Commentary, Opinion

Study Hubs fail to reconcile safety and accessibility

At first glance, McGill’s Study Hub initiative seemed like a good idea: Students would be able to access study spaces multiple times a week in three-hour slots. All spaces would be sanitized, and groups and food would be prohibited to guarantee everyone’s safety. The news gave me a sense of relief—I would not have to spend a whole semester looking at the same white wall in front of my desk. However, my first impression of the hubs was clouded by privilege. I decided that the hubs were useful and effective because they served my needs. But this does not cancel out the fact that McGill’s planning of the study hubs is exclusionary and ill-informed.

The first issue with the hubs is their lack of availability. The most recent from 2019 report indicates that there are 34,209 students at McGill. Because of the pandemic, many students will not start the Fall 2020 semester in Montreal—which, despite the bleak circumstances, is good news for the students planning to access the library as there may be less of a scramble for spots. However, it is unclear how many students will need to access the new study spaces. Furthermore, McGill failed to consult students as to how many will need to use on-campus study spaces, pointing to its lack of preparation. There are clearly not enough seats, and as midterms and finals approach, getting a spot will be even more difficult.

Furthermore, during the pandemic, demand for mental health services has risen among young people and minorities. Factors like mental illness, learning disabilities, and difficult situations at home can make studying nearly impossible. Mental health was already a problem at McGill before the pandemic. The combination of mental health difficulties and low accessibility to quiet study spaces can seriously affect students’ academic performances. McGill’s initiative should have prioritized the students who need it the most by giving those registered with the OSD first access to appointments for the Study Hubs, and by better researching the needs of its student body before the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester.

Moreover, even the available study spaces are exclusionary. Being able to go to the library for only three hours is a privilege directly linked to geographic location, which is in turn related to socio-economic status. Students who lost their jobs or whose families are financially burdened may have had to live with more roommates, move far away from campus, or work long shifts,  all of which can impair studying. Commuting for an hour and a half each way to study at Redpath is just not worth it.

Students need a stable study space to succeed. Yet, the study hubs mainly serve students living close to campus, who do not have other full-time responsibilities like parenting or a job, and who can mould their schedule around a three-hour study session. Finding the balance between safety and accessibility concerns should have been considered with accessibility in mind. Assuming public safety protocols remain the same in the coming months, McGill must make an effort to repurpose more of its space to safely accommodate more of its students, particularly those with disabilities and financial difficulties. Students should not be carrying the burden of McGill’s omissions. 

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