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University of Guelph students walk out to protest tuition changes

Students at the University of Guelph gathered to protest new rules around student loans and fees, as part of a province-wide walkout on Wednesday.

In January, the provincial government announced a suite of changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) and tuition.

One of the changes included the Student Choice initiative, while will give students the choice to opt out of ancillary fees that go towards bus passes, health services and other campus programs.

The initiative is a big concern for Mel Soares, a third year science student at the University of Guelph.

“It will drastically change my experience on campus,” Soares said. “I personally use the GQE [Guelph Queer Equality] and a lot of mental health resources on campus, and I really rely on those funds to enhance my experience.”

Mel Soares, a third year student at University of Guelph, says she and other students rely on services and programs that are supported by ancillary fees. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

The Guelph Resource Centre for Gender Empowerment and Diversity is one campus organization that relies on student fees. The centre offers resources and programming geared towards women, transgender, non-binary and genderqueer people.

Volunteer and resource coordinator Lori Guest is worried what could happen if some students do choose to opt out.

“The centre has been around for 40 years. We’ve done many referenda over that time to increase funding to the centre to a whopping $3 per student, per semester and with that we’re able to do so much for students,” Guest said.

Without the services supported by ancillary fees, Guest said “it can be pretty bleak” for students that face a lot of pressure in university and who may struggle with mental health.

Lori Guest encouraged students to sign petitions of support for campus services. She is the volunteer and resource coordinator for the Guelph Resource Centre for Gender Empowerment and Diversity. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

Kayla Weiller, vice president external with the Central Student Association, said the fees are “fairly minimal” — ranging from $0.15 to $18 —  but can go a long way.

Weiller points to the University Centre, where the protest was held, which was built using student money following a referendum in the 1970s.

“It goes to show that if all of us contribute our money we’re able to do a lot of cool things, like build buildings. Or not even physical things but we’re able to build communities and create services and have a food bank of campus to help feed students,” she said.

The provincial government hasn’t yet released the details of the Student Choice Initiative or its changes to OSAP. University of Guelph officials said on Wednesday they expect to hear from the province within the next two weeks.

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