In their final interview with The Journal, this year’s AMS executive reflected on the greatest challenges and triumphs of their term.
“We’ve had to deal with the Student Choice Initiative, COVID-19 now, and the passing of two of our peers,” said Auston Pierce, AMS president. “It’s definitely been a challenging year.”
According to Pierce, the executive team tried to counter the uncertainty posed by the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) by being open and sharing information they gathered with faculty societies.
“A specific accomplishment is the ability to draw on partnerships to get things done,” said William Greene, vice-president (University Affairs).
Jessica Dahanayake, vice-president (Operations), said the SCI also required extra financial planning, with projections made for 30, 50 and 90 per cent opt-out rates. She lauded the AMS team’s hard work as the key that ensured that the services’ success despite position cuts from last year’s restructuring.
“Since we did have to close all of our services in March, it does change our financial outlook significantly; however, as of February 2020, we were $377,000 above last year’s bottom line,” Dahanayake said.
Greene said the ability of student leaders to amplify the student voice was evident in the changes made to the Fall Term Break, but that it also pointed to the need for the University to amend consultation policies.
“Students are an important stakeholder [in the University],” Greene said. “We started to see with various different advocacy wins on the student side, the University beginning to learn that the consultation process needs to be rethought and needs to be redone in a way that that serves our community in its best and its best capacity.”
AJW also touched on some of the issues students faced on campus this year. Discussions on racism, diversity and inclusion were catalyzed by racist events, such as a coronavirus-themed party and the incident in Chown Hall last October.
“These instances do reveal the problems that we have,” Greene said. “I think that a lot of problems are grounded in ignorance.”
Pierce noted the reoccurrence of these concerns at Queen’s. “Some of the instances we saw this year appear to be cyclical. They happen every once in a while,” he said. “We oftentimes start having these conversations, we think there’s an outcome, and then it falls flat.”
Due to this cyclical nature, Pierce said he sees racism as a challenge for the Queen’s community and future student leaders to work on. “We need to continue having conversations, bringing up this topic, and creating safe spaces for everybody to share their ideas and work through a lot of these problems.”
Dahanayake emphasized the importance of more than just conversations. “It’s also about having action items from those conversations,” she said.
A pervasive theme of the interview was how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the end of their term.
“Our attitude and priorities have shifted. A lot of the project we wanted to get up and going or wanted to bring to a close or finalize have been changed.” Pierce said. “It’s a disappointing end to the year.”
Dahanayake spoke to the financial side of the pandemic for Queen’s and AMS services. “There are all these revenue lines we budgeted for, and services that receive money through a customer transaction, that we’re just not getting anymore.”
She told The Journal that Mar. 13, the day it was announced AMS services would be closed the following day, was the best day for TAPs this year. In addition, the AMS is looking to innovate new ways to run the services, such as moving QP Trivia online.
Greene said, amidst the pandemic, one thing he is proud of is the leadership of AMS Head Managers, Commissioners and Directors.
“It’s kind of wild to say that a bunch of 20-year-olds are dealing with a global pandemic, but it goes to show what student leaders are capable of doing,” Pierce said in agreement.
Greene took the time to emphasize how important AMS services can be, and remain, to students, noting especially the AMS Food Bank. After attempting to remain open, Greene said, the AMS ultimately decided keeping the Food Bank operational was no longer feasible or safe.
“We called the Kingston Food Bank and asked if they could support Queen’s students,” he said. “The [Kingston] Food Bank expressed to us that they could do it, but they’re almost over capacity, and a lot of their volunteers are in the high-risk 65-years-plus age group. So, we put a communication out to all our salaried staff that would be remaining in Kingston and said, ‘Hey, if the food bank in Kingston needs volunteers, who is ready to step up?’ And we had an overwhelming response.”
Besides platform promises they were proud to have achieved, the three also spoke to accomplishments not included in their initial platform, such as the AMS partnership with Queen’s Period.
“There’s things we didn’t include in our platform because we knew how far-fetched they were. One of the things we heard time and time again throughout the year was ‘not possible, not going to happen,’” Pierce said, naming divestment and Fall Term Break as examples. “We adapted, we fought hard, we advocated, and because of that, we came out with some wins that weren’t on our platform at all.”
Last, Pierce, Dahanayake and Greene reflected on things this year has taught them.
Pierce made sure to emphasize the importance of the work everyone at the AMS has done this year. “Every single thing that happened this year that was a positive came because everyone worked together and operated as a team, ” he said. “This isn’t at all us. This is the entire AMS and the entire Queen’s community driving stuff forward.
There’s an entire village of people working towards even the smallest of victories, and they need and deserve credit, too.”
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