Category Archives: Campus

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If There’s a Reason: A Letter from a Survivor of the Campus Sexual Misconduct Debacle

Content note: this letter discusses sexual assault

I had a hard time deciding who this letter should be addressed to. There’s a lot of people I want to address, you see. The first, of course, is the scumbag who sexually assaulted me. And I guess I could talk about that. But, as a professor once taught me, sometimes the best rhetorical strategy is to simply not address your opponent at all, because it means they are beneath your notice.
So let’s talk about someone who actually matters in this situation.

Hello, survivor. I see you made it through another day.

That was the hardest part, for me. To make it through another day. It’s amazing how unsafe you feel after being assaulted like that. The situation eats at you, until you hit a breaking point.
I had trouble leaving my bedroom for a long time. I was really scared, scared of a million different things. That it would happen again, that I would see him, that someone would find out.
And reporting it? Well, we all know how much trouble that could be now. I tried to report it, after it happened. It’s amazing how much of a blow it is to be ignored by a person in a place of power, who is supposed to help you through the situation in the first place. It’s amazing how much of a different person you can become.

It’s amazing how angry I am now.

Whatever happens now, whatever you have to face, my advice to anyone out there who has survived this trial by fire is simple: don’t give up. You are here at university because you have ambitions, and ideas, and knowledge that very few people may have. Do what you feel you need to do to stay sane and happy, but don’t give up, no matter what you do. This experience will change you, there is no way around that. But it doesn’t need to change everything. I have changed, but I have not given up, and that is the greatest revenge I will ever take on the bastard.

It’s been a year, almost to the day, since an acquaintance tried to rape me. I won’t claim that the road has been easy, because it hasn’t. But, a year on, my life is better. I know I haven’t completely dealt with the issue though. I still have a hard time trusting people. And I’m angry. But you might deal with the problem differently than I have. You may feel different things, and may need to take different steps to heal.

This is my healing process. This is my moment, where I reach back to the people who matter most, and I say, “Everything will be okay.”

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Reflections on Raising and Burning Flags…

As a queer man, the recent burning of the gay rainbow flag at the University of British Columbia has not caused me any lost sleep. I can assure you, however, that I’m not impervious to homophobic threats or attacks, nor am I apathetic to the struggles of the several marginalized communities that I navigate and am allied with. My reaction is not at root what you may at first interpret to be a radical internalization of homophobia or an act of self-deprecation; I can assure you that I have more love now for my community and self than I have had in years. My reason for not flinching, not shedding a tear, requires a closer look and interpretation of the current rainbow flag and the other patterned sheets we fly above our campuses and city streets.

That being said, I want to begin by recognizing the work and emotional labour put into OUTweek by the Pride Collective, and acknowledge that the rainbow flag continues to represent pride for many queer individuals. My intention is not to shame those who do find pride in the coloured stripes, but rather to critically examine the complexities of the flag.

The rainbow flag, which was designed in the late 1970s after a decade of queer resistance against police raids that started with the trans women of colour led uprising at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, has strayed far from its origins. A flag whose colour scheme may have once represented a myriad of queer identities1, now arguably only serves an elite few, those bodies and sexualities deemed worthy of inclusion into the political agendas of neoliberal governments.

Over the years, the priorities of the LGBTQ community have shifted from liberation to assimilation, and the need for normative acceptance has led to demands for recognition and inclusion in brutal institutions such as the military-industrial complex and the police force, as well as for marriage equality and the demand for stronger hate crime legislation. As a result, human rights are being traded for civil rights.

When a flag, which now for many queers embodies the conquests of homonationalism (the tolerance of homosexuality and integration of gay rights into a nationalist ideology to further state power) and all its neoliberal sentimentalities, is raised, to some it declares, “We are normal. We were once oppressed but now we are recognised. We want to be like you, to emulate the heteropatriarchal structures of oppression that once oppressed us in the first place. We want to fight in your imperial wars. We want to rule over the lands we walk on.”

For many queers and anti-statists, flags, especially those raised by settler colonial governments such as so-called “Canada,” are a constant reminder of ongoing imperialism and state violence. They are a reminder that the politics and actions of the state do not always reflect the opinions of the people residing within its borders, and those who are legally-designated Canadians may not choose to identify as such. They are a reminder that this land is colonized and we are uninvited guests on stolen territories, several of which are unceded. However, the flags that we choose have the ability to represent resistance and not oppression. I am thinking back, of course, to the origins of the rainbow liberation flag, but also to flags such as the Indigenous Flag of Unity and Resistance, the current edition of which emerged out of the 1990 Oka crisis.

