The DSU vs. The Plant: Fact or Fabrication?
by Olivia Hallett
October 18, 2018 | News
Towards the end of the 2C wing, a wide hallway lined with doors and plastered with posters advertising club activities, lies the room belonging to The Plant. Appropriately overflowing with houseplants; this little nook has recently been a topic of discussion in relation to the long-rumored feud between The Plant and the Dawson Student Union (DSU).
"I heard that The Plant was put in their new space, which is tiny, because they and the DSU have a bad relationship," said Georgia LaPierre of the Dawson Feminist Union, whose club space is right across from The Plant.
This perception of the relationship between the two groups may have flared up after the May 2018 article published in the "Exposed" issue of The Plant, titled "Where Do Your Nineteen Dollars Go?” This opened up criticism directed at the DSU's budget spending, suggesting that they spent too much on member retreats.
There is evidence throughout Dawson's history suggesting a rivalry between the two groups. According to a 2009 issue of Wilfrid Laurier University's newspaper, The Cord, The Plant published criticism of the DSU's Executive Director Margo Dunnet, who stepped down soon after the article was published. She had been accused of withholding information from other Union Executives. The DSU, under Chairperson Carl Perks, later requested a final say over the content published in the paper in order to control potential legal repercussions, while The Plant’s writers protested that this would be censorship.
More recently, an issue directly related to The Plant's club space arose. According to Paul Serralheiro, who taught a class for Plant writers in 2014, the DSU believed that The Plant was writing too many articles from online sources and not enough news about Dawson events, therefore misusing their budget and privileges. They slashed the $20 000 budget in half, and divided up their club space, which had previously been one of the largest.
Since students tend to learn about school issues from reading the paper, it makes sense that stories such as these are the source of their opinion on the matter. But how accurate is this opinion, and is it relevant to The Plant's newest club space?
"Last year there were definitely some issues," said Valeria Lau, current Editor-in-Chief of The Plant. "It's never easy to see yourself criticized in print. But we want people to understand that it's not really us who write about them - students write about what they care about, and, if it's factual and accurate, we publish it. The paper never really gave an editorial opinion."
Lau then explained the issue of the club space. The Plant's assigned space at the beginning of the semester had been in a communal room, with an open plan layout shared with several other clubs. This was unacceptable for the staff since they use their room as an office and require privacy and silence in order to work on writing and editing, besides having expensive computers and equipment to protect. Since their old club space (which now belongs to Green Earth, Etcetera, and the Dawson Feminist Union) poses the same problems by having only one door for multiple clubs, the DSU placed them in the only room that fit all the criteria; despite being small, it can be locked with a passcode and gives them privacy and an office space.
I look around the busy room, examining the collages of posters and issue covers that coat its walls, while writers chat and type at the desks squeezed into the corner of the room next to several potted plants - despite its size, they've made something lovely out of it.
"It's really the best they could do," Lau said, admitting that The Plant staff originally feared the worst. "We sort of jumped to conclusions assuming there was some sort of retaliation for something. But they actually had a very valid reason, and they made the best choice they could under the circumstances." This reason was further explained to me by Sarah-Lena Grogg, the DSU’s Director of Mobilization. Six new clubs were added this year, and the space previously used by Legacy was turned into storage, leading to a shortage of rooms and a need for more shared spaces.
Addressing last year's article incident, Grogg recognized that there was a lot of tension between the two groups, but does not blame The Plant. "They just pointed out what they didn't agree with, which is totally normal for a school journal,” she said. She hopes that the future will lead to an improved relationship and a positive public perception. "This year we're off to a good start. We don't want to continue the conflict." Lau agreed with this new perception, adding that the DSU has listened to all concerns expressed by the Plant so far this semester.
"One of the most telling things about a political organization is how they treat the press, and being open to any criticism and feedback or free speech from the press," she said.
It appears as if the new DSU has, so far, been doing its part to support the press and put aside the supposed rivalry.