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Comment: Why UVic’s decision to close its swimming pool is a huge loss to students

Each time I go lane swimming the lanes are full, if not near full.
The McKinnon swimming pool at the University of Victoria. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by a University of Victoria student.

The University of Victoria’s McKinnon Pool, which has been critical to my routine of swimming in between classes to manage and cope with the stresses of law school, is going to close.

Despite being a law student in the UVic JD/JID joint degree in common law and Indigenous legal orders program, I did not learn this info through internal UVic community updates, but through the media.

I have read articles highlighting the pool’s significance over the past five decades of it being open, in supporting the training of nine Olympians and Paralympians. I have read that necessary upgrades are estimated to cost $1.5 million, and that the pool is primarily used by varsity teams, swim clubs, and is according to UVic, infrequently used by the students, staff and faculty.

I am not an Olympic athlete. I am a racialized and neurodivergent woman who is the first in my family to attend law school, and am figuring out ways to stay well while achieving completing my law degree.

I swam in this pool nearly every week in the past two years I have been a UVic student. Each time I go lane swimming the lanes are full, if not near full.

All the articles I’ve read about UVic’s pool closing mention that UVic says recreational swimmers can use nearby municipal pools.

This fails to highlight two of the most important aspects of UVic’s pool – that students can use it with no additional charge other than the athletics fee built into their tuition, and that the pool is located right on campus, allowing students to swim between their classes.

Being able to swim at the school pool in between my first-year law classes in 2022/2023 significantly contributed to me feeling like I might be able to make it through my first year, and not drop out.

Beginning law school, combined with moving to a new city to do so and living alone, was all very isolating for me. I did not feel comfortable hanging around the law school at lunch hour because the law school is often filled with stressed-out law students, many of whom are being hyper-competitive talking about their job interviews.

It’s an old building with dim lights (though the new renovations have been nice) jammed with unrelaxed law student energy. I remember once when I was already feeling particularly lost and isolated, overhearing in a hallway, one white-presenting student say to another that they were just going to ask their lawyer mom for help on an assignment.

This September I will enter my third year of the JD/JID program, and as the program is four years long, I am halfway there.

When I learnt that it was free to swim at the UVic pool, I was thrilled. As a student with no income, relying on student loans and scholarships during my full-time course load, I needed to find low-cost ways of exercising to stay well.

During my lunch hour, when others stayed in and around the law school for lunch, I walked the few minutes from the law building to the pool and had my swimming routine.

Swimming helps me ground myself back into my body, helps me remember and feel where my body ends, helps me feel strong and reminds me that I am capable for law school.

Does UVic really not have the $1.5 million to upgrade the pool? Did UVic do a poll to quantitively measure or receive feedback on how many students, staff, and faculty use the pool every week?

What about the stuff you can’t measure with money, like the amount of students that were able to better complete their studies and experience more joy through being able to swim for free in between their classes?

Having a school pool that’s free for students is investing in students’ mental and physical well-being.

Since the decision seems final, and the school is a business living under capitalism, I don’t expect the decision to be reversed.

But I want to remind people that community spaces like a school pool where a broke student can get a few moments of peace through each front crawl stroke, is fundamental in the marathon of an academic pursuit.

I wish that future students could have that option. And knowing that they won’t, I hope you’ll join me in keeping a sharp eye on whether UVic increases their student athletics base fee.

Because without having the pool costs any longer, that price should not be going up.