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A “Vision” of progressive poverty…

In the wake of this act of hatred, some have pondered how anyone could, in a so-called “progressive” city like Vancouver, even think of setting fire to a gay flag. First, let me start by asking people to reconsider the use of what I would refer to as a relatively ambiguous, loaded term, particularly in their generalized description of cities. The notion of “progressiveness” is entrenched in liberalism and as a result is a canker sore of real social revolution; it is a half-baked and usually politically equivocal term injected into liberal discourse to further agendas of corporate greed and nationalism. It is peppered into conversation to indicate that an individual has an agenda of human rights for all, when in fact their politics are no better from their centre-left and right-winged counterparts. It demands that we position ourselves in relation to other cities and nations (and ways of governance) that we may view as less developed, both economically and socially. In reality, social progress all too often tends to commodify and exploit racialized and non-normalized bodies, as well as undermine Indigenous law and ways of land use, as is the case with occupied Turtle Island.2

Social progress is another consequence of neocolonialism, which is built upon these structures of racial violence and perpetuates the rising homelessness in Vancouver. This problematic fallacy that Vancouver is a “progressive” paradise relies heavily on a neoliberal narrative that everything is fine and dandy in rich multicultural Vancouver and so-called “socialist Canada” at large, and that the majority of folks residing on these lands lie mostly to the political left and are part of the upper middle class. In a society where personal success is valued above all else, poverty is viewed as a shortcoming of the individual and not a product of the structures of the state. The bodies unable to fit the desires and demands of capitalism are then discarded and many folks are as a result dispossessed of their homes and livelihood. This narrative erases not only views and positions that lie outside the cultural hegemony but also tries to bury the fact that Vancouver exists in a colonial present, rife with poverty, gentrification and displacement.

Through my involvement with the SRO Collaborative and the Carnegie Community Action Project in the Downtown Eastside, I have witnessed the very real effects of class struggle on our streets. I have attended community forums and marches where Chinese seniors have spoken up about what they perceive to be the quickening grip of gentrification that slowly squeezes both culture and affordability out of Vancouver’s Chinatown by increasing the number of condos and yuppie coffee shops, which amplify the value and attractiveness of surrounding properties. When Mayor Gregor Robertson is complacent in his promise to end homelessness and provide adequate social housing amidst rapid gentrification, yet is more than happy to take an afternoon to hoist up the rainbow flag, it is clear that his allegiances lie with a privileged class. A common occurrence at Vancouver’s City Hall is the nearly vaudevillian performance by council members such as Andrea Reimer and Tim Stevenson. They will listen attentively to the experiences of low-income individuals living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and nod at the concerns of activists over the lack of affordability and proper social housing and perhaps even shed a crocodile tear before voting in favor of wealthy developers. But be sure to catch your favorite municipal politicians at the next corporate pride parade for their photo op!

In Amber Dean’s book Remembering Vancouver’s Disappeared Women: Settler Colonialism and the Difficulty of Inheritance, the author draws attention to the 1984 banning and expulsion of sex workers from Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood as an example of, “white gay men championing a homonormativity that attempted (and it appears largely succeeded) to drive a wedge between ‘respectable queers’ and those engaged in the more overt, more public sexuality of sex work”3. From this we can glean the very real effects the neoliberal agendas of upper-middle class white gay men have had and continue to have in the regulation of non-normative citizens and fast-track gentrification in Vancouver.

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In the wake of this outpour of sympathy and support suddenly injected into the gay student body, another flag has been raised outside the Hillel building not far from where the rainbow flag burned. To some this flag hurts more than the rainbow flag burning. This flag is an uncomfortable clash of the gay rainbow stripes and Israel’s national flag. When the Israeli government marries the flag of their settlement on Palestinian lands with the rainbow flag, many scholars and activists call this an attempt at implementing a pinkwashing campaign. Pinkwashing is one of the many strategies employed by the state of Israel to re-brand their image on a global level and erase war crimes enacted on Palestinians, by assimilating and dividing bodies with its biopolitical modernist logic. This is done by promoting Tel Aviv and other Palestinian territories as attractive and safe liberal paradises for gay and lesbian people, a smokescreen that relies on the irrelevant and racist narrative of Arabs as homophobic. This diverts attention from Israel’s apartheid regime. Interestingly enough, as Jasbir Puar notes in a talk she gave at the American University of Beirut, “LGBT liberation also works to distract attention from intense forms of heterosexual regulation, regulation that seeks to constrict the sexual and familial activities of all bodies not deemed suitable for the Israeli body politic.” By this reasoning, queer liberation is being appropriated and co-opted by the Israeli government to promote their nationalism. The result in many cases is that the targeted individuals who may know relatively nothing of the complex and longstanding conflicts in the region end up being implicated in an ongoing occupation and apartheid regime as political tourists.

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Some claim that to reject and criticize Israel is to be anti-Semitic, and that Israel has more “progressive” gay rights than the United States. In fact, as I am writing this, our settler government has passed a motion to condemn support of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement4, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claiming last year via Twitter that there is no room for a critique of Israeli apartheid on university campuses. Trudeau’s vehement opposition of the BDS movement is frightening in its Orwellian antagonism towards freedom of speech. These rebuttals are misconstructions backed by strawman arguments and are quick to dismiss that many Jewish folks, including UBC’s own Progressive Jewish Alliance, stand in solidarity with Palestinians.

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Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land is an important issue to me not only as a settler on Indigenous lands but also as an anarchist who rejects any state control and occupation, and as a queer who questions and fears the normalizing and assimilative politics of homonationalism. While this may seem contradictory, as many Palestinians want their own nation state, anarchists can stand in solidarity by denouncing the violence and supporting Palestinian self-determination as a people.

