Students allege staff did not effectively respond to safety concerns
The Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) have voted in favour of implementing safe space policies at Reggie’s Bar. The CSU and ASFA have agreed not to host any additional events at the venue until policies—such as additional training for the staff—are in place.
The Reggie’s motions passed through both councils with amendments to exempt events that were already planned at the bar, and to exempt member associations, or MAs from the motion (though encouraging them to follow suit).
The votes were held after concerned students approached councillors on both bodies, citing incidents where they were concerned for their safety at the bar.
“Students were being harassed, or students who had previously sexually harassed [others] were in that space … I think it was mostly an issue of the staff not responding well,” said ASFA president Jenna Cocullo, speaking at ASFA council on March 10.
“There have been instances where there are Concordia students who are known for … putting GHB in drinks, and they have been seen at Reggie’s,” added ASFA VP external Lana Galbraith. “People were obviously very uncomfortable.”
CSU general coordinator Terry Wilkings was asked by a student called “Robin”—whose real name The Concordian has agreed not to use out of concern for their safety—if there was a basis for safe space policy at the bar on already. Wilkings said there was not.
“Our intentions have been to create a safer space at Reggie’s, and if we’ve given the impression that Reggie’s is a definitively safe space, then that was incorrect,” said Wilkings.
Robin says advertising for the student bar has been misleading then, as it called Reggie’s a safe space. CSU Student Life Coordinator John Talbot said the advertisement in question was text from the anti-harassment advocacy group Hollaback! London, which had been written on the wall of the bar. The text allegedly read “This is a safe space” followed by text from the Hollaback!’s Good Night Out initiative, which calls on bars and nightclubs to implement a safer bar culture. Talbot said the text was on the wall for about a week in chalk when the bar first re-opened.
Robin said staff response to their concerns was disappointing. “Me and my friends were there on the basis that there was some kind of understanding with management that if something happened, they would respond,” said Robin. “They’ve crashed and burned in that area, quite severely—to the point that there are boycotts against the bar.”
But not every councillor was in agreement with the motions. “Why does this have to be brought up at council? Why can’t this just be kept at Reggie’s?” asked Alexandra Baird, ASFA councillor representing the Biology Student Association. “You can’t actually guarantee a safe space anywhere.”
Tensions rose at ASFA council when Frankie Sunnyshine, an ASFA independent councillor and employee of Reggie’s, took the floor. “I am pissed off because it is ridiculous,” said Sunnyshine, who said that Reggie’s was already closed down [the first time] partially due to a lack of safe space, and that the staff got two weeks of training before re-opening.
“If you go to any other bar, you’re going to feel a lot less safe than you will at Reggie’s … Saying ‘hey, let’s go to McKibbons’—you think that’s safer?” said Sunnyshine. “I’m letting you guys know that Reggie’s creates safe space.”
Sunnyshine also alleged that some of the incidents reported to councilors may not have occurred.
“People are just making up ideas,” Sunnyshine said, calling ASFA councillors “very dramatic” before storming out of the room. “You guys are supposed to be for the students, not for yourselves, not for personal gain.”
Wilkings said that, going forward, safe space policy will be a fixture at the bar.
“The Centre for Gender Advocacy has taken a vote at their board [of directors] to become a permanent member on the board of the new Reggie’s,” said Wilkings. “By creating those institutional linkages, we’re going to have a lot of expertise around these types of subjects permanently participating in the discussion at Reggie’s.”
On March 14, members from the CSU met with Gabrielle Bouchard of the Centre for Gender Advocacy to discuss the future of Reggie’s as a safer space.
“Moving forward, we’re going to draft a policy and have it implemented in the coming months,” wrote Talbot in an email to The Concordian. “From there the new Reggies board will take over, see if the policy operates well, and if it remedies issues brought forward by students. The new board will then be able to amend and update the policy as needed based on how it actually functions.”
Talbot claimed that the new policy will also apply to all organizations who will be hosting in the space, who will have to agree to the safe space policy when they attempt to book an event at Reggie’s.
“It’s good that we have this motion,” added Talbot. “So that direction action can be taken to alleviate concerns that we’re currently having, and then moving forward we have better direction on what to implement structurally.”
Talbot added that while no safe space policy was formally in place, safety at Reggie’s has been a priority for the executive team.
“Consistently working towards integral and structural culture change to make it a safer space has always been the vision of our team, in the mindset of all those involved with the Reggie’s project,” said Talbot. “But to claim that any space is a definitive ‘safe space’ is testing the waters with what a ‘safe space’ means.”
But by having no formal policy, Robin thinks that the CSU misled students by advertising itself as a safe space.
“Why are you advertising a space to students as being safe? It puts them in danger, thinking they can go there and be comfortable in any capacity,” said Robin. “So I think the CSU really needs to give an apology to all students, not just single students who’ve been affected negatively by what has happened so far.”
“Everyone knows Reggies does not have a good reputation because of its past,” wrote Talbot. “Because of this, it is extremely important to continue engaging in this type of work with the space.”
Have you ever felt unsafe at Reggie’s? Contact The Concordian at firstname.lastname@example.org
*This story has been updated on Monday, March 15 2016 from an older version published on March 11, 2016.