A look back at ‘crack the clique’

The Journal sits down for a chat with the outgoing AMS executive

Shiva Mayer, AMS VP (University Affairs), Jenn Hirano, AMS VP (Operations), and Ethan Rabidoux, AMS president, pose in front of the AMS offices in the JDUC.
Shiva Mayer, AMS VP (University Affairs), Jenn Hirano, AMS VP (Operations), and Ethan Rabidoux, AMS president, pose in front of the AMS offices in the JDUC.

Journal: When you ran for AMS executive, your slogan was “crack the clique.” Did you?

Ethan Rabidoux: Absolutely. It just goes back to right after we were hired, the very fact that the number of applicants from council, right down to regular service staff, went right through the roof. So people felt ‘We have a chance to get into the AMS this year, this is actually ours,’ and many did, so that’s one tangible example. … We made the AMS less about ourselves, about our personal egos, and more about the AMS from one year to the next as far as consistency went. We made the AMS for regular students. That’s what the AMS should be about, not padding your resume, but actually making tangible steps forward for students. That’s what cracking the clique is about. We made it not about us, but about students.

What came as the biggest surprise after being elected and starting the job?

Shiva Mayer: From my point of view, the biggest surprise … topping the Queen’s Centre, was the [Memorandum of Understanding]. I can’t remember 100 per cent what I thought, but my perception was that we were in a position where we were almost finished negotiating the deal with the University, and all we needed to do was sign on the dotted line and it would be done. As it turned out, that was not the case. In fact, we were so far from what was even considered a deal it was staggering. That’s one of the proudest accomplishments for all of us this year. We were able to sit down and say we’ve gotten a deal for students that they can be proud of, and it is something in the best interest of students for many years to come. Even though that was the biggest surprise, it was one of the things we managed to handle the best.

Shortly after your team was elected, the Queen’s Centre fee vote came up. Initially, your team was an outspoken critic about the fact that the vote was being taken to the AMS Annual General Meeting instead of to referendum. In the end, however, you did nothing to change that course. Why?

R: I’ve been the longest critic of [the AGM], and I’ve said the more students that can get involved, the better. Having said that, there’s one thing that’s very, very important: the AGM is a constitutionally recognized process. Whether you believe it’s moral or not is the debate, not whether it’s legal.

I thought the question was about whether it was democratic.

R: We had concerns about the referendum versus the AGM process, and those were genuine concerns. But by the time we got into office, you have to realize, the AMS had been heading down this path for two years, so us coming in and saying ‘Nope, we’re not going to do this, we’re going to work against the AGM process,’ would be like a car going 180 mph towards a brick wall and slamming on the brakes three feet before you hit the wall. It was going to happen at AGM or it wasn’t going to happen at all. And that was the reality. If the students at the AGM had voted against it on the grounds they didn’t like the process, which would have been an honest display of disapproval, you’ve got realize the administration, and the alumni in particular, would not have interpreted that as ‘Oh I see, they didn’t like the process, we’ll just go back and get a referendum then we’ll donate the money.’ They would have looked at that and said ‘No deal, obviously students don’t want it.’

M: Having said that, if you want to know my personal opinion, I think Ethan and Jenn sort of said it—despite the fact that the AMS, that the AGM under the constitution, it’s a recognized fact, is democratic, I still would have liked to see it go to referendum. And I stand by that. I do think that the referendum enables more students to have a venue to voice their opinion, one way or the other. Even though I didn’t have much choice in this matter, I would still encourage any future executives who are planning on making a major commitment, or committing the society in any way—funding or any other sort of large-scale agreement—to seek the referendum option, because I do think it’s the best way to get students involved.

What was your biggest success?

R: Hands down, the steps forward on housing. … We were the first ones to actually make a step forward on this one, to actually make a tangible difference. And make no mistake, we did, and that’s important, and it’s something we can take pride in, the unique initiative that we thought of before we ran for AMS. We conceived it, we brought it to fruition, and we pushed it through: the Golden Cockroach. To see this initiative basically start from just an idea to become a reality that’s actually making a difference. … General feedback we’ve been getting [is] from the good landlords who have been calling Jay Abramsky to let us know that, ‘We want this award next year,’ and bad landlords have been scared blind. The students have been empowered. There is strength in numbers, because landlords have tried these on us, the fear tactics they used on their tenants, and we weren’t budging. We said, ‘Sorry buddy, you aren’t dealing with starving students, you’re dealing with a multi-million dollar student government now,’ and you know what? It’s amazing how they used the same BS about how ‘We’re going to sue, you can’t do this to me.’ Actually, we can and we have been, and were going to keep doing it.