Activists across the globe are drawing parallels between the oppression faced by Palestinians in Israel and other queer struggles. Recently at the Creating Change conference in Chicago, where the attendance of A Wider Bridge (an Israeli advocacy organization whose goals are to paint Israel as a sexy safe destination for rich homosexuals) led to several queer groups calling for a boycott. Trans activist and filmmaker Reina Gossett shared with the crowd that “from June Jordan to James Baldwin, the struggle for Palestinian liberation has always been a black feminist issue.”

While the Jewish students raising this flag may look like they are standing in solidarity with the Pride Collective, rest assured that they, like the city of Vancouver, have their own agenda. Last year a referendum question asking students whether or not they supported their “student union (AMS) in boycotting products and divesting from companies that support Israeli war crimes, illegal occupation and the oppression of Palestinians” failed to reach its necessary quorum of 4,130 votes, even though the majority of the voting student body selected yes. UBC’s Hillel society actively lobbied against passing the boycott and divestment principles. The flag and other attempts at pinkwashing are not only a gut-wrenching appropriation of queer and trans liberation but represents a normalization of the relation between an oppressor and oppressed people in occupied land, much of which is being mirrored in the ongoing settler colonial occupation of the Indigenous territories in so-called liberal “Canada.” As such, it is important that a critique of pinkwashing emerges in the aftermath of this incident as part of a larger conversation over the safety of our campus and the unceded Musqueam territories on which we conduct our education.

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Should we burn flags? It depends on which day you ask me. As an anarchist I have no allegiance to the great maple that drips the red of so-called “Canada’s” violent colonization and current occupation of Indigenous lands and bodies. To some comrades engaged in daily resistance, setting fire to a flag is a strategy to make known their dissent and to repudiate abusive ruling forces. But burning a flag raised by a queer collective made up of mostly twenty-something year old individuals? No, I don’t think so. To do so is to instigate war with those who find comfort in this symbol, and the comfort is not a danger in and of itself. There are more important structures, both literally and figuratively, to burn and dismantle.

When we as queers and our allies should be focusing our efforts on abolishing oppressive institutions such as prisons, critiquing violent policing, and the racist heteropatriarchal systems that perpetuate these hateful acts, our reactionary anger from these incidents usually leads to demanding more hate crime legislation, instead of less. Yesterday I cringed at someone’s call-to-arms to march for stronger hate crime legislation, attempting to draw a comparison between marches for gay liberation and a misguided retaliation. Hate crimes will not cease to exist with the capture and sentencing of the perpetrator nor with the increasing severity with which we dole out punishment. This change occurs when we liberate ourselves from the control of the state, which acts not as our protector but our warden, and address the disparities and structural and racial inequalities that exist amongst us. If we are marching in anger it should be fueled by love. With that same love we should be healing our wounded community and building dialogue around actual change, and the many ways in which that will look different for many of us. Today I am dreaming of real resistance and real liberation.

Solidarity,

Sherman Sayz

AMS candidates answer our questions: President

Another year rolls around, another set of AMS elections. We at the Talon aim to ask hard-hitting critical questions, and in that spirit, we invited all candidates in the election to answer a set of questions that we hope will help our readers in casting their ballot. Over the past few days we have been publishing the responses for all positions. In this article are the responses for candidates for President.

Vote here from February 29th to March 4th.

No responses were received from the other Presidential Candidates: Sugar Brewer, James Cohen, Thomas Thompson III and Hassan Packir.

Jenna Omassi

Website: voteomassi.com

This candidate is running for more than one position. Only their responses relevant to this position are posted here. Their other responses will be found in the relevant article for that position.

  • Why are you running for your position?

I have been involved in many capacities in the AMS over the last two years, both as an AMS Councillor and Committee Chair, and as an Executive. Both sides have shown me how many opportunities the AMS has to positively impact the lives of students, as well as ability to forget about a number of marginalized and diverse populations of students. I am running for AMS President to ensure the AMS can work effectively internally, while ensuring that we are advocating for the student population in a strategic way, promoting community, wellbeing and governance throughout.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

Community

  1. Extending AMS support of athletics to ALL sports, promoting and attending all hype games and bringing #birdsforbirds to all students. We are all Thunderbirds after all.
  2. Creating better support for student group connection, working with REC Engagement and the VP Students’ Office to have a university position designated to campus animation.
  3. Reviewing the Nest to make sure that the programming is creating community for students.

Wellbeing

  1. Creating a funding source for groups running wellbeing programming, and connecting groups that are running events and programming in this area.
  2. Working as an advocate for large changes to academic policy, based on student needs and  practice, as well as to ensure that the university has wellbeing as a foundation for it’s strategic plan.
  3. Ensuring that the more than 600 staff at the AMS, most of whom are students, are supported to be well.

