in our Union Square Atrium at the Trafalgar Campus to discuss these events. Approximately 90 students were in attendance to share concerns, voice their opinions and ask questions.
The forum was moderated by Sylvia Ibrahim - SSU President, Tyler Boegart - SSU Board Chair and Anders Gatten - SSU EVP, Trafalgar. Maria Lucido Bezley, Dean of Students and Christine Szustaczek - Director, Corporate Communications & External Relations of Sheridan College were also present.
Sheridan students stood up, one by one, and shared their experiences, feelings and opinions on the subject.
Christine Szustaczek, Director of Corporate Communications & External Relations and Maria Lucido Bezley, Dean of Students at Sheridan College gave comment to many of these concerns, clarifying that Sheridan did not extend an invitation to this group. The CCBR did not ask for permission to be on campus but did so by asserting their constitutional right to protest. Any attempt to censor this group could have resulted in serious charges against Sheridan College.
While Sheridan can prohibit classroom visits, the Sheridan Facilities Access Policy deems hallways, atriums and cafeterias as public access spaces. In response, several students questioned what, if any, restrictions could be placed on this group. Christine Szustaczek noted that Sheridan is investigating how to set reasonable limits on the use of its campus by external groups, what authority it has to specify where and when any group may visit, and what ability it has to set clear expectations of conduct for any visitors.
Some students also came forward and spoke about the importance of safeguarding freedom of expression, a few suggesting we should work with the group instead of against them. Szustaczek reaffirmed the college’s interest in balancing freedom of expression with Sheridan’s values, students’ needs and interests and people’s individual rights.
Issues regarding communication were also addressed. Christine Szustaczek and Maria Lucido Bezley assured the students that they have personally responded to each and every email they received. They explain that while the volume of emails may have delayed receipt of this information, communication was sent to every student, all staff members and faculty prior to the group arriving on campus. It is important to note that the CCBR did not, however, inform anyone at Sheridan College of their second visit to Sheridan, at the Davis campus on September 20 and arrived without warning.
Several students expressed concerns with regards to what the college can do to limit access to campus spaces. This was a common concern amongst the students in attendance.
Sheridan Student Union Executive Vice President, Anders Gatten encourages “peaceful counter-protest” should this group make its way to campus again. “Use your voice! You are on campus every day. If it is a public space, you have a right to protest as well. ”
Sheridan Student Union has taken all your feedback - from the Open Forum, through our online form and via social media - with the intention of using this to work with the college to address the issues of concern surrounding this visit, and to best explore how to address them.
Sheridan Student Union leaders have also spearheaded the #ourcampus campaign for this reason, and encourage students to let us know if you see the CCBR or any other external advocacy group on campus again. As your Student Union, we commit to notifying students through our online channels as soon as we obtain knowledge of similar visits to campus.
Sheridan Student Union thanks all the students who attended our Open Forum along with Maria Lucido Bezley and Christine Szustaczek for listening to the students and giving them answers. We are proud to be part of such a passionate community and hope to continue supporting student rights on campus.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns, we encourage students to continue to submit feedback via our online form.