The University of Prince Edward Island has closed down its diversity office, citing the need to save money in the wake of provincial cuts, but the student union is asking why it was not consulted.
'This specific decision was not brought to the student union.'— Kate VanGerven, UPEI Student Union president
The office had a mandate to build cultural understanding and combat the social isolation of students who may be considered different because of their race, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation.
Student union president Kate VanGerven said students should have been consulted.
"A lot of students found some kind of comfort in the diversity office, and in the co-ordinator specifically, so I understand that there's a lot of upset," said VanGerven.
"It comes as a shock. This specific decision was not brought to the student union. I know that for sure. We weren't consulted beforehand. This is something that should have been brought forward as some kind of consulting process with us."
Samantha Smith graduated from UPEI in the spring, and spent three years volunteering with the diversity office's Pod Squad — a group dedicated to bringing awareness to eating disorders.
"This just unites everyone and provides a safe place for everyone to go to, of all different backgrounds," Smith said.
Along with the co-ordinator, Smith and other volunteers organized Diversity Week, plus activities and clubs that promoted diversity, equality and inclusion, including the Rainbow Alliance and Students Against Violence Everywhere.
Since the university made the announcement late last week, more than 20 students and staff have written letters of support for the diversity office. All of them headed to the desk of Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, UPEI's president.
University officials said they had no choice as all departments had to look at ways to save money. The province cut UPEI's funding by three per cent in this year's budget.
University officials said there will be no cutback to diversity services. Those services will now be delivered by staff at the Webster Centre for Teaching and Learning. The Webster Centre provides academic support for learning success.
Barb Campbell, director of the Webster Centre, says the move provides access to students year-round.
"We have a person who worked in diversity in Ontario for many years and we also have people who are finishing their graduate programs in inclusive education, so we do diversity work here already," Campbell said.
But Smith says she isn't confident the decision takes into account students' best interests.
"I think it does say something that they're not focused on the students by closing the diversity office," Smith said.