Governance

  1. Implementing important changes to the society based off of the governance review that we are currently conducting.
  2. Bringing the businesses back to the students – making sure that you have a say in the way businesses are run and offerings.
  3. Overhauling the funds that we have and the way they are distributed to make them better work for clubs and services.
  4. Creating a strategic plan for advocacy, so that students know what to expect from their society when we are advocating on their behalf.
  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

The past year, my office at the AMS worked on research on student engagement, as well as best practices surrounding consultation. Consultation is a process where stakeholders groups and individuals are brought into all levels of the decision-making process, which is what I aim to do in the coming  year surrounding all areas of the AMS and my role as President. I will ensure that there are many different ways of engaging with the AMS so that a diversity of voices and perspectives can be brought into major decisions.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

The most marginalized students at UBC are often forgotten in terms of all three realms of my platform – community, wellbeing, and governance. I will work to ensure that community and sense of belonging press beyond just those students already engaged, by working to engage commuter students, and diverse populations. Wellbeing will be a consideration made to ensure that more students are well and supported to be. The AMS’ governance, especially in terms of funds and businesses, should be more mindful of the diverse student population and marginalized students.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

My platform and plan for the coming year are centred around considerations of the diversity of experiences of the student population, moving away from judgement and towards understanding difference. The focus on community, wellbeing, and better governance are framed in an understanding of the need to push against policies and practices that promote oppression both within and outside of the AMS.

  • What is your position on the referendum question on referendums?

Though I recognize the problematic nature of allowing AMS Council to ultimately rule and change questions deemed illegal or leading, I will vote yes on this referendum question. The main issue that currently exists within the AMS in terms of dealing with referendum questions is that Student Court, the body that is supposed to edit and change referendum questions should Council defer them, has not been filled effectively for years. Ultimately, questions that are illegal cannot be carried out by the AMS and questions that are leading are very difficult to create policy for.

  • How will you work with the on- and/or off- campus indigenous communities to make campus a better place?

As VP Academic & University Affairs this past year, I have worked extensively with the First Nations House of Learning, and with the Aboriginal Students’ Commissioner in my office, have worked to engage the Musqueam community in large AMS decisions. We have identified though that even with a Musqueam Communications Policy, the AMS has large steps to make still to build a strong relation with indigenous communities, and I will work as AMS President to create a stronger connection with indigenous student groups, the FNHL, the new Indian Residential School Dialogue Centre, and the Musqueam community.

  • With what philosophy should the AMS run businesses?

AMS businesses act on a number of pillars set by the Advisory Board on Business Administration (ABBA), including environmental impact, student friendliness, financial contribution, and employee development. I believe that all four pillars should be applied and maintained equally. It is important for our businesses to provide financial contributions back to the society to ensure that services can continue to run effectively, but we should be ensuring that we are sustainable, student-facing, and good employers at the same time.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

Accessible education is facilitated by a learning environment that is open to all, that is equitable, and for which barriers have been removed for marginalized populations. Accessible post-secondary education happens at an institution that actively works to ensure that curriculum does not create barriers for students and that socio-economic class does not affect an individual’s ability to access an educational institution. As AMS President, I will work with the Affordability & Accessibility policy to continue lobbying the government for needs-based grants, as well as against tuition increases at the university.

  • How do you define accessibility to the AMS? How will you strive to achieve this?

Accessibility to the AMS involves barriers being removed for the diversity of the student population, ensuring that they can access services, programming, and opportunities offered by the AMS. I will work to ensure that businesses are more open to student feedback and needs, that AMS services are better promoted in the community and accessible, that programming offered by the AMS and auxiliary groups make equitable considerations, and that the AMS offers as many opportunities as possible for students at large to be involved and gain skills. I will also make myself personally available to all students through public office hours and an open door policy.

  • Do you have anything else to add?

Having been involved in the AMS for the last two years, this is one of the most exciting years ahead with governance decisions and changes being made in the coming year. I am the most qualified to support these changes, and the most aware of my own biases and privilege to ensure that marginalized student populations and the diversity of the student body are considered in all large decisions going forward.

Ava Nasiri

Website: http://www.voteava.com/

  • Why are you running for your position?

I will bring students together by empowering communities. I have four and a half years worth of insight into the needs of students and student communities on campus from working directly alongside clubs, resource groups and constituencies informing my goals and ideas. The time I’ve spent getting to know the intricate details about the AMS and well as the experience I have as VP Admin means I speak the student language and am very approachable.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

The main overarching goal I wish to accomplish is setting up a culture of direct consultation with students. I think that all students should be able to openly give feedback to and criticize the AMS so that we can keep improving the services we’re giving to our constituents. A number of other key areas of attention include the following:

o   Mental Health and Wellness advocating alongside student senators with the weight of the AMS for a Fall Reading break

o   Restructuring AMS events as a more supportive office and hiring an advocacy coordinator to support our Resource Groups

o   Bringing People Together by expanding Block Party to its former ACF glory days and donating the proceeds to charity

o   Long-term Sustainability for the AMS budget by focusing on engaging students through monthly updates and a robust fiscal plan

o   Bringing Back the Gallery and with it an AMS microbrewery so you can access everything you need, right in the heart of the Nest

  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

Fixing our website and employing an in-person and online outreach campaign for student feedback, I hope that all students will be able to access means of communicating their complaints, issues and feedback to the AMS.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

There is never enough work to be done in this avenue of advocacy. By focusing on feedback from students and improving communications, I hope that the most marginalized students will have greater access to the support networks and resources available to them. In conjunction, I would work with the VP Administration to better support the AMS Resource Groups with the idea of hiring a resource group coordinator (only to help when needed and in complete respect of autonomy).

