Image by Sage Ponder

Place, Memory, and the 2008 GSS Handbook

In 2008, the release of the annual UBC Graduate Student Society Handbook caused a big stir. Usually a quite ordinary student resource (intended to be used as an agenda and a basic guide to campus resources), the editors of the 2008 GSS Handbook turned it into a primer for resistance, complete with a thorough history of activism at the university, mock ads critiquing campus development, and tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of UBC’s brand. The Handbook was quickly recalled by the GSS once it came out, only to be re-released a short time later (this time with national media coverage) after the GSS had distanced themselves as much as they could.

Kyle Loewen and Sage Ponder are graduate students and Teachers Assistants (TAs) in the Geography department who recently came across the Handbook and brought it forward to The Talon. Read what they have to say below:

This ‘Radical History of UBC’ was recently salvaged by a passing AV technician when it was thrown out for taking up too much space on the shelves of the UBC geography department library.  Removed to make space for more lucrative materials and placed on a pile of free books in the hallway, we find ourselves in the odd position of ‘rediscovering’ a text and event that only occurred six years ago.

While this document itself and the circumstances surrounding its creation and subsequent reception are interesting and important in terms of thinking about the politics of UBC, they are also indicative of a broader issue that deserves reflection – the short term ‘place-memory’ of the campus itself.  As a student-body, we only have the ability to retain the memories we make ourselves.  We have no mechanism to pass down collective-memories of what other student bodies have experienced, and fought for, in the past.

In light of this short term memory, one of the important aspects of this handbook is its attempt to remember an alternative past of UBC in order to create more radical and alternative engagements in the present and future.  How should actions in and around campus change because we are on unceded Coast Salish Territory? What new questions are raised when we remember that tuition itself was only created in 1921? What might past struggles and movements on campus, such as those surrounding APEC, teach us about future ones? These are some of the questions that this handbook pushes us to consider, and that the re-release of its contents encourages us to take up once again.

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Ironically, the handbook itself and its attempt to remember the past in a way that challenges the present was in the end largely forgotten, along with events that have happened on campus in the years since. While this handbook outlines the TA job action of 2002, how many of us remember the job action of 2012? What is at stake in forgetting about these actions as TAs are gearing up to go into another round of bargaining? We might also want to ask ourselves who benefits from our collective amnesia as administration is set to raise the costs of housing and tuition.

For these reasons, while the handbook itself is interesting, it is not enough to memorialize it as an artifact. Rather, we see this handbook as a first step in reviving a collective (critical) memory of our campus.  We hope that these releases and updates through The Talon can create a living ‘alternative’ history of UBC – in honor of the project that this original handbook pointed towards, as well as what might be done to continue and extend that work going forwards.

You can download the GSS Handbook here. We will publish a timeline of activist history at UBC soon, which will include information from the handbook.