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by Lauren Taylor

In March, the Ontario government released the official guidelines for the Student Choice Initiative, a provincial mandate to give university students an opt-out option for certain “ancillary fees” – fees that fund student unions, clubs, and associations on campus. The SCI provides a document outlining which fees and services are essential and which are ancillary, and the option to opt out of fees must be presented to students before paying fees each semester. Several student groups and organizations on campus will be affected by anticipated budget cuts due to the SCI, including Guelph Arts Council member CFRU. I spoke to Vish, CFRU’s station manager, Andrea, CFRU’s marketing and outreach director, and Bruce, a CFRU volunteer, about their work with the CFRU and the impact that it has had on their lives and on the campus and community.

Vish and Andrea at the CFRU headquarters.

First, I asked about CFRU’s role on campus and in the community. “We keep students informed about what’s going on in our city and on campus,” says Vish. “We also offer students a creative outlet via the opportunity to learn how to make and produce audio and record things in a professional manner. We instill them with confidence and allow them to develop an acumen as a researcher and a presenter of information. We’re not categorized as such, but, to me, it feels equal to an academic enterprise.”

“All the training that is done here is free, so students can come and learn how to make media and how to develop their voice for free,” says Andrea. “We do a lot of collaborations with courses, so students are able to do for-credit projects through CFRU. We also do free advertising for any on-campus group or initiative, so students can learn about amazing resources through CFRU. We bridge the gap between campus and community. It’s because of CFRU that a lot of people, myself included, got involved with the Guelph community and found out about amazing local businesses and events that were happening.”

“CFRU’s role is something that’s changed a lot,” says Bruce. “I think it goes a long way to giving the school an identity in the community. It’s great at mixing the campus and the downtown community… there’s not too many other university-centered organizations that are as involved in the community as CFRU.”

“The only people we’re beholden to, our only investors, are the campus and the community,” says Andrea. “All we do is reflect the community, because we’re made by the community. You don’t get more grassroots than that. By losing community radio, you’re losing the platform that gives people the voice.”

And loss of that platform is a serious concern – when I asked about how the SCI would impact CFRU, I was met with uncertainty. Vish explained, “We don’t quite know yet, but we’ve been told to expect anywhere from $0 coming in from students to… well we don’t know what the uppermost is. There’s no trending on this, it’s unprecedented, we don’t know. We’ve been tentatively told to budget for about 50% or less.”

“There’s the argument that if the students want these services then they’ll opt in and the services will be there,” says Andrea, “but the thing is that that’s what the referendums are there for. The students democratically voted to fund these organizations. And the difference between a referendum and opting in is that if 60% of students vote to have CFRU, then CFRU is going to be there, but if 60% of students opt in to fund CFRU, we’ll only be operating at 60% of our budget. And this is not a one-time thing, it’s going to be happening every single semester. It will actually eliminate choice, because the students might be able to choose this semester whether they want to opt in or out of CFRU, but if enough people opt out then CFRU will be gone, and the students who want CFRU in the future won’t have the choice to have one.”

“After a few years of people not knowing what they’re opting out of, there won’t be a station left to make a choice about,” says Bruce.” Especially with the radio station, we operate with a federal license and if we lose it, we don’t get it back, and they give the signal to someone else.”

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DJ Bruce hosts Zombie Jamboree Sundays at 6pm on CFRU 93.3 FM. Illustration by Barbara Salsberg Mathews.

“I think that what’s being lost in this is just how much a service like ours does for the city,” says Vish. “We are out there on Instagram, on Facebook, and on our airways, saying, “go see this thing, it’s happening!” and people hear about it. Services up here, all of us, have a huge impact on what goes on in the city. The CSA puts on some of the best concerts downtown, and CFRU has a hand in that too. We have a hand in feeding Hillside, and Kazoo! Fest, and the Jazz Festival, giving them content ideas, and sponsorships. So the overall impact of this is going to be devastating. We’re all sharing the city together, and people may not realize how things are being funded. This isn’t just about us, it’s not even just about all of the student groups that will be affected. This impacts our whole city and every city that will be impacted by us.”

“It’s like ordering in a restaurant where you know the prices but not what the items are,” says Bruce. “You don’t know what you’re making a choice on if they don’t tell you what it is or how it could be beneficial, and even if they tried… I didn’t appreciate the benefit of volunteering at CFRU until much later, like a lot of things in life. And it’s had a huge impact on my life. I had no idea how these things would help me out.”

“I got involved in my first year of university,” says Andrea, “and it’s through the friends that I’ve made volunteering at CFRU that I joined the arts community, it’s because of CFRU that I now also do programming for Kazoo fest, it’s because of CFRU that I’ve written for exclaim magazine, and it’s because of CFRU that I’m now currently employed. Everything that I currently do can be traced back to CFRU and all of the friends I made through CFRU, so it’s had a massive effect on my life.”

“I still have a sense memory of unpacking my stuff when I moved into south residence, and the first thing I unpacked was my radio, so I would have something to listen to while I was getting settled.” Says Vish. “I turned on CFRU because that’s what I got … it is no exaggeration to say that everything I am professionally and certainly personally is because of CFRU.”

Bruce has written an article on the SCI. CFRU has released a statement and recorded a panel discussion between campus groups who will be affected, and has formed a Community Advisory Committee to try to save the station in response to funding cuts that are likely coming this fall. If you’d like to help, contact [email protected] or [email protected] to submit your Committee membership application, or contact your local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) as soon as possible, and tell them what’s at stake. To find out who your local MPP is, go to voterinformationservice.elections.on.ca and type in your postal code.

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