The Humanities closure shows neglect for arts students

The university needs to show arts students that it cares about them by ensuring they have functioning buildings.

With one less building available on campus, arts students are missing a foundation. The university is showing just how much they care about arts students — by throwing us into different buildings and stripping us of a familiar place. Spoiler alert — they don’t. 

Over the fall exam break, an electrical vault fire occurred in the Humanities Centre (HC). Because of contamination throughout the building, the university made the decision to close the building for the entire winter 2024 term.

There have been many frustrations expressed by both students and staff regarding the closure of the HC. Frankly, I am among those feeling thwarted. The closure is nothing short of inconvenient, in terms of both classroom disruption and personal disadvantage.

The relocation of hundreds of classes to other buildings on campus impacted thousands of students. On top of this frantic situation was the fact that it was done extremely last minute.

The fire occurred on December 18. This left approximately three weeks to relocate and inform students, staff, and faculty members before the start of the winter semester. This could not have been an easy task, and truthfully the university did a reasonable job relocating most students. Although the fire itself was unexpected, the overall situation and its impacts on arts students for both the winter term and in the long-run is still frustrating.

I spoke with Ani Vander Ploeg, a fifth-year English and creative writing student. She, like many other U of A students, has been feeling the effect of this closure. Informed only four days before the first day of winter term, the university relocated all four of Ploeg’s classes from HC to the Tory and Education buildings.

“It was really tight and quite anxiety-inducing, not knowing where my classes were going to be,” Ploeg expressed.

The short notice regarding the new classroom locations just further adds to the frustration about the closure. Many of us, like Ploeg, relied on the HC as a place to spend our time — whether that was studying, eating lunch, or hanging out with friends.

A number of students have been displaced and are expressing frustrations about the closure. However, others might not feel the same way. Some people think that the HC is dingy, and a sad reflection of the university’s view of arts students. While the latter is true, I think the HC was a welcoming place for students to be. It had many student services, such as the Organization for Arts Students and Interdisciplinary Students (OASIS), the Indigenous Gathering Space, and importantly the Arts Student Services. During my time here at the university I’ve made use of a number of these services. To now only have access to them virtually is saddening. 

Although not the result of deferred maintenance, the closure is still another nail in the coffin on the fact that the HC is seen as unkempt, old, and a place that is in desperate need of repairs. Other buildings on campus seem to be thriving in their appearance, both inside and out. The Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science (CCIS) has a massive plesiosaur hanging from the ceiling. The Edmonton Clinic Health Academy (ECHA) recently opened the new Sperber library — complete with a virtual reality lab and a media lab.

Arts students, on the other hand, have the closed HC, an under-construction Tory Building, and no place to call home. On top of that, any information about the Tory construction is impossible to find online. We deserve to know why scaffolding clutters our arts buildings, with hazard signs everywhere. 

On top of the HC closure and the Tory construction, are the many out-of-commission classrooms as a result of flooding in Tory from the extreme cold. I recognize that -40 degree Celsius weather is an extreme weather situation. Of course the university cannot control this and is doing everything it can to repair the damage. But this, amid the HC closure and pre-existing Tory construction, feels like art students currently face every curve ball.

Arts students were not the only ones who had to deal with this. ECHA also experienced flooding and relocation of classes. However, ECHA is a large building, and this flood is a temporary fluke in terms of classroom location. Unlike the complete shutdown of the HC.

Simply put, arts students deserve better. We deserve to have up-to-date buildings that don’t fall apart when typical Alberta weather arrives. Frantically learning where our new classrooms are because of a last minute building closure should not be the norm.

It’s time for the university to show arts students that they care about them. We make up more than one-fifth of the student body, and deserve to have functioning buildings to call our own. Allocating funding towards maintenance of pre-existing buildings on campus, rather than removing them, is a start. Additionally, the university needs to provide information regarding the months-long construction in Tory. The situation with the HC was unprecedented. But, previous measures could’ve been taken to appease arts students before things went up in flames.

As Ploeg puts it, “[the closure] is sad and inconvenient.”

While I agree with this statement I would argue it’s even more than that. It’s infuriating.

Brooklyn Hollinger

Brooklyn is the 2024-25 Arts & Culture Editor at The Gateway. She previously served as the 2023-24 Deputy Opinion Editor. She is a Classics major and Creative Writing minor. She is a lover of fantasy books, peach iced tea, and can usually be found obsessing over pictures of her dog Zoey.

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