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

Hiring a Resource group’s coordinator who would work closely alongside our equity commissioner would allow the entirety of my platform to come to life with anti – oppressive frameworks in mind. A resource groups coordinator would bring to life any form of advocacy week that the resource groups may be interested in while also adding perspective to campaigns and projects throughout the year that the AMS as an informed perspective.

  • How will you work with the on- and/or off- campus indigenous communities to make campus a better place?

I will work with the AMS Aboriginal commissioner as a first point of contact to research and identify the best ways to work with these communities on and off campus and take action through collaboration with the VP Admin for on campus and VP External for off campus communities to activate any identified projects.

  • With what philosophy should the AMS run businesses?

For students by students. It’s as simple as that. Our businesses need to be operating at minimal overhead with the simple mission of providing affordable, healthy, and accessible meals to the student body while generating revenue to supplement the student fees that keep the AMS running.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

Education that is inclusive of all those who would like to pursue it, breaking down barriers of socioeconomic class or individual restrictions. I will strive to achieve this by working closely with the VP Academic and External portfolios to set up a long-term advocacy plan accounting for the next federal and provincial elections.

  • How do you define accessibility to the AMS? How will you strive to achieve this?

Accessibility can be defined in many ways. I will do my best to address my understanding of the different meanings of accessibility below.

  • Access to AMS resources by the student body: One of the greatest barriers faced on UBC campus is the disconnect between the resources we have available and the lack of awareness amongst students that these resources are, in fact, available to them.
  • Access to the AMS by students of a disadvantaged situation: It’s important for the AMS to consider barriers faced by students of minorities and victims of discrimination. No disability should be in the way of access to the AMS and empowering our resource groups would lead to better support for students facing systematic disadvantage.
  • Do you have anything else to add?

I think it’s fantastic that over the past few years the Talon has come in with an independent voice to contrast traditional campus media. Good on ya folks!

David Brown

  • Why are you running for your position?

I am running for President of the AMS because I believe in the future. Some people feel helpless in what the future may bring but the future is ours to take and to mould. I believe detailed projections from all 41 departments with a 10, 20 and 50 year forecast can help us to be proactive in reaching this future. We can make these visions come true by what we do today.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

We need a better fiscal policy. Two years ago we voted 77% to divest  $100 million in oil company shares but as of this moment nothing has been done about it. As the recent Paris Talks confirm, we are on the right track.  This money can be used in many more proactive ways than  in dirty oil shares. We could even invest in our own students with new and exciting ideas. With profit sharing arrangements we could build our endowment fund to a more substantial base. We could be helping to foster the next computer evolution, social evolution or cultural evolution.

I would ask each of the 41 department representatives on council to envision what their field will look like in 10, 20 and 50 years from now. This will give us a visionary framework to aid in the setting of policies and other important decisions. I would also like to create UBC TV.  This could broadcast all council meetings, sports events (like our recent, exciting Vanier Cup championship in men’s football) orchestra concerts at the Chan and shows from each department similar to Bill Nye The Science Guy. Additionally it would create a greater sense of community, allow students and faculty to keep up with various events, projects and people around the university.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

There should be no marginalized students at UBC. Professors are available for advice and one on one questions, teaching assistants as well.  Academic advisors and emotional support are also available.  There are over 370 clubs that you can join or volunteer at with others interested in the same subject. I think these are great suggestions for students who feel marginalised.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

My whole campaign is anti-oppressive. I want to foster diversity in all of our endeavours. Also freedom is an important part of democracy. We need to believe in ourselves and work for a future we can be proud of.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

Elementary and secondary education is not only free but also compulsory. I would like higher education to be available to all. How this is financed is up to all levels of government. The more educated a country’s population is the better it is for everyone.

  • How do you define accessibility to the AMS? How will you strive to achieve this?

UBC TV would enable all students to view council meetings and post comments to all department representatives. The council would then be totally transparent. Hopefully interest in student politics would rise. The future is ours and this is how we plan to change it.

  • Do you have anything else to add?

My business is different from the Harvard School of Business. I don’t think fiduciary duty is more important than moral duties.  The recent Paris Talks have acknowledged global warming and the need to curb our dependency on fossil fuels. I think we should be investing in our fellow students, not global oil companies.

Vote NO: How the AMS’s undemocratic referendum question undermines student voices

Every year, the AMS finds various bits of its bylaws to change, sometimes small changes, sometimes larger. Sometimes housekeeping, sometimes more controversial. This year the AMS has proposed a significant bylaw change that will severely undermine students’ ability to democratically direct our student union’s actions, and they’re passing it off as a minor housekeeping change.

(Background: Bylaws, rules created by and for the AMS, must be adhered to by the AMS and can only be changed through a referendum or at an Annual General Meeting, aka by the students as a whole.)

To be clear, I’m NOT talking about the referendum entitled “Bylaw and Constitution Revisions”. This one is genuinely about complying with the law, and you should vote yes.

The one I’m concerned about is called “Bylaws: Referendum Revisions” and it reads:

Do you support and approve the adoption of the Bylaw revisions outlined in the document ‘AMS Bylaws: Referendum Revisions’, these revisions to take effect immediately?

So what does this document actually say?

