The faculty of computer science’s student lounge saw its share of action last week when accessibility issues caused it to close. It reopened less than a week later with a new name and an accessibility policy designed to keep all social events inclusive.
The new changes mean that the “Sunken Lounge” and adjacent Computer Science Association lounge have now been jointly branded the “Faculty of Computer Science Student Success Centre,” with the new policy stating that, among other things, organized events and impromptu activities must take place in both rooms simultaneously.
This solution was reached less than a week after the initial closure was announced and was the result of a collaboration between the students and the dean’s office.
“We got it done in three-and-a-half days, which if you know how university decision-making is done, is pretty darn fast,” said Andrew McAllister, acting dean of the faculty of computer science.
“And we came up with a policy where folks regardless of any mobility issues have full and safe access to any activities taking place in the space, which was our goal.”
A popular hangout for many years, the sunken lounge is also notorious for the steep staircase leading to its lower level — impossible for anyone with mobility issues to navigate. While the issue has been known for years, the university has no immediate plans to renovate the space.
On Monday, Jan. 19, an email was sent out from the dean of computer science’s office stating that the room would be immediately closed due to accessibility concerns. It gave no alternate room arrangements or timetable for re-opening.
In a Q&A session held by the dean last Tuesday, students expressed their frustration.
“You’re right, it’s intrinsically unfair,” said McAllister, “but it’s the right thing to do until we know what the right thing is to do from an accessibility and safety point of view.”
“It would be absolutely irresponsible of me and the other members of the planning committee to say that we know there’s a problem, but we’re going to just leave it as it is while we think about it.”
While the closure itself was controversial, the students’ main point of contention revolved around the lack of a clear plan moving forward.
The dean said that he decided to act as soon as he felt student rights were being impacted, independently of university administration.
“We could have taken more time to take action, but we felt it was more responsible to move quickly and to provide information as best we could,” McAllister said. “Do I think it was ideal? No. Do I think it was the best we could do under the circumstances? Quite possibly.”
Despite the frustrations of students at the imperfect handling of the lounge closure, McAllister said he was proud of the speed at which the collaborative group was able to address the problems at hand — making sure to include student-initiated ideas such as alternate communal space for the week while the lounge was closed.
With files from Adam Travis.
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