In the summer of 2013, my friend Sarah Manshreck and I set about creating a feminist club at UBC. Inspired by the success of the “UBC Needs Feminism” event and Facebook group, we prepared a proposal to present to the Alma Matter Society (AMS). Once chartered, the plan was to bring in inspirational speakers, host a critical book club, and, most importantly to us, have regular meetings where students could get together to discuss all things feminism. As soon as we began the AMS presentation, however, it was clear how things would end.
We spoke to an all-male panel who paid little-to-no attention to our pitch. While we spoke, they rudely played with their phones or stared off into space with glazed over eyes. When we concluded, they fired a series of smug questions at us before insisting that we were too similar to the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC). The panel claimed that we were welcome to apply again with a modified mandate but from that point on they never replied to a single one of Sarah’s e-mails and the project eventually faded from my mind.
It came rushing back, however, when I found out that “I Am a Feminist Day” organizer Cheneil Hale’s attempts to create a feminist club were also rebuked by the AMS. The reasoning? Too similar to the SASC. Again.
Yes, we have the Women’s Centre and the Sexual Assault Support Centre, two organizations that do impressive and important work on campus. However, the idea that there is no room for a third feminist space strikes me as completely illogical. As far as I can tell, there are currently at least 14 Christian clubs chartered with the AMS. 14. Yet three feminist spaces on campus is too many?
The attitude that we have “enough” feminism, that we’ve reached our “feminism quota”, so to speak, is regressive and deeply offensive. It is also troubling reflection of the same sexist ideologies that posit that feminism has gone too far. What does the AMS have against promoting women’s empowerment and organizing at UBC? If year after year, different students are independently and spontaneously coming to the conclusion that there is room for a feminism club, clearly there are needs that aren’t being filled by the existing spaces.
More persistent than Sarah and I, Cheneil has decided to barrel ahead without the benefits of being chartered by the AMS. She has recruited a team of executives, booked rooms through loopholes, and paid for club expenses out of pocket because she believes in her project. Innocuously (I thought), I tweeted my disappointment about this at the AMS. Though I expected no response, they immediately and apologetically tried to speak to my concerns about the resistance to women’s organizing. Seemingly worried about the bad PR that my tweets might create, they put me in touch with the Vice President of Communications, who immediately gave Cheneil a second chance to present to the body that approves clubs. Currently, the status of the UBC Feminism Club is still in limbo.
I’m publishing this as an open letter because as a body that claims to represent students, the AMS needs to be accountable for the actions it takes in private boardrooms. It is especially shocking to me that the AMS would reject a feminist club in the light of last year’s events. Can UBC really claim to be covered on the feminism front when, in the past year alone, our campus was home to both a rape chant scandal and a series of sexual assaults?
At the time of writing, the UBC Feminism Club is circulating a petition centred on their efforts to get chartered by the AMS. If you share my concerns, I urge you to sign their petition and demand better from the body that collects our student fees. As feminists, as activists, and, most of all, as students, we deserve representatives that will respect and promote our efforts to organize for women’s empowerment.
Alex Mierke-Zatwarnicki is a fourth-year political science major, president of the UBC NDP and is actively involved with UBC’s feminist community.
In the original version of the article, the UBC Women’s Centre was incorrectly spelled “Womyn’s”. The article has since been updated.