University of Regina withdraws support from Camp fYrefly

The University of Regina Faculty of Education has decided it will no longer provide administrative support for Saskatchewan's Camp fYrefly — an annual leadership retreat for gender and sexually diverse youth.

Faculty of education provided 10 years of support for fYrefly initiatives

James McNinch said fYrefly in Schools is an expansion of Camp fYrefly that brings educators into classrooms to have age-appropriate discussions and presentations on gender and sexual diversity.

The faculty of education at the University of Regina is rescinding its support of Camp fYrefly — an annual leadership retreat for gender and sexually diverse youth. 

Camp fYrefly and related initiatives like fYrefly in Schools are independent of the faculty but have been supported by staff in the faculty for ten years. 

The support provided the camp with "a stamp of credibility and legitimacy," said James McNinch, a former dean of education at the University of Regina who helped bring Camp fYrefly to Saskatchewan.

The administrative functions included tasks like managing finances and issuing tax receipts.

"The support of the faculty and the university gives gives the work that is done kind of credibility in the eyes of the public and in the eyes of the funding agencies," he said.

"That is a real loss because gender and sexual diversity is a contested field." 

Dean declines to comment

Faculty of education dean Jerome Cranston declined an interview. His office referred to an emailed statement provided by a university spokesperson.

It said the faculty had taken on administrative functions and dedicated staff resources for the organization during the last decade "that, while very worthy, are not part of Faculty's mandate."

"To better address Faculty of Education students' program needs while addressing workload pressures on support staff in the Faculty, changes are being implemented," the statement read.

"The Faculty of Education has engaged fYrefly leadership to assume responsibility for fYrefly administrative functions, allowing Faculty of Education support staff to focus on the academic needs of students."

McNinch said the camp is important to youth from northern or rural Saskatchewan because it's often "the very first opportunity for them to be surrounded by gender and sexually diverse individuals like themselves."

He added the camp is based on forming peer-to-peer support as well as personal expression through art.

"All of that really is a way of affirming and building resiliency in a vulnerable population."

Former dean of the faculty of education James McNinch said "continual cuts to our operating budgets have continued to put a real squeeze on budgets." (CBC)

McNinch said he has contacted both UR Pride and Out Saskatoon to fill the gap, adding he still expects the camp to proceed this summer for its 11th year. He was less certain about the long-term future of camp.

"We're certainly in the middle of a transition period and a transition period that you know has sort of taken us a little bit by surprise."

McNinch said they thought they'd have longer to transition, but that it appears "the dean wants this to happen as quickly as possible so that's that and that's not easy."

He said this is emblematic of how cuts to operating budgets have affected the faculty's peripheral initiatives.

"This has been like five, six, seven years of reductions to operating grants," he said.

"Gradually more and more of the budget of the university is taken up with salaries for permanent employees and less money for discretionary spending."