Tapping on the Glass: A Protest Case Study -- Ceramics
Megan Krahn

Q1: What was the problem?

A! In December 2017, the OCAD U ceramics department was suddenly given a new construction schedule by the school that interfered with the semester. Construction was going to be happening during finals, and it would have forced students to remove their work from the studio and store it somewhere else in between final classes and critiques. Students were frustrated by the lack of notice as well as a general lack of concern over the difficulty that this would cause. Additionally, ceramics is notoriously overcrowded. The plan was the move the west wall of the ceramics studio by an additional 2 feet, but then some storage room would be reduced on the opposite end of the studio, essentially providing little to no extra space after the renovations.

Q2: What was the goal?

A! The students wanted administration to postpone construction until after the semester was done. We also requested they move the wall 10 feet instead of 2 feet.

Q3: Who was involved?

A! The ceramics studio has several classes of students, as well as a Throwing Club, which includes students who are not in a ceramics course but pay a fee for access to the studio. These were the students that were participating in this protest.

Q4: How did you communicate?

A! Communication is essential in running a campaign or protest, and we were helped by the way the studio operates. People are always in the ceramics studio, so rallying people together was relatively east. We also made a Facebook messaging group that was quite active. Since our latest meeting with administration, we've also started a Canvas course group that is open to anyone with an OCAD U email to join. This means we can get updates, share files, and hos discussions all in Canvas. If you are interested, it's: MAAD -- Ceramics Studio.

Q5: What did the process look like?

A! The first thing we did was host a group meeting and write up an email with our demands and frustrations. We sent it to 12 different members of OCAD U administration, including President Sara Diamond, Vice-President of Finance & Administration Alan Simms, the chairs and deans of design, etc. Once the email was drafted, a group of us each individually sent it, mass spamming their inboxes.

The email and list of recipients was posted on the Throwing Club and Ceramics Facebook groups. In total, 34 students sent the email.

Alan Simms directly responded to each of us, and offered a meeting to talk in person. We found out that they had planned two meetings, one with us and one with admin only, and the admin-only meeting was planned before the student meeting. One thing we were really nervous about was them having a separate administration meeting and making decisions without our input. The students wanted a representative to go to the admin meeting, regardless of their numerous statements that no students were meant to be present for this meeting.

I was selected as the representative, along with Angela Allan (the Student Advocate from the OCAD U Student Union), and wound up face-to-face with Alan Simms. The conversation we had was a semantics shit-show. Alan Simms kept saying that "no one was saying [students] weren't allowed in," but whenever I asked, "so we're allowed into the meeting?" he ket responding with "are you part of the advisory council?"

It's this sort of side-stepping discussion and elusive language that is so frustrating with administration, and Alan Simms embodied it to the core. He continued to promise that "nothing was being discussed," which seems like a waste of school money to be paying for professors and administration to meet without any purpose. His other point was that he didn't want the meeting translated to the students, but the meeting will inevitably be translated in some way, either by Alan Simms or by a student.

In the end, I didn't want to be irritating as to bother some of the admin at the meeting that may be sympathetic to students, so I didn't go in even though "no one said we weren't allowed in." Luckily, the meeting was held in a space with an entire glass wall, so what Angela and I ended up doing was standing directly outside, and staring into the meeting for the entire 1.5 hours.

A few days later we had our full meeting with students and administration. Originally, we had requested that the meeting be held in the ceramics studio to make it as accessible as possible and gain broader participation from ceramics studio users. The administration refused this request, and the meeting was held on the 5th floor. In order to make sure people were aware, we posted a floor map where the room was on all the Facebook groups and sent out reminders through all the channels.

Q6: What was the result?

A! The turnout was excellent; 15 students came to the meeting (about a quarter of all the students involved with the protest). They met our scheduling demands, and additionally, although they haven't promised it, they have suggested that it might be possible to not only increase the space by 10 feet, but to extend the space by the entire adjacent room.

Q7: What are the next steps?

A! We all left the meeting feeling incredibly excited! Afterward we got nervous because we had no written record of what was discussed, so we went back to the administration and asked for meeting minutes to make sure there was some documentation. We are feeling positive, but we also want to continue putting pressure on the process to make sure we are included in the decision making.

Q8: Why is this important?

A! There are so many changes happening at OCAD U, and student resentment and frustration is increasing. I think we're all feeling this tension building, and if we expect change to happen we need to start participating and engaging in the school's political narrative.

The initial email sent by OCAD U Ceramics Students follows:

100 McCaul Street
Toronto, ON
M5T 2W7

November 28th, 2017

To Whom it May Concern,

We, the students, are writing a letter of protest as a result of recent progress in spatial re-organization and scheduling issues that conflict with the school's mandate and responsibility to the students, along with the lack of transparency in development planning, specifically regarding the George Reid refurbishment.

The Fall 2017 term ends December 19th and Studio Management scheduling gives students up until the 20th to remove their work from the studio. By entering the ceramics studio space before this date for construction purposes jeopardizes delicate ceramic projects that students have been working on for weeks. It is unacceptable and intolerable that an art and design university in the first stages of construction work that will be ongoing for more than 12 months with initiate the process with such poor planning, transparency, and inadequate solutions for storage and workspace.

Construction schedules were not communicated in a timely manner and hasty alternative solutions that are now being proposed in response are not feasible. We, the students, request the ceramics studio remains available up until the original studio date of December 20th. It is unreasonable to expect that students, during the week of finals, will be able to transport and store their final projects outside of the ceramics studio when they have paid for the course and expect that with their studio fees and tuition they would be able to store their work within the studio.

We also have deep concerns over the prioritization of space in the renovations. The ceramic courses consistently have waitlists every year, with additional non-ceramic students desiring the space for the student group, Throwing Club. Ceramics is over-saturated and the accessibility of the space is not up to code. Ceramics dust is hazardous to breathe in, and not having space restricts the ability to maintain cleanliness. An additional 2 feet of space allotted in the new construction does not provide enough space to address these concerns.

We understand the importance and value of a multi-purpose space, as well as the criteria of the grant for the George Reid building renovations, and we want to respect those conditions.

Additional ceramic space, however, is desperately needed, and additional ceramic studio space can only be added directly beside the existing studio, while multi-purpose meeting rooms have the ability to be places in numerous locations throughout the school. We propose a compromise: to add an additional 10 feet of space to the ceramic studio, and reduce the space of one of the two meeting rooms planned for the George Reid Wing.

Coordinating and negotiating all the stakeholders in this renovation process is incredibly complicated and it is difficult to create meaningful dialogue that can create suitable solutions for everyone. We understand that compromise is necessary in moving forward, and we do not wish to escalate these concerns beyond what is required to be heard, and for them to be addressed. We would like to confirm a meeting, and look forward to addressing these concerns. We hope a solution can be found that is beneficial to all parties, and allows construction to continue without too long of a delay.

Thank you,
OCAD U Ceramic Students