AMS executive open forum recap

Uncontested team plans to revamp student engagement, mental health

Team AJW (pictured left to right): William Greene, Auston Pierce, and Jessica Dahanayake.
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For the second year in a row, the AMS hosted a forum for uncontested executive candidates.

Team AJW, addressed a handful of attendees on Saturday, speaking about their platform and proposals for the Society during the 2019-20 academic year.

AJW is made up of Presidential candidate Auston Pierce, ArtSci ’19, Vice-President (Operations) candidate Jessica Dahanayake, Sci ’20, and Vice-President (University Affairs) candidate William Greene, ArtSci ’19.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lack of engagement that is uncharacteristic of Queen’s and its students,” Pierce said. “We wanted to see if others felt the same way.”

Pierce cited the team’s extensive consultation with clubs and services on campus as the basis for the platform’s six pillars: healthy minds, healthy campus; club empowerment and reigniting the student experience; sustainability; AMS transparency; a socially just campus; and advancement of services.

In their opening remarks, the team promised open office hours and forums to increase AMS transparency. They added they’d simplify the process of clubs gaining event sanctioning.

They also promised a new commission that will include both sustainability and wellness.

Pierce was asked how he plans to ensure the commission properly uses student funds and makes an impact on campus, considering the previous sustainability commission was disbanded in 2017 due to inefficient use of student fees.

The team wouldn’t be re-establishing a sustainability commission, but rather creating a new one, he said.  According to Pierce, AJW’s consultations throughout their campaign process helped reveal why the commission was originally dismantled and how to best move forward.

“[Those consulted] felt there wasn’t enough to do on campus, and so that’s why we connected it with wellness,” he said.

In the next question, Dahanayake told the audience the team would work with the current AMS executive to put contingency plans in place for services during the JDUC renovation, adding she plans to keep the services as operational as possible throughout the reconstruction.

Greene was asked what he believes is the most significant town-gown issue facing students in Kingston and how he plans to address it. Greene answered the “alarming statistic” of 0.6 per cent vacancy rate in the University District, and said he plans to collaborate with the Mayor and City Hall through the Municipal Affairs Commission to find a solution for students seeking housing.

The team was then asked to describe the current executive’s biggest success and downfall.

Pierce said that, while the consultations performed by the current executive with students and architects for the JDUC redevelopment project were a success, it took the Society’s time away from other issues on campus like mental health and student engagement.

Another question asked Greene to describe his reaction to the Ford government’s proposed changes to OSAP, considering both external advocacy through the Ontario University Student Alliance (OUSA) and supporting students on campus.

Greene said AJW believes financial status should never be a barrier to education and is disappointed with Premier Ford’s decision to move forward with the changes. Promising to consult with the Academic Affairs Commissioner and students, he said he’d lobby with OUSA.

When the floor opened up, the team was asked what steps they’d take to address the issue of sexual violence at Queen’s, which the team’s platform doesn’t address.

 “One of our biggest regrets in this process for this campaign was we didn’t have a concrete proposal for addressing sexual violence here on campus,” Greene said.

He said the team has since reached out to both Barb Lotan, Queen’s sexual violence prevention and response coordinator, and the Queen’s Consensual Humans organization, for consultations.

Dahanayake added while the team recognizes sexual violence is a “major, prevalent issue,” they didn’t want to “tokenize” it, adding the reason they’ve yet to consult is “purely logistical.”

Another question asked the team how they plan to ensure services and clubs funded by student fees remain in operation, considering the Ford government’s proposal that any fees deemed non-essential will be optional.

Dahanayake said, based on statistics from the 2018-19 year, roughly 30 per cent of students opt out of optional fees, and noted services like Bus-it and Queen’s Legal Aid would suffer under the province’s proposed educational reform.

“We recognize this will take a financial hit,” she said, adding AJW would advocate for all fees and work out the specifics of the proposed change with the University, if elected.

In their closing remarks, Greene reiterated the team’s goals and the task they have ahead of them.

“If elected, we have a long road still to travel,” Greene said. “As three students who would have never expected to be here a year ago, we’re happy to have found each other and to have shared this experience.”

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