Queen’s has failed to take advantage of its student leaders during COVID-19. This can’t continue.

Student leaders are the University's biggest asset while navigating the pandemic

Den Otter believes the University needs to better utilize its student leaders.
Den Otter believes the University needs to better utilize its student leaders.
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This year has been a challenging time for the Queen's community. Adapting to the pandemic has tested staff, students, faculty, and University employees. 
 
The AMS serves and represents the diversity of students at Queen's, but the switch to a remote setting has complicated things. With the University’s worrisome lack of communication regarding COVID-19 and both the student and academic experiences in jeopardy, Queen’s must involve the AMS in the crucial conversations that will affect this community’s well-being. 
 
Throughout the summer, the AMS tried to work with the University to plan for the Fall Semester—questions and concerns about the student experience, health, and safety were often ignored. Queen’s must understand its student leaders are passionate about supporting the University and its student body during this time. 
 
Student leaders tried to convey that more than 6,600 students would be returning to Kingston for the fall semester, even with remote delivery. The AMS communicated this across several meetings with administration, yet Queen’s did little to prepare. 
 
Despite being the body tasked with representing undergraduate students, much of the information related to COVID-19 has been counterintuitively relayed to the AMS in conjunction with the general public. In the future, proactive communication between the University and its student leaders could better facilitate essential information. As it stands, there remains plenty of confusion surrounding COVID-19 itself, testing, and safety among the student body. 
 
Firstly, it isn’t clear enough that the campus COVID-19 testing centre is accessible to students, rather than the soon-to-be relocated public centre. Some of the anxiety attributable to COVID-19 and testing could be alleviated with clearer messaging regarding the available options. 
 
With Queen’s students justifiably concerned about their health during COVID-19, the University must do everything within reason to improve the accessibility of its on-campus testing centre. There needs to be a larger capacity and clearer communication about booking appointments. 
 
The threat posed by COVID-19 to student mental health must also be taken seriously. There is a pressing need for safe social and study opportunities on campus. Offering spaces to study and socialize safely are imperative to ensuring the mental well-being of students—this must become part of campus health and safety protocols.
 
When the University announced the Fall semester would be remote, it committed to creating an environment where the student experience wouldn't be forgotten. While students are paying normal tuition fees on top of new financial burdens, it has fallen on student leaders to create this experience without genuine support from Queen’s itself. 
 
These barriers to student success could be remedied by offering accessible study spaces. A task force including students should be implemented to ensure successful remote delivery and to provide a platform for students to voice major concerns to University administration. 
 
Remote learning places undeniable stress on academic life. Many student homes don't offer environments conducive to learning, be it from unstable internet connections or a general lack of private study space. 
 
Student leaders are listening to their peers’ concerns and are able to consult with the University. This one-sided conversation cannot continue. 
 
The Campus Operations Group (COG), the University body overseeing strategies for a phased return to campus, has been adapting to the pandemic, but there's a need to be more open-minded when considering safe ways to unite the Queen's community. Its current protocol is inefficient—in leaving our questions unanswered and ignoring our opening proposals, COG fails to meet the requests of student leaders.
 
The University and COG should allow club space to be accessed through coordination with the Clubs Commission and the Student Life Centre—together, they could outline a planned safety and cleaning protocol. Our students require safe and accessible ways to experience a sense of community.
 
Operating a university campus during a pandemic is admittedly a thankless challenge with innumerable obstacles. However, even with a second wave lurking, Queen’s has a responsibility to ensure its students receive the best version of the education they pay for. 
 
Queen’s announced on Tuesday that the winter term will be remote, following the precedent set by other universities across Canada. However, Queen’s owes its paying students a commitment to a better academic experience.
 
They deserve a level of interactivity and depth in their courses some students feel aren't being met. 
 
Considering this remote version of the undergraduate experience likely reflects the new normal going forward, transparency is imperative. Students deserve better than subpar communication from the University administration. 
 
To ensure the interest of its tuition payers are being taken into consideration, Queen’s University must consult with the AMS, include its voices in their conversations, and make good of their network to communicate effectively with the student body. Student leaders are an untapped resource during this pandemic. 
 
None of this will be easy. Student leaders and the University can work together to deliver a rewarding academic year, but the merits of having a student government are lost when the institution keeps them in the dark. 
 
COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the AMS. 
 
Jared den Otter is a fifth-year Physical Health Education student and is the President of the AMS.  
 

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