Let me break the changes down (you can read it here). Firstly, remember that there are two ways referendum questions can happen: either they are put forward by AMS Council, or a student group gets 1000 student signatures on their petition. The AMS is proposing the following changes:

  1. Questions deemed to be calling for something illegal by AMS Council will no longer be permitted.
  2. Questions deemed leading (defined as prompting or encouraging a particular answer) by AMS Council will no longer be permitted.
  3. Should AMS Council deem any referendum brought forward by students to be illegal or leading (or if it cannot be answered “yes” or “no”, which is currently a requirement), they can decide to redraft it so that it does fit these requirements. Currently, this redrafting happens by a third party (hired by AMS Council) called Student Court.
  4. If it cannot be redrafted to fit these requirements without fundamentally changing its meaning, the referendum won’t happen.
  5. A redrafted question will go to referendum 10–30 days after Council receives new wording, rather than 10–30 days after the referendum petition of 1000 signatures is received.
  6. The last section says that Student Court must return with new wording within a week and this section is removed.

In principle, I do not think that AMS should be doing illegal things, and I think questions that are leading are problematic. A few simple changes to this question and I would have no problem with it. My concerns are timelines, consultation and the power of Council to redraft.

1. Timelines

There is currently a requirement that Student Court return with a new question within a week. This gives sufficient time for a new question to be redrafted, while still ensuring that the question can be put to the ballot relatively quickly. Referendums have trouble getting enough votes to be valid (reach quorum) if they don’t run during the AMS elections, and since a group will be submitting them 10–30 days before the election, a week gives the possibility that the (revised) question might still run on time. With no requirement for when a question must be redrafted, Council could put off a question until after the AMS elections, hampering the question’s ability to pass. In theory, there’s nothing in the bylaw that stops AMS Council from basically putting it off indefinitely.

When this issue was raised to the AMS, specifically to the chair of the Legislative Procedures Committee, the response was “legal responses can take a long time.” I do not buy this argument. I was an AMS executive, and in the instances when quick responses were necessary for legal matters, those answers were obtained fast. Seeing as this has been possible for much larger concerns, it should be possible for a one or two sentence question.

2. Consultation

The proposed changes say that: “If the question cannot be so redrafted without fundamentally changing its meaning, the petition for a referendum shall be rejected and no referendum held for it.” Since it will be Council redrafting the question, not the group who put forward the question, how will Council know what the meaning of the question actually is? How will they evaluate whether a new question “fundamentally changes” the original meaning? Simply put, consultation (or even consent) of the group who put forward the question should be required. This would still enable Council to ensure the question is not leading or illegal, but would also ensure the meaning is maintained.

When this issue was raised to the AMS, the response brought up hypothetical situations, such as “what if the group has dissolved? What if they don’t want to be consulted or can’t be contacted?” In these situations, it would be the group losing out, since it would be their question that would not be on the ballot.

I find it ironic that the main advocacy position of the AMS this year has been all about university consultation with students, and most candidates in this election are talking about better consultation with students, and yet they are not for consulting students when it might challenge, or even impede what the AMS wants to do.

3. Power of Council to Redraft

Finally, a significant concern is how much power this puts in Council’s hands to change referendum questions. Council would be the group that decides whether or not it’s illegal or leading, as well as the group who redrafts it. While I understand that Student Court is not functional in its current capacities, why are we making this change now when the AMS is going through a significant governance review in the next year, which may well make even larger changes to how referendum questions and Student Court works? Consultation with the group putting forward the question would alleviate some of this concentration of power within the AMS.

I brought these concerns forward to AMS Council when they considered it, and I have already alluded to some of their responses to individual concerns. But even though they acknowledged the concerns as valid, they did not change the proposal and said they would address timelines and consultation in Code. Code, because it is written by Council and can be changed with a 2/3rds vote of Council, still leaves all the power in Council’s hands. In other words, they can put it off indefinitely and or re-write a question with no consultation as long as 2/3rds of them agree.

An undemocratic change

Ultimately, there are three ways that students have power over how their student union, the AMS, is run. Firstly, we have elections. The theory of representative democracy says that elections give people say in governance because they can vote a party back in or out, however, this does not necessarily hold true for the AMS, where students rarely run more than once or twice, so elections actually give us limited say. Secondly, we have Annual General Meetings. Last year, during the tuition/housing hike debacle, the AMS had the first quorate (having enough students to make it valid) AGM in about 40 years. Referendums, therefore, are the strongest mechanism left to us as students to have a say in how our student union is run. Referendums allow us to have a say and are binding on the AMS in the long term. Because referendums are always going to happen when students want change, this means that it is likely to challenge what Council is already doing, meaning Council may have an interest in NOT having the referendum go forward. This change, therefore, will have serious impacts on students’ ability to have a say and is profoundly undemocratic.

Two last thoughts

I would finally like to point out that the AMS’s YES referendum campaign has been framing these questions as simply “uncontroversial” or “housekeeping,” and I find this really concerning, since it will have such a large impact. Secondly, AMS Council spent about 10 minutes talking about this issue at Council, and it was passed by a committee through an email vote. I don’t think the AMS has put enough thought into this, and as I have already said, there are a few simple changes that would significantly alleviate the undemocratic nature of this proposed change and still allow the AMS to achieve their goals.

Tl;dr

This is an undemocratic change that will leave students with less say in how their student union is run. Vote No!

