Why are penguins popping up across Alberta’s major cities?
By Noel Harper, News Editor
Alberta’s post-secondary students are no strangers to publicly airing their grievances with the provincial government. This includes participating in gatherings of demonstration — gatherings that are restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To that end, representatives from the student unions of major institutions in the province — including the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) and the University of Calgary Student Union — have taken another route to show the strength in numbers of those who are opposed to tuition increases and operating cuts.
“#DontFreezeOurFuture” was the hashtag that adorned signs stuck into hundreds of snow sculptures made to look like penguins. The penguins are essentially a metaphor for the demands to “freeze” decreases to university funding, and they have been marching across the province throughout January and February.
The first penguins were built by Edmonton post-secondary students and set up on the grounds of the Alberta legislature on Jan. 28, promoting the various student unions involved in the protest, including those of major institutions in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and the online Athabasca University.
“The penguins were ridiculous,” Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) Chair Rowan Ley told The Canadian Press, “but the point of them was to draw attention to a very serious issue.”
It wasn’t long before maintenance staff at the legislature were directed to remove the penguin sculptures, knocking down most of the 800 that were set up just before a planned CAUS demonstration and media availability. The reasoning for this act claimed that the penguins were tripping hazards, as they were set up in walking areas.
Despite this, the idea stuck, and CAUS expanded their penguin protest to more cities, universities and government facilities.
On Feb. 8, the penguins made an appearance in Calgary, with SAMRU representatives among those helping to set up 300 sculptures on the steps of the McDougall Centre, the city’s provincial government office. The signs held up by these penguins featured quotes from Alberta students that showcased their concerns and barriers to completing post-secondary education.
“I had to drop out last year because I couldn’t get the right mental health support in time,” read one sign. “I can’t afford to carry $30,000 of student debt as a single parent,” said another.
Feb. 8 also saw penguin protests erected outside of MacEwan University in Edmonton, as well as in Lethbridge outside of local MLA offices.
CAUS says it plans to organize additional penguin protests in the future.