AMS' inaccessibility remains a problem

Not all students have the opportunity to run for a position in the AMS

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Every year, when election season rolls around, I wonder how candidates prepare to run. This year, I had a taste of that process myself, when I chose to make a bid for Undergraduate Student Trustee. In the end, I chose not to fill out the campaign paperwork, but it wasn’t because I got cold feet. I chose not to run because the entire election process is incredibly inaccessible to the average student. 
 
I knew that I’d be asking a lot of myself and my team if I ran for Undergraduate Student Trustee. I knew that we would lose out on a lot of sleep; I knew we’d have to talk to my professors about missing class; I knew we’d be eating like garbage because we’d have no time to cook. I thought that it would be okay though, because we had the commitment and determination to push through. 
 
Turns out that even if my team did, I didn’t. 
 
It wasn’t a lack of determination that stopped me from running. If all it took was hard work, I would be on the campaign trail right now. But running for these elected positions — like AMS executive, Undergraduate Student Trustee or Rector — takes a lot more than that. 
 
I wasn’t ready to take the academic or financial hit that the campaign would bring me, and more importantly, I wasn’t ready to ask other people to sacrifice their physical and mental wellbeing to do all of this work for me. I wasn’t ready to give up everything I was doing — my classes, my job, my extracurricular activities — to spend every second of January preparing for this campaign. 
 
This also isn’t the first time a Journal op-ed has been written about the inaccessibility of the AMS. Mark Asfar, who ran as the Vice-President (Operations) with Team SMH in 2014 wrote a piece called “Putting the pain in campaign” that highlighted the various barriers to running. His op-ed outlined how much time and money running a campaign required, and how he suffered academically, personally and financially because of the campaign he ran. 
 
Previous teams have talked about making the AMS more accessible and transparent in their campaign platforms for years. Someone always promises to make the AMS easier to understand, easier to approach, and easier to take part in. However, none of these promises lead to election reform. 
AMS elections tend to be fairly democratic, so that’s not the kind of election reform I’m talking about. I’m talking about the culture that surrounds elections on this campus.
 
I want to know why candidates have to skip every class in order to do class talks from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and spend the time in between at a booth in the ARC. I want to know why every candidate and every campaign manager has to work from midnight to midnight every day, catching a few naps in between, to run a viable campaign. I want to know why the AMS touts itself as a “no experience necessary” organization, when it really isn’t.
 
Why do these elections operate within a culture that asks so much of its candidates, and then wonders why so few students choose to participate? 
There’s no question that to run a successful campaign, a candidate needs to be prepared — but where does the AMS’s “no experience necessary” mentality fit in with all of this?
 
Just because a student hasn’t held a leadership position in student government doesn’t mean they can’t bring valid ideas to the table. Shouldn’t they be able to learn the ins and outs of student government along the way — isn’t that the point of “no experience necessary”? 
 
Right now, you need to have read every scrap of policy that Queen’s has ever put out, and you need to talk to every student leader on campus to get their opinions and their support. If you don’t, you have no chance of winning — and who wants to run a losing campaign? 
 
This came up in the AMS executive debates last Tuesday. Team MTW argued that their position as an “external” team gave them a fresh perspective, even if they lacked some of the knowledge that comes with being “internal” to the AMS. Team JPB argued that there was no excuse to not knowing how to competently do the job. 
 
I don’t disagree with Team JPB entirely — I’d love if my student representatives were well-versed in everything they do — but it’s also not a realistic claim if the AMS continues to function as it does now. Information is not easily found within the AMS, and information greases the wheels of a campaign team. 
 
Every year, I hear candidates promise to make the AMS more transparent and accessible, but nothing changes. The elections are just as inaccessible as they were three years ago, and in the AMS, three years is a long time when it means three different governing teams. 
 
Perhaps that’s the question that really should have come up in the debates this year — how do you plan to make the AMS easier to run for? How do you plan to make the AMS an institution that people want to run for? What do you really mean when you say you want to make the AMS more transparent and accessible? 
 
How do we know you’re not just saying that, like all the candidates that came before you? 
 
Vishmayaa Jeyamoorthy is a third-year stage and screen and certificate of business student.

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