For students looking for jobs on campus, the AMS is often one of the first places they look to.
As the undergraduate student government on campus, the AMS offers students an array of paid opportunities, whether it is working at student-run businesses or on the governance side.
The AMS website bills working for the AMS as an excellent opportunity that allows students to build relationships with students across all years and faculties, with chances to make a lasting impact in both the Queen’s and Kingston community.
This week, The Journal spoke with three alumni about the AMS’s work environment. The alumni painted a mixed picture, describing both positive and negative experiences working for the AMS.
Ashley Cowie, ArtSci ’22, worked at Studio Q for all five years of her undergrad. She worked a range of positions, from a livestream volunteer all the way up to head manager. She strongly encouraged students to pursue job opportunities at the AMS.
Cowie mentioned students’ experiences working for the AMS primarily depends on the management team during any given year.
“I’m lucky enough I had amazing management teams when I worked there, but I think they were very laidback and they let people’s creative juices flow and fostered a very caring, learning-focused environment,” Cowie told The Journal in an interview.
In her current career, Cowie found her experience at Studio Q to be a tremendous asset. She currently works as an assistant to J. Miles Dale, a Canadian film heavyweight known for producing movies like The Shape of Water—the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2018.
“My experiences [as Studio Q’s head manager] helped when I was interviewing for that position. It was kind of an executive producing role. I was a manager at a media company and so when I was pitching myself, it was very helpful,” Cowie said.
“I think that if you have the opportunity to get involved in a service that taps into an interest of yours that you don’t get to exercise in your program, you should definitely take the leap and get involved.”
Though Cowie had a positive experience working at the AMS, this attitude isn’t universal. In August 2020, the Instagram account “AMSxposed” started documenting allegations about the working conditions in the AMS.
Through anonymous posts, current and former AMS employees alleged a toxic workplace environment, mismanagement of services, and sexual harassment.
Samara Lijiam, ArtSci ’23, was Deputy of Education at the SIC when the Instagram account ‘AMSxposed’ started publicly posting stories from students.
Lijiam spent most years of her undergrad involved in some capacity at the Social Issues Commission (SIC). Beginning as a first year intern to the SIC commissioner, Lijiam eventually became the SIC herself during her fourth year at Queen’s.
“It was a big call to change the toxic culture [at the AMS] and I’m not sure it’s getting better to be honest,” Lijiam said in an interview with The Journal.
As to what exactly could make the AMS a toxic workplace, Lijiam pointed to an array of factors, like cliquiness, as contributing to a negative environment.
“I think the student government at Queen’s tends to be a small bubble of the same people hiring people they know and it’s something that’s difficult to come around,” Lijiam said.
She brought up equity concerns as another factor. “There were also microaggressions [from fellow employees]. It felt very divided at times, specifically during my equity work in the AMS,” Lijiam said.
Lijiam expressed frustration with the resistance equity initiatives in the AMS faced.
“When you’re pushing for simple things like trainings around sexual violence and things like that and you have people who don’t want that to happen, it can be really discouraging as you’re also working with them.”
On the flip side, Lijiam pointed to some changes in the culture and policies at the AMS that have improved the work environment for students.
“There were things like the [proposed] whistleblower policy, a greater call to compensate students for equity work instead of relying on unpaid labour. There’s the equity commitments. We started giving away to equity clubs actively seeking students,” she said.
Though Lijiam felt there was strong allyship at the SIC when it came to the equity initiatives, she believes that it can be challenging to implement tangible improvement at the AMS due to the constant turnover.
“To be honest, the one-year turnover in student positions makes it difficult to enforce real and sustainable change because they can kind of get lost year after year,” Lijiam said.
After working at the AMS as a service staff member for two years, Avery* worked as an Assistant Manager at an AMS service—a position from which she was terminated one month before her contract ended.
Having worked as an Assistant Manager on the corporate side of the AMS two years after the emergence of “AMSxsposed,” Avery believes the AMS hasn’t done enough to address the issues presented by the account.
In discussing specific issues with the work environment at the AMS, Avery pointed to the power dynamics when being managed by fellow students.
“As an Assistant Manager, I got to see how different power dynamics would come into play, especially when your boss is somebody your own age and you know in a social setting as well. The upper management team didn’t know how to deal with that,” Avery said in an interview with The Journal.
Avery found the power dynamic issues to be especially frustrating when discussing her experiences being written up during her time as an Assistant Manager.
Avery was written up three times for disciplinary reasons—all of which she found to be unfair. According to Avery, one citation was about her coming in to work late.
“They required us to come into the store a half hour before it was open before the staff got there, but there wasn’t anything to do in that time. I think I was late one of those times and so that was a write-up. The other [write-up] was because there was a lot of snow the day prior.”
The third and final citation that led to her termination was about being late on submitting a document that she took the initiative to create.
Avery alleged that when she showed up for a shift one day, an AMS executive was present and provided a notice of termination one month before her contract officially ended.
Avery found these write-ups to be unnecessary and examples of power-tripping. In fact, she refused to sign two of the citations.
“I just don’t think the right structures are in place to allow students to not get ahead of themselves and not take advantage of the position that they’re given overseeing all of that,” Avery said.
Avery pointed to an experience at another AMS service the year prior. “[One] morning, I got a call from my friend who told me that her boyfriend had just passed away and it was a complete shock. Obviously, she was in a lot of pain so of course, the internal meeting went out the window. I’m going to stop what I’m doing and help deal with that,” Avery said.
She notified her manager after the meeting about why she missed it, expecting them to be accommodating given her circumstances. However, Avery ended up being written up.
When it comes to how to improve the work culture at the AMS, Avery believes the AMS should start being more responsive to feedback and should switch up the permanent staff more often.
To protect themselves when working for the AMS, Avery encourages all students to ask tough questions at job interviews to make sure that they will be working for a good employer. She suggests that students get everything in writing—a recap of a meeting with their boss for example.
Since ‘AMSxposed’ stopped posting in August 2020, various AMS executive teams have made commitments to improve the work environment. Team ETC—the AMS executive team for the 2022-23 academic year—promised to foster a more welcoming workplace that prioritized year-to-year student employee retention.
In their election platform, current AMS executive team KMV emphasized promoting a positive work environment rooted in kindness and respect.
The platform states that “employment from the AMS does not entitle superiority but the privilege to work towards passionate goals for the student body.” In terms of putting these principles into action, the platform includes a commitment to advocacy in favour of standardizing training and respect for students’ rest periods, but didn’t expand on plans to implement these commitments.
The Journal sent media requests to the AMS on Sept. 25 to arrange an interview with head managers at AMS services to discuss the workplace environment and followed up with an email to arrange an interview with the executive team on Oct. 3. AMS Communications Director Mikayla Crawford didn’t reply in time for publication.
*Name changed for anonymity to protect the source’s emotional safety.
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