Community engagement suffers under new Student Choice initiative

Clubs previously run under the Municipal Affairs Commission face extinction 

Community engagement suffers under new Student Choice initiative
Grace argues clubs like Kaleidoscope should receive more transitional support from the AMS amidst student fee changes.  

The recently imposed Student Choice Initiative won’t just negatively affect Queen’s students—it’ll impact the greater Kingston community.

As a result of the initiative—which permits post-secondary students to opt-out of non-essential fees that can fund student organizations—the AMS Municipal Affairs Commission (MAC) and the Academic Affairs Commission have been combined into the Commission of External Advocacy.

The MAC currently oversees eight volunteer organisations that work within the Kingston community—including the Kaleidoscope program, which seeks to better the lives of Queen’s students and at-risk Kingston youth through mentorship.

As of next year, Kaleidoscope will no longer have the funding or administrative support that it counts on from the AMS. 

Kaleidoscope works with seven elementary schools in the Kingston community, pairing Queen’s student volunteers with at-risk youth for weekly visits. Half of this time is spent on tutoring, with an equal amount of time spent doing relationship building activities like crafts or games.

I’m currently one of the co-chairs for Kaleidoscope, and neither myself, nor my partner were provided any opportunity to consult with the AMS to propose an alternative financial solution or voice our concerns about the changes to our program.

Although the AMS has tried their best amid the Student Choice Initiative crisis to maintain community relations through the External Advocacy branch, there’s still a large amount of uncertainty regarding the fate of community-centered student programs next year. 

Many of the students in Kaleidoscope come from single-parent households, are newcomers to Kingston, or have special needs which impact their success at school. All of the local schools that Kaleidoscope partners with are within five kilometres of the Queen’s campus, but the realities these students deal with differ greatly from the economic and social privileges most Queen’s students are granted.

The fact that this program, currently including 147 elementary school students, was eliminated without warning or consultation beyond the date for possible ratification will now negatively affect students that rely on Kaleidoscope’s programming each year.   

At its core, Kaleidoscope allows at-risk students to develop friendships with positive academic role models who help them to feel valued in their busy classroom each week. 

When I go into the schools to check up on the programs each week, principals and administrators often stop me to say how important Kaleidoscope’s student volunteers are.

Little buddies—how we refer to students who are partnered with our volunteers—express how hanging out with their Kaleidoscope buddy is the highlight of their week, and the confidence they build throughout the year directly contributes to promoting their academic success. 

I‘ve learned more about leadership, empathy, and community throughout my four years with Kaleidoscope than I ever could have in a lecture hall on campus.

Volunteer opportunities with programs like Kaleidoscope allow Queen’s students to engage positively with Kingston youth and develop practical skills outside of academics.

Without the guarantee that Kaleidoscope, among other clubs, will exist next year, this opportunity is put in jeopardy for future students. 

While the MAC has been restructured as the Commission of External Advocacy, as of right now there’s no designated student representative responsible for overseeing the programming branch that the commission formerly ran.

With Kaleidoscope experiencing financial difficulties, the amount of supports available to young people who rely on our programming will be greatly diminished. Moreover, it’ll be more difficult for Queen’s students to make meaningful differences for the Kingston community while completing their university degree.

Throughout the years, I had many people help me make it to post-secondary education—a whole team of supportive coaches, invested parents, caring teachers, and positive adult mentors.

For students involved with the Kaleidoscope program, their fate isn’t the same. The opportunity provided to work with a mentor each week—who’s also excited to participate—is invaluable in keeping these students engaged and optimistic about their futures. 

What the AMS restructuring chooses to prioritize directly reflects their understanding of what being a student is all about.

Queen’s Model Parliament, for example, was given the opportunity to function under a one year probation process until the conference is reassessed at the end of next year.

Considering QMP has a reputation of being a weekend centered more on drinking than politics, it seems the restructuring process imposes a double-standard—as clubs focused on community engagement and combatting injustice aren’t provided the same treatment.

While I sympathize with the financially insecure position the AMS has been placed in, meaningful student programs that give back to communities can’t be swept under the rug.

Volunteering in the Kingston community outside of the Queen’s bubble is an important part of the student experience. It should be considered such by our provincial and student leaders.

Grace Steed is a fourth-year Con-Ed student majoring in French with a minor in politics. 

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