Anne Kessler is a former AMS VP Academic and University Affairs, former chair of the Legislative Procedures Committee of the AMS, and current member of the Talon Editorial Collective.

AMS candidates answer our questions: Senate

Another year rolls around, another set of AMS Elections. We at the Talon aim to ask hard-hitting critical questions, and in that spirit, we invited all candidates in the election to answer a set of questions that we hope will help our readers in casting their ballot. Over the next few days we will be publishing the responses for all positions. In this article are the responses for candidates for Senate.

Vote here from February 29th to March 4th.

No responses were received from the other candidates: Asad Ali, Zahara Baugh, Dario Garousian, Khaled Nasra, Lily Takeuchi, and Andrew Dyadin.

Click on the candidate name to see their responses

Victoria Lansdown

Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/1664404427149631/

  • Why are you running for your position?

Currently studying my passion for improving education by pursuing a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English Language, Cognitive Psychology, and Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice, while simultaneously participating in the UBC Sauder School of Business’s Master’s in Management Dual-Degree Program. With these degrees, the next step in my career is to manage a secondary school which provides additional, elective classes for real-world problems (such as home economics, filing taxes, mortgaging a house, etc.). With this passion, I am running for a position as an AMS Student Senator to start making a positive difference in education here at UBC.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

One of the main goals I wish to accomplish while acting on Senate is allowing academic hardship for midterms in addition to final exams. As a fellow student, I understand the hardship that comes with more than three midterms in a 24-hour period when there are more than just exams to worry about. In addition, I hope to change the policy with regards to curriculum to regulate course requirements for faculty-specific specializations, as-in, for example, regulating the discrepancy between the Faculty of Science arts requirements and the Faculty of Arts’ science requirements.

  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

I hope to use various AMS formal and social media platforms to regularly post doodles requesting student feedback on the changes they value and/or disagree with. I will also consult the various student senate committees with every decision I propose, in order to get the widest range of academic views available.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

As a current staff member in the Equity and Inclusion Office, I often ponder ways that a student can make a significant difference toward not only making every opportunity for a UBC student fair-game, but also equating our UBC student body in the eyes of fellow students. While working on the “Really?” and OUTweek campaigns, I have noticed that the best way to bring about these issues of student equality is to have students share their opinions and experiences dealing with exclusion among their peers. Not only hearing, but also sharing these stories opens us up to see the prevalence of these issues when we are all students in the same university, with the same goal of receiving a high-quality education for the high price we pay.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

While making an effort to improve equality and inclusion among our UBC Vancouver student body, I will take the extra step in every policy change I make,  or even simply vote on, to provide a voice against the oppression in our society; whether that be introducing new changes to equate our current requirements or finding new ways to inspire more students from the oppressed communities within Vancouver and beyond to join our campus where one can grow despite any societal, cultural, socioeconomic, sexuality, gender-identification or any other differences.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

Accessible education can only be achieved when all students have been considered under a standardized set of requirements regardless of one’s background or social identity, and there is a shared understanding among the scholastic body against discrimination and harassment in one’s social, educational, and personal identity while pursuing a degree. I will strive to achieve this standard of accessible education by working with my fellow senators to transform UBC into a culture of equality by confronting instances of discrimination, such as rape culture and colonialist violence, to ensure education is accessible to all.

  • What is your opinion of a mandatory equity course requirement for all undergraduate students?

While our university continually strives to achieve equity in all aspects of student identity, I wholeheartedly agree with the mandatory equity course requirement for all undergraduate students, whether this course be 12 weeks or a one-day seminar. Not only would this knowledge showcase and cement the extent to which UBC values equality, but this course would also open up an opportunity to discuss personal views and experiences to create a culture against discrimination and harassment. I have seen many attempts by the university to make up for acts of colonialist violence, when the very acts could have been avoided pending the understanding of the attitudes against such violence and the serious resulting consequences. In addition to an equity course requirement, I think a major improvement toward equality that UBC needs to see is a faster response time when an act of violence occurs; students shouldn’t have to wait a year or more to see their persecutor face the consequences of their actions.

Daniel Lam

Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/986897028060877/

  • Why are you running for your position?

I am running to be a student senator because education is the one aspect that binds all UBC students together, no matter what our interests are, no matter what we are involved in, and so I would like to make the educational experience the best it can be for all UBC students by better engaging students in lecture halls, engaging students with the ins and outs of the UBC Vancouver Senate, and also fighting for student and academic issues in Senate and its committees.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?
  • Teaching and learning: I want to be able to implement progressive learning techniques such as open educational resources and massive open online courses in classrooms, particularly targeting classes with large enrolment.
  • Mental health and accessibility initiatives: I want to be able to form partnerships with mental health groups and the resource groups in order to help lobby and promote mental health and accessible education.
  • Academic policy: I will continue to work with UBC on implementing a fall reading break by 2017.  I also want to implement a “WE” standing on transcripts so that students who must withdraw a course due to physical or emotional hardship are not disadvantaged.  I’m also going to continue the work that Senate has done from last year and try to work towards reforming the Senate to allow joint matters between Senate and BoG to be discussed more easily.  Finally, I will rigorously review the upcoming sexual assault policy pending Senate approval next fall.
  • Student engagement: Find ways for SSC to be engaging students in public about Senate issues, and getting involved in initiatives throughout campus, including events like Thrive Week, which help promote mental health.
  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

