Stephenson House Online

Located at 63 Charles St. West, Toronto, Ontario – Stephenson House was Victoria College at the University of Toronto's true student co-operative housing residence reflecting the will of Dr. Stephenson… now this blog will serve as an archive of memories of its last year (2009-2010) and for those house members to stay in touch with each other. SIYB! SHF!

Save Stephenson House: some media

Source: The Strand, Vic’s student paper, second largest at U of T

Does Vic favour equality over equity?
By Karen Jia-Yun Cao
Issue date: 4/1/10
Section: Opinions

The 18th century notion of equal access is fundamental to our Canadian identity, and sets up powerful expectations for every individual to have the same opportunity to share in our democratic discourse and the fruits of our society. But when cities like Toronto are stratified into different socio-economic groups, when our poverty level is 10% higher than the national average (despite a GDP bigger than 29 U.S. states) – those promises ring empty. The definition of equality is fairness: equal access and opportunity through uniform distribution.

What is equity then? Equity concerns the lack of income, training, equipment or knowledge necessary for full and equal participation by communities that have been historically discriminated against. Equity is fairness and justice and it demands resources to level the playing field. Thus programs like literacy training in libraries, subsidies for rural telecommunication and postal services, ESL classes, and targeted scholarships for low-income students are the operationalization of equity. But at UofT and Vic, recent events have challenged this notion of equity, favouring instead equality (through uniform distribution only). But does equality entitle everyone? And are policies that aim to achieve equity “unfair”?

At large, challenges to equity at UofT include cutting interdisciplinary programs, amalgamating the Transitional Year Program (TYP), and implementing flat fees. At Vic, challenges to equity include a new agreement spearheaded by the administration that will end Vic’s only real, affordable student co-op housing, called Stephenson House.

Located at 63 Charles St. West, Stephenson House provided 10 low-income Vic students (through an application process open to all Vic students annually) with the freedom to get involved in the Vic community by providing low rent within a co-op living environment. Under the new agreement, rent will increase to approximate residence fees with bursaries that won’t guarantee addressing financial need. Current and past residents of Stephenson House have included co-managers of Caffiends, VUSAC executives, Orientation executives and leaders, and editors of The Strand and ACTA- positions that directly result in opportunities for thousands of other students to get involved.

At the heart of this battle was the equality vs. equity question: if we can’t provide this type of real financial assistance by means of affordable rent under Stephenson House to everyone, do we do it for no one (and instead turn it into another residence floor)? Who will this benefit? The segment of society that can afford residence to begin with? The Vic administration has decided to answer yes to these questions and side with the faulty notion of equality over equity.

The ‘achievements’ in which these policies result will be flawed, because those struggling to catch up will fall farther behind. We all know that by living in residence, you have unparalleled access to information about every academic and social event, activity, and group that someone who commutes 20+ hours per week simply does not have. This decision will reproduce and reinforce the advantages and disadvantages already in place.

In Canada, where over 1 million children still live in poverty, 1 in 5 young people can’t find employment, and 1 in 4 Toronto families live below Statistics Canada’s low income cut-off (LICO) – eliminating Vic’s only real affordable student housing, which has existed for over 70 years, is a tragic and disheartening event. The Vic administration will have to answer to this decision as it continues to claim to provide the utmost in quality education and student experience.

Disclaimer: Karen was a commuter for 3 years and is a current Stephenson House member. She does not represent the views of all Stephenson House members.  

Source: The Strand, Vic’s student paper, second largest at U of T

Moving Stephenson House
Stephenson House: lost history?
By Sophia Costomiris, Editor-In-Chief
Issue date: 4/1/10
Section: News

After a vote by the Campus Life Committee (CLC), Vic’s student-run co-op is facing a possible move in to the RJ mansion. At a CLC meeting on Mar. 23, the administration’s proposal for Stephenson House’s future met with approval, with eleven votes in favour and five against.

Currently, Stephenson House is housed at 63 Charles Street West; it shares a wall with Law House, one of Vic’s regularly priced residences. Residents of Stephenson House pay $350 in monthly rent which covers living, utility, and food expenses, and the house is occupied year-round. Its members must display “service to others” and the Vic community and have demonstrable financial need.

Founded by a bequest by Dr. Stephenson in 1940, the House’s co-op lifestyle is intended to foster community spirit and involvement, and its members share communal dinners and chores.

The administration’s proposal outlines the changes moving over to RJ would entail: Stephenson House residents would pay standard residence fees, and would be expected to purchase 90 meals at Burwash, half of which must be dinners.

The newly vacated House will be measured and refurbished with the intention of renting the space to an external company in order to fund construction of the Goldring Centre.

Many students have expressed dissatisfaction with the administration’s plans for Stephenson House. Craig Ruttan, Stephenson’s President, explained, “It seems like a poor excuse for vacating the house. The measurements and structural tests they want to perform could be done over the summer.”

The proposed changes to the the House’s life-style, he says, “run directly contrary to the cooperative nature of the house.” Ruttan also emphasized that Law House will remain occupied in the coming year.

Carlo Vinco, a fourth year student on the Campus Life Committee, expressed concern that a move in to RJ would jeopardise Stephenson House’s seventy-year legacy: “I voted against the proposal because I feel the identity of Stephenson is intrinsically tied to the actual structure, and a move to RJ compromises that identity.”

He explained that he found the administration’s proposal unsatisfactory, because it dealt “only with general principles, and the administration has refused to provide any specifics,” which Vinco feels are essential for a change of this magnitude.

Vinco also hypothesized that renting the building to an external company would mean rezoning the house from residential/institutional to a commercial space.

Both Vinco and Ruttan expressed concern that charging regular residence fees for Stephenson House would make it prohibitively expensive, meaning that the House’s role (that of affordable housing for involved students) would be lost completely.

The 2010-2011 RJ residence fees run from $6,668 to $8,411 for the 8-month academic period; an 8-month stay in Stephenson House currently costs $2,800.

Ruttan expressed hope that the current proposal for a new version of Stephenson House would not be successful, saying, “I think the University is making a fundamental mistake that will destroy the idea of Stephenson House as a co-operative house for students with financial need who wish to develop their characteristics of service to the community.”

The proposal now goes to the Board of Regents for a vote on Apr. 8. If it is approved, Stephenson House will be vacated this summer as its residents move in to RJ’s twelve-bedroom suite by August, 2010.


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