M: And more philosophically, that’s the beauty of the AMS. Is that teams can come in and can bring forth their ideas, and if their ideas are well received by the student body, indicated by their yes vote in an AMS election campaign, there is the power in the student government to be able to do these things. And I think its important to remember, especially since we are at a school like Queen’s that does have a powerful student government.

Jenn Hirano: I think that really a prime example of what Shiva was talking about, how students can come in and really get involved, would be John Manning and the sustainability coordinator. I’m so happy that that happened. At those couple of assemblies, I thought it was really great that he was up there and that the assembly members could see really how any student can come forward and have that support, to have their idea come to life and become a position in a pretty short time.

What was your biggest mistake?

R: Biggest mistake versus biggest regret is the fact that we lost four people from the hiring end of the AMS—not so much a mistake as it was a regret. There’s multiple number of reasons we can’t go into as many are personal, but yeah, the most unpleasant experience is to lose anybody. Especially when it’s for personal reasons and you see the person toiling and what have you, and you want to help them out, but they just feel like it’s time for them to move on, that’s heartbreaking. So that’s been the biggest pall over our year.

H: I agree.

M: I third that.

What was the toughest decision you had to make this year?

M: If there was anything, I feel I would be somewhat remiss if I didn’t talk about what happened in the Campus Activities Commission, considering that it was in my direct oversight. I mean, if there was one thing I wish I had done better in that respect, I guess this is in the lessons learned category … I wonder whether or not closer scrutiny would have revealed what was happening in the Campus Activities Commission before it actually happened. But I’ll never really know, and that will always bother me to a certain extent, whether the situation that happened could have been prevented.

How would you describe your leadership style?

R: Speaking internally, this is one of the areas that we learned a lot on. And that was the difference between being hands-off, compared to being disengaged. We had a vision for the AMS, like we wanted to make it a better place that was more open and definitely perceived as being more open and welcoming to students. And we had some more tangible goals, like improving the arts, and tenant protection, and so on. We definitely delegated a lot to our commissioners and our directors, and I would go so far as saying too much, and that was a lesson learned.

M: I have to say, personally, leadership is by far the area that I feel I was the weakest on, and I don’t mean that to sound disparaging. I’ll be quite honest, as I was during the campaign, I’ve never had any experience leading a large number of people for the organization of the type the Alma Mater Society is. … You do get knocked around a bit before you figure out what works, what doesn’t.

R: We’ve dealt with the internal, but as far as external representation and external leadership to the students and to the administration, I think we’ve been fantastic in that area. As far as dealing with the administration goes, I don’t think students have been as aggressively represented in the community and to the administration as they were this year. One thing I am very proud of is that on many occasions we had to make tough choices, tough calls after Aberdeen, because we condemned it just as much as anybody. The Aberdeen Street party was unacceptable, but what we had to distend, we were the only voice in a wave of denunciation saying, ‘Hold on just a second here and take rational a look at this, and let’s not just dump on all Queen’s students as bunch of spoiled white boys, and let’s actually analyze what happened here.’ Whether it’s Frosh Week or whether it’s Homecoming, there are people in the administration right now who want to do away with both because they hurt our image in the Whig-Standard. You can’t destroy the soul of Queen’s to save the face.

M: On that topic, I was going to say, balance is the key and I think that’s part of the reason why our team as an executive has been so strong. I mean, its no secret that Ethan often comes off fairly strong-fisted, but I think that’s complemented well by the fact that me and Jenn are often a little on the other side of that, and were definitely greater than the sum of our parts as a team. I can say, with confidence, that we would not have accomplished what we have without Ethan’s tactics at times, but at the same time, I don’t think we might have had as much credibility without that rational voice on the other side saying ‘Hey, let’s sit back and let’s look at this.’

Do you think your leadership style played a role in the resignations this year?

R: Unfortunately, a lot of the criticism comes from external sources, which just cannot understand, by necessity, what the certain complexities of the circumstances were. Having said that, yeah, I suppose an exceptional leader would find a way to help their workers either personally, or professionally through their problems.

