As the fall semester draws to a close, The Journal sat down with the AMS executive team to review their progress and the status of the goals outlined in their platform.
President Jared Den Otter, Vice-President (Operations) Alexandra Samoyloff, and Vice-President (Student Affairs) Alexia Henriques touched on student wellness, equity, student engagement on campus, and supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic and remote term.
The executive reported they’re engaged in monthly conversations with Executive Director of Student Wellness Services (SWS) Cynthia Gibney to discuss student wellness needs, with a particular focus on mental health.
The Peer Support Centre (PSC) moved online at the beginning of the fall term to provide students with mental health support over Zoom. A major part of the executive’s campaign platform included promoting the PSC to first-year students in residences, especially to those spending time in isolation residences.
“We’re very proud of [the PSC’s] ability to adapt to being online,” Samoyloff told The Journal.
The Health and Wellness Caucus outlined in the executive’s platform has been implemented, with the first Wellness Caucus happening on Nov. 11.
Henriques said the purpose of the Wellness Caucus is to approach student health and wellness from a “more holistic approach,” examining mental, sexual, and physical health.
“Commissioner of Campus Affairs Charlotte Galvani has done a really great job coordinating with members from clubs, student wellness groups, and faculty-society representatives,” Henriques said.
The Wellness Caucus will continue to meet on a monthly basis. The AMS hopes to use it as a safe space for students to collaborate and share concerns about wellness on campus, and for the AMS to communicate these concerns to SWS.
Following consultations with various stakeholders over the summer, AMS Assembly officially ratified Molly Urquhart as the Commissioner of Environmental Sustainability in September.
Urquhart is currently building her Commission, working to hire a Deputy of Environmental Sustainability who will work with her to create an Environmental Coalition pushing for more policy changes from the University.
“The Commission is slowly being built from the ground up,” Henriques said. “We’re taking a lot of time and effort into doing research and really learning what from students are looking for in this Commission.”
Another platform point was to revitalize the Equity Caucus.
The Social Issues Commission has been meeting with the Equity Caucus to assess certain social issues discussed in previous years. Henriques noted Social Issues Commissioner Angela Sahi’s goal of allowing students to lead conversations surrounding equity on campus.
Henriques noted the priority for the Caucus is to remain relevant for students, while providing them with a space to share and collaborate on equity initiatives and the opportunity to address equity gaps to the Social Issues Commissioner.
To further collaborate with Four Directions, the executive is prioritizing open communication with the Centre, including monthly meetings. They’re also in communication with other stakeholders on campus supporting marginalized students.
Den Otter and Henriques addressed the Society’s initiative to share information released by Four Directions through the marketing and communications office.
“Traditionally, the AMS executive wouldn’t have lines of communication [to the centre] directly, but we wanted to prioritize that and emphasize that equity, inclusion, and indigeneity goes beyond one commission and needs to be ingrained throughout the organization and all of our campus stakeholders,” Henriques said.
The AMS is also providing mental health support for BIPOC students on campus, including speaking with SWS about bringing in BIPOC counselors to support students.
The executive has also been advocating for more support for BIPOC students on a provincial level through the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), specifically to implement more community-based support for BIPOC students.
“Although Queen’s University and [SWS] need to play a huge role in advocating for our students, they can’t do it alone,” Henriques said. “We are really advocating to various MPPs and ministers on some of our priorities.”
The AMS hasn’t yet reached out to the University to provide student input on the construction of the residence building on Albert Street, as outlined in their campaign platform. They’re currently working with the University on the ongoing JDUC construction project.
“We’re actively seeking any areas that we can collaborate with the University,” den Otter said. “There’s definitely still areas to reach out to […] and see how we can provide student input.”
The AMS is also working to rebuild lines of communication with the City of Kingston. Henriques said they’ve had “a lot of really great meetings” with Mayor Bryan Paterson about affordable student housing.
Through OUSA, the AMS published a policy paper focusing on affordable and safe student housing.
“That’s always something we’ll be prioritizing,” Henriques said.
Under the Clubs Commission and in collaboration with the Student Experience Office, the AMS has implemented the Club Hub, an online remote toolkit to assist clubs in operating remotely throughout the school year.
Requirements for club grants have been expanded to become more accessible for clubs during COVID-19, and the remote Clubs Caucus will continue into the winter term.
Following a remote Orientation Week and with significantly fewer first-year students living in residence, the executive reported challenges in introducing first-year students to the AMS and its services.
The First Year Intern Council was revitalized to combat this problem. Currently, there are more than 20 interns on the First Year Intern Council that consists of students both on and off campus.
The AMS has also advertised safety and wellness services, such as Walkhome and the PSC, in residence through a collaboration with the Residence Society. However, the Society is seeking new marketing avenues to further engage first-year students from the First Year Intern Council.
The Winter Term
When The Journal asked about her biggest priorities for the winter term, Henriques highlighted the development of the new International Affairs Deputy, a collaboration with the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston (SACK), and implementation of the AMS Compensation Policy.
The policy is currently with the AMS Board of Directors for approval.
Samoyloff said one of her biggest goals is expanding AMS service offerings and improving internal operations—one of the biggest challenges she anticipates is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of the past few months has been very ground-up, so really focusing on how we can operate and what that looks [like] to do safely,” she said.
Den Otter spoke to the upcoming AMS elections and the need to increase student engagement and accessibility. The AMS is hosting an information session on Dec. 2 during which students can learn about how the election process works and what the executive team does.
“It’s been a challenging semester and it’s been a challenging summer, but I think we’re all learning and we’re all growing, and we’re adapting and it’s just been incredible to watch the AMS team grow into their positions,” he said.
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