AMS executive debate: Teams RTZ & TIA go head-to-head

Candidates discuss services reopening, student engagement, and EDII

The debate was held Wednesday night over Zoom.

AMS executive candidates faced off in a debate held over Zoom on Wednesday evening for their final discussion prior to the election next week.

There are two teams running for AMS executive this year. The first is Team RTZ: Presidential candidate Zaid Kasim, Sci ’21; Vice-Presidential (Operations) candidate Tiana Wong, ArtSci ’21; and Vice-Presidential (University Affairs) candidate Ryan Sieg, Kin ’21.

The other is Team TIA: Presidential candidate Isaac Sahota, ArtSci ’22; Vice-Presidential (Operations) candidate Tabassum Pasha, Comm ’21; and Vice-Presidential (University Affairs) candidate Amelia Cockerham, ArtSci ’22. 

Each team was given five minutes for opening statements which were followed by a series of prepared moderated questions and a series of questions submitted by students.

In Team TIA’s opening statement, the candidates touched on their platform by pointing to the specific pillars of healthcare, accessibility, student engagement and belonging, and their back-to-campus plan. 

“We have been continuously involved with the community and have talked to a lot of student activists,” Sahota said.

Team RTZ opened the debate by introducing themselves to the audience and sharing their previous experience working with campus groups. Each member discussed their diverse range of experience working with faculty societies and the consultations that informed their platform. 

“We truly believe that we have incorporated as many voices as we could, evident from over 30 consultations from faculty societies, current AMS senior management, and groups on campus that advocate for Queen’s students,” Kasim said.

READ MORE: Executive Candidate profile: Team RTZ ready to clean up the AMS

The questions addressed their platforms, campaigns, and a series of issues on campus, including student wellness; Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigeneity (EDII); student engagement; and accessibility. 

Student Engagement 

When asked how they would increase student engagement with AMS services and volunteer initiatives, Pasha said she would use a hands-on approach.

“We want to deal with problems as they come up rather than letting them fester,” she said. 

Sahota also spoke to the importance of engaging with students in first year by working with the Residence Society (ResSoc). 

“We need to engage students [in their first year] because then there will be four years where these students will become good volunteers and good leaders,” he said.

Kasim said the lack of student engagement stems from a lack of trust in the AMS. He mentioned Team RTZ’s desire to advocate for greater attendance at the President's Caucus and AMS Assembly as a way to restore the student body’s trust in the Society. 

Sieg also noted RTZ’s plan to work more closely with student groups as a way to increase engagement at these meetings. He said they hope to invite different campus groups to each Assembly to give them access to an increased number of resources and AMS stakeholders.  

“We want to support lots of different movements on campus that are doing advocacy work and support them in joining the AMS and bringing their advocacy forward,” he said. 

AMS Services

The teams were asked how they would ensure the AMS services are successful and provide jobs for students next year. In response, Team TIA stressed the importance of student safety. 

“Things are going to change when we are back on campus,” Pasha said. “We don’t know what the situation is going to be like, so we’re going to have to react quickly and adapt to that.”

She said Team TIA’s initiative to create more employment opportunities for international students could help alleviate high tuition costs. Opportunities for domestic students will be dependent on provincial COVID-19 restrictions and reopening policies. 

Pasha also said AMS services will operate “as they had in previous years,” following re-opening. 

READ MORE: Executive Candidate Profile: Team TIA stresses accessibility in contested AMS election

Wong spoke to creating remote jobs for students, should another remote year take place.  

“Our team will be creating all sorts of plans and contingencies,” Wong said. “If we’ve learned anything from the past 12 months, we’ve learned the situation can get better or worse very quickly.”

Wong said these remote positions would be more financially focused. She explained several AMS services have lost substantial amounts of money in prior years, and that implementing jobs to investigate the losses would create remote student work. 

EDII 

When asked how they’ll amplify the voices of marginalized student groups, Team RTZ said they want to increase engagement with the Social Issues Commissioner and the Equity Caucus while facilitating the growth of grassroots movements on campus. 

“We really want to emphasize supporting grass-roots movements on campus [...] and definitely not trying to take credit for their work, but trying to use the platform of the AMS to form a direct line of communication with the administration,” Sieg said.

The team also said they would focus on proactive, rather than reactive action—they see this as an issue in the current AMS administration.

Pasha placed a focus on supporting existing equity groups on campus, who are already doing important EDII work, “by letting them do their thing.” 

"The best way we can support [equity groups] is reaching out to these groups and [...] asking them how we can help,” Pasha said.

READ MORE: AMS validates AMS executive, Undergraduate Trustee candidates

During a question asking how each team views advocacy and activism, Kasim used his point-of-order to ask Team TIA how students are "supposed to trust" them, since the issues of advocacy and accountability are absent from their platform.

Sahota responded by noting the trust he’s built by working with first-year students as a part of Residence Life.

“Our goal was to give our message to students,” he said. “We already have their message. They trust us.” 

Student Wellness 

When asked which issues need to be addressed by working with the University administration and how each team would advocate on behalf of students, Kasim pointed to mental health.

“We don’t want to say any one issue is more important than the other, but one that we’ve seen time and time again is access to mental health services,” he said. 

He said the team was “not afraid” to confront the University on tough issues like access to mental health services. 

"We want to appear as a united front to the administration,” he said. “We want to challenge them.”

In her point-of-order, Wong asked how team TIA plans to increase coverage of the AMS Health & Dental Plan without increasing costs for students. Sahota ran out of time to answer the question, discussing accessibility instead.

“[Accessibility is] not just one thing—it’s accessible to minorities, accessible to people with disabilities, accessible to people physical/cognitive, accessible to historical marginalized communities. It’s everyone,” he said.

Undergraduate students can cast their ballot at the 2021 Winter Referendum on Feb. 9 and 10.

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