M: Had I known what I know now, I feel I maybe could have done something to prevent the resignations, maybe.

Who would you call your council MVP?

R: Oh boy, that’s like asking a parent to pick a favourite child. But the answer is that they all have strengths in different areas. Plain and simple, you can’t ask for two harder-working people than Ashik Bhat and Julie Hirst. I can’t begin to explain how hard these guys work, and that’s the nature of the directors’ position. The one prerequisite to being a good director is be ready to work your ass off. You have so many services under your portfolio, so many personalities and to rise to the challenge you have to be like Ashik and Julie. And that’s really to slug it out in the trenches with your managers and work hard, and they did that. I mean, they put in suicide hours after we lost Julie McKernan, they didn’t even bat an eyelid. … But having said that, we had Naomi [Lutes] who we couldn’t have done Golden Cockroach and we couldn’t have done Student Property Assessment Team without.

M: Pat Welsh was so invaluable with his whole USAT thing. I mean, without Pat, we wouldn’t have been able to run our internal academic things.

What was your biggest hiring mistake?

R: [Uses arms to spell out “C.A.C”]

M: The thing is, I will speak frankly about Louis. I would never hear me say that this is the worst hiring decision we had, but the reason why is because despite the fact that Louis managed to financially mismanage his commission, which is indeed a regrettable thing, he was an invaluable asset this year, the things that he did for all ages programming, non-alcoholic programming on campus.

R: The reality is that the community liaison coordinator should never have been created in the first place. It was created in great haste. And heck, when she got hired, there was no job description. I think that was the worst hiring decision we made. [It] wasn’t Lindsay [Tate English], it was the position.

Last year during the campaign, you pledged to the student body that if you didn’t fulfill your 10 campaign promises, you would donate five per cent of each of your salaries to Kingston’s Martha’s Table. Did you keep all those promises?

R: Did we keep all the promises, no. Are we going to give the money, absolutely. Having said that, we kept eight of our promises.

Overall, how do you feel as your term comes to a close?

R: I think that at the end of the day we’ve left the AMS in better condition than we received it, and the previous year did the same. Your final test on whether you are a good executive or a bad executive is did you make tangible, substantial improvements, and we did. And I think what I am most satisfied about is we left legacies that are going to last a long, long time. I think of the Golden Cockroach, which an AMS would be foolish not to do it moving forward. It’s already had a profound impact, and it’s going to continue to have an impact. What I’m most proud of is the fact that we effected big changes, lasting changes like the [Memorandum of Understanding] and the Queen’s Oscars … things like that. Personally I’m really, really happy. Last but not least, was it worth it? Absolutely, because you get pushed through the fire, you get run through the wringer and you cite the cliché, it’s happened to you. And at the end of it all, you learn from your mistakes and you’re a stronger person for it.

H: I think we’re going to be handing off a really good organization and handing it off to great people. I know that everyone is so excited to work with them—they’ve been so keen, and we’re trying to do our best to share everything that we know and allow them to do a better job than we did. You know how people sometimes would want people to do not as well, so that they can bask in their glory more, and we definitely don’t feel that way. I think they will be able to do a better job, and I’m excited for next year.

M: The AMS is a very special organization. And I don’t mean that in just the sense of, well, we were there, and we did some interesting things, and it has a special place in my heart, but in a broad scheme of student organizations the AMS is very special. It’s a very unique place: nowhere else is the level of student involvement quite as broad and quite as celebrated as what we do here at the AMS. I don’t think—and I wouldn’t have said this two years ago, but I don’t think your Queen’s education is complete until you have been involved with something outside the classroom, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that you held a job at the AMS, but there are so many other ways to get involved here. Whether its being a volunteer at the SHRC or a member of the Queen’s Rowing Club, there is so much opportunity at this school. We truly are blessed to have that opportunity to be at an institution where we have that kind of thing. For me personally, this year has been inspirational to me. I don’t mean that in the clichéd sense, that, you know, I had a dream and I saw that dream realized. This year has really been a year where I’ve done things I never thought I’d do before, and it really has changed my outlook on what it means to have a higher education. I was the first person before, I was your typical engineer— H: Your jacket wasn’t purple.

M: I was in class, I didn’t care about what happened outside my sphere of engineering, and my horizons have been broadened so much by this opportunity at the AMS. It’s the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me and I say that unequivocally, I’ve really loved every moment of it.

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