I am cheap.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005


Written by Mark Sun (Contest Entry)


I am cheap. Not just any kind of cheap, but the severe, crazy, irrational cheap that only a student can possess. I quibble over pennies. I spend several elongated and agonizing minutes selecting the cheapest kind of pasta sauce at No Frills (“Hmm… 0.89 without mushrooms or 0.99 with mushrooms?”). Water is my beverage of choice at dining establishments. I’m absolutely willing to walk many more kilometers than I have to save an extra nickel. My clothes come exclusively from sale racks. I buy reduced-price bread. I enter writing contests.

It likely isn’t too outlandish to suspect that there are a good number, perhaps even a majority, of other students who share my spending habits. You know who you are. You know exactly how much you should pay for a bill and who forgot to tally the tip and tax in their contribution. You’re the one surreptitiously rooting through the discount bin at Zellers (“Ooooh, green socks for only 99 cents!”). You shuffle quickly through the farcical souk of designer fragrances and shoddy replica soccer jerseys in the UC hoping that your speedy passage will nullify any latent urge to browse and make an impulse buy.

All quirks aside, most students penny pinch for good reason, not because they are ‘cheap’. Those that aren’t fortunate enough to have full financial support for their educations, be it via family, scholarships, loans, teaching assistantships, etc., are forced to deal with a reality where they have substantial costs but only limited revenues to act as counterweight. Even so, loans have to be paid off eventually and the thought of increasing your debt each time you buy milk and cereal must make for some very bitter Frosted Flakes, indeed. For some, miser-like behaviour becomes an absolute necessity.

Why, then, is a student space such as the University Centre courtyard turned into a shopping area on a daily basis? Why are there kiosks hawking such invaluable commodities such as Anne Geddes calendars and flags? I can understand fully that the UC courtyard is a valuable piece of campus commercial real estate with its central, prominent and high foot-traffic location. It is obvious that the traffic’s demographic consists primarily of the 18-24 year old subset, which is one of the most highly sought after groups for its penchant for spending on trendy goods, among other things, according to oft-published factoids. I can also fully appreciate that the masters of the courtyard would want to exploit its uniqueness for maximum financial gain for the benefit of the university and/or students.

But, exactly whose interests are being promoted here? Certainly, it does not seem as if student interests are foremost in the UC courtyard’s scheduling manager. Please note that I am not in the slightest way advocating a top-down protectionist consumer policy for students. By all means, students who want to buy Anne Geddes calendars (… why?? WHY??) should be able to make that decision on their own. However, to my knowledge, there have been no unique or particularly desirable purchasing opportunities presented by any of the proprietors I’ve witnessed operating in the courtyard.

If it is indeed true that the courtyard is a special location because of its high-visibility access to trendy and consumer-oriented students, then why aren’t we using this leverage to benefit us, the students? Can the vendors be asked for special pricing as part of the deal to let them set up shop in the courtyard? For example, can Rogers Wireless be convinced to offer an exclusive bargain above and beyond the regular student discounts for those who purchase products through their kiosk at the UC? Can vendors be asked for a student tax on gross revenues to fund charities or student bursaries? Or, horror of horrors, if no vendors are willing to agree to these terms, can we just have a shopping-free zone in the courtyard?

As just one example, it might be a pleasant idea to have an art exhibition set up on a weekly basis instead of the flag-guy whose ‘Last Day!!!’ is invariably followed by his ‘first day’ a few weeks later.

Admittedly, I am not well acquainted with the workings of the UC courtyard mall administration. Maybe something akin to what I’ve proposed here is already in place and I’m just being whiny. If not, though, I’d urge the powers that be to end the foolish squandering of our buying power and leverage (there’s enough of this foolishness with Britney Spears’s perfumes and sales of Von Dutch baseball caps) and use it for some positive benefit. If not for a student cause, then at least one for the community (the Food Bank or local United Way would sound good to me). Even conventional wisdom would hold that if students are to be exploited for our buying power in our domain then there should be at least some enhanced benefit available for us, as well.

To wit, I’m tired of having my UC look like a Sears warehouse of sloppy seconds. As one like-minded individual put it in a recent letter to the Ontarian editor, “stop whoring out the UC.” It is, at least in spirit, our space. The reason it’s there at all is the students, the reason anyone sets up their kiosks at all is, again, the students. Let’s exercise our leverage. At minimum, if we can’t stop this commercial prostitution, we might at least give it a conscience.


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