I plan on talking with other student groups and clubs on campus to gage their voices about certain issues.  I am already committed to work with groups on campus that help to tackle several items in my agenda, including partnering with mental health groups and the resource groups to help push for mental health initiatives and also accessible education, and I will talk with relevant groups to help gage feedback on issues that are relevant to them as they arise in the Senate.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

Resource Groups are vital in ensuring that marginalized groups on campus have access to safe spaces to discuss issues affecting them.  It is important that we empower them by having their voice heard on the Senate and its committees.  I have mentioned that I am committed to working with the Resource Groups to help us lobby for accessible education, as well as promote diversity on campus.  But it is important, too, that we work with these marginalized groups of people and other student groups on campus as the 17 students of the SSC are not as powerful as the voices of students who we represent.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

Although a lot of the equity aspect of my platform focuses on reaching out to partner with relevant groups that represent marginalized populations on campus, this campaign is still about students in general.  I want to engage in non-oppressive frameworks and promote inclusivity by making sure that people have an accessible way to communicate to Student Senate Caucus should they have to.  This is continuing with the moves that Senator Sangha and Hatai made last year, in opening up Senate to social media.  I also want to open myself out personally to students to talk about issues by holding office hours to talk about concerns.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

“I am UBC”.  These are three words we are all acquainted with on our first day at school.  It means that all of us are part of UBC and are capable of succeeding here.  This ties in with accessible education.  Accessible education means that a student with a learning disability is be able to earn an engineering degree without being deterred from not being able to handle 7 courses a semester.  Accessible education means that a student with depression will be able to withdraw from a course without needing to worry about it affecting their future.  Accessible education means making sure that everyone is given equal opportunities to succeed.

  • What is your opinion of a mandatory equity course requirement for all undergraduate students?

I don’t believe we should be implementing mandatory equity courses for students; instead, we should integrate them as part of first year introduction courses.  Doing so would better weave the idea of equity onto the subject that the student is studying.  I also believe that equity is a concept so engrained in the UBC experience as well, so an entire course based on equity is not necessary.  As a Science student, I see potential in implementing an equity section in SCIE 113, a first year introduction course in scientific theory.  In APSC, APSC 100 or 101 courses could have equity sections integrated into them.  This would allow for students to learn about different ways of thinking in their subject without having to take one more course on their plate.

  • Do you have anything else to add?

When I was three, I was diagnosed with high functioning autism.  Doctors weren’t sure what I’d be able to accomplish in life, and said I might not even be able to graduate from high school.  As a child, my parents worked hard to make sure that I was given equal opportunities in school, and it was their work which got me to where I am right now.  Getting into student politics, I found my home in the AUA pillar, for it was a place where I could advocate for equal opportunities for other people like me, and give back to a place which proved that I was more than what society thought I was.

Kevin Doering

Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/837277616400128/

  • Why are you running for your position?

First and foremost, I want to help students. More than that, however, I am interested in how academic policy impacts students. For the past year, I have had the opportunity to work in the Arts Academic Advising office, supporting and speaking to students about the challenges they face. From this, I have gained the knowledge and experience of both the needs of students, as well as the rationale behind the policy of UBC’s administration. I have seen first-hand where academic policy has not met student needs and believe that I am able to effectively represent these needs on the UBC Vancouver Senate.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

If elected to Senate, I will prioritize the following issues:

Syllabi

Students have the right to know the content of their courses and the ways that they are going to be assessed before they register for courses. If elected, I will work to make all syllabi available prior to registration.

Co-Curricular Transcripts

Further the progress made this past year to recognize experiential learning and the impact of extra-curricular life on student learning by having UBC implement an official co-curricular transcript available to students.

Fall Reading Week

Advocate for a Fall Reading Week in first semester that coincides with the highest volume of counseling and academic concession appointments to better support the mental health and wellbeing of students.

Academic Policy

Currently, there are many incongruities and gaps in policy that can make life unnecessarily stressful for students. Some of the policies I will review are the Transfer of Faculty in ‘good standing’, Cross Campus registration, and Standing Deferrals.

  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

I think that the most effective way to engage student diversity is by utilizing already existing frameworks and populations in consultations. The AMS’ VP Academic and University Affairs employs commissioners to represent a diverse array of student populations, and the AMS’ Resource Groups also hosts many passionate and knowledgeable students. Thus, I believe that the first place to begin engaging students is through already existing channels and bodies that have demonstrated a willingness to participate.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

As a cis-gendered white male, I believe that it is important to create spaces for marginalized students to have their own voices heard. I think that my focus should be on consulting the relevant student organizations on issues that directly affect them. The AMS’ VP Academic and University Affairs portfolio already employs numerous commissioners for Mental Health, Indigenous students, and equity. Thus, utilizing those existing resources to make an informed decision that accurately reflects the needs of marginalized students will be my first priority.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

Accessibility in education is an extremely broad topic that encompasses obvious barriers to education such as tuition, but also includes issues such as flexibility in learning and assessment. Accessibility issues arise from the differences in students and the university. As such, I think that the best way to engage in accessibility is not to apply a single solution, but to emphasize channels that recognize