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By Cliff Lee

I roll my eyes when I first hear RyeSAC is putting on a multicultural festival.

We may have 153 different countries represented in the community, but how much did a spiritless student body care to show up? The answer comes with a boom.

I’m sitting in the Eyeopener office on the second floor of the Student Campus Centre, waiting for the festival to start in the multipurpose room directly below.

But it finds me first. “Tonight, 10 dancers from the Punjabi Culture Society bring the Bhangra to you,” says an MC, followed by Bhangra-tinged bass reverberating through the office’s east wall. I rush downstairs to find the room more jumping than I’d ever seen, say, at the Ram in the Rye next door.

The performers are garbed in traditional clothing and stomping about to a technofied version of the traditional dance. At the end, three of the men strike a pose: Stacked three-men tall on each other’s shoulders, hollering, fist pumping; the crowd claps and whistles back their appreciation.

They’re smiling on stage – they’ve been practising since July and this is the big payoff. I’m impressed. It’s no false label that Ryerson is a commuter school (96 per cent of its full-time students live off-campus). Labelling Ryerson as a lifeless university, however, looks not to hold as true.

The perception of the campus going to bed once classes are out is more a byproduct of a disjointed campus than an actual lack of campus life. There has never been a centrally located hub (and not one that’s a cafeteria tucked away in dreary Jorgenson Hall).

Now, Ryerson student life has a chance to pick up from random pockets of campus and collectively put itself on full display in the new Student Campus Centre. Jonathan Vandersluis, with a blue and white Star of David scarf around his neck, has been watching from the sidelines as Bhangra gives way to Caribbean soca and Taiwanese pop.

As president of Hillel, he is head of one of the most visible student organizations on campus. Vandersluis says that it’s important for Ryerson’s various student groups to communicate. “And as you saw,” he says, “having the student centre is a great way to bring the groups together.” More important than the multipurpose room is an L-shaped corridor a floor below, which is home to 22 of Ryerson’s student groups.

The hallways are narrow enough that simply walking by can trigger an office’s automatic light sensor. Hillel members, whose old Jorgenson Hall office was lost in a sea of lockers and nondescript doors, now find themselves beside groups they’d never even talked to before, like the Hellenic Students’ Association.

“Now you can just walk down the hall and see somebody and plan right there, and even just get to know each other better,” says Vandersluis. Next year, he hopes to plan a series of faith-based events along with the Muslim Student Association and Winners Christian Fellowship.

A floor up from the offices, the atrium of the SCC is home to … well not much, yet. Clusters of couches and tables dot the area, but that’s about it. As construction on the centre winds down, students are still just discovering their new home behind the chainlink fences and cranes (people spend far more time lining up for Metropasses than they do lounging in a common area).

While posters for RyeSAC’s battle of the bands or the third-year fashion show fill every wall or post of campus, the SCC still remains bare. In contrast, in the Image Arts building, walls are lined with student art from basement to third floor. Studio space plays host to art installations: Smokers speak to us about their addiction through audio-visual artwork, while a faux-globe of the world, marked by pinpricks denoting dense clusters of light, blacks out with too many tries at an oil pump.

And when it comes time for Maximum Exposure, the annual Image Arts year-end show, the entire building becomes a living art gallery. Rob Emerson, general manager of the SCC, wants to see the building work with other faculties at Ryerson. Artwork could be hung up on consignment in the lounges and meeting rooms.

Art installations could be on display in the atrium. “For Ryerson, it’ll be a place to bring us all together and not solely provide a venue, but to actively encourage things to happen within our walls,” says Emerson. “So it means we’ll look to help out some existing events like Maximum Exposure, and it also means we’ll work with those people to develop new events.”

The possibility is there to see almost anything and everything happen in the SCC. Our celebrated, but oft-overlooked, SAE team could have prime centre space to show off their cars.

The theatre school could stage a small performance. So could the fashion school. Emerson even mentions the possibility of letting student entrepreneurs show off their wares within his walls.

Whatever the SCC becomes, it will all be in the hands of a to-be-formed programming committee, which will then decide whether there should be art on consignment, fashion runways, or anything at all, in the building. Whatever the SCC programs, CKLN will be there, loftily broadcasting above it all. Once the studios are finished, the community radio station – which has always called the bowels of Jorgenson Hall its home – will find itself perched on the second floor of the SCC, overlooking the bustle of Gould Street.

In addition to swanky new studio space, CKLN has also been equipped with the ability to broadcast from anywhere in the building. Microphone jacks dot the entire SCC, from the Ram in the Rye to RyeSAC, which then lead back to their soundboard.”The geography is just going to totally change CKLN in the years to come and how involved they are on campus,” says Emerson of the station, which has been known to under represent Ryerson students’ interests. “It’s a regular part of people’s patter at the station to say we’re located at Ryerson University,” says Tim May, program director at CKLN, sitting in what he calls a bunker of an office.

“It’s almost to remind yourself you’re in that basement and you could be anywhere.”

But now with the eventual move, May doesn’t believe it’ll necessarily reflect who puts on a show, but “it doesn’t mean you can’t involve students in that program during a live broadcast from, say, the pub.”

CKLN even has the capability to broadcast from the multipurpose room where Cristina Ribeiro, RyeSAC vice-president student life and events is addressing the multicultural festival. She highlights the wave of campus hate crimes last summer, and how the community collectively rose against it.

“I am proud to be at Ryerson University,” Ribeiro continues, “in a community which is willing to work together.” The topic is all too familiar to Waleed Elsayed.

As president of the Muslim Students’ Association, he heads the very group that was the target of the attacks. But for all the positive progress made since last year, he feels it may all go to waste if the MSA’s primary concern isn’t dealt with – prayer space. The new multifaith room sits across the hall from the Ram in the Rye, a fact that, on religious grounds, prevents many Muslims from praying there.

“Generally you don’t put a party room and prayer room together,” says Elsayed. The MSA was never closely consulted about the space, but was assured that it would be getting “exactly the same” setup it had in the business building. Elsayed says daily prayer draws 100 students. On Fridays, the holiest day of the week for Muslims, prayers draw 200 students.

As many as 450 people have shown up before, which is a crowd larger than at the multicultural festival. Now, the new room is smaller, and even lacks dividers so that men and women can pray separately. The old basement room also acted as an official quiet space for Muslim students, but that quality will be lost to the all-revealing glass entrance on Church Street.

“We feel we’re taking a step backwards and we are losing,” says Elsayed. The MSA, through RyeSAC, is currently petitioning the SCC to have a different, transitional prayer space, or even a permanant one. They have no contingency plan if no space is found. “We would be homeless,” says Elsayed.

After a night of flag-waving, dancing and fashion, the multicultural festival draws to a close. “I want to thank the Ryerson community,” says Ribeiro, “for coming together and working together, building new friendships, relationships and partnerships and building a strong community together.” We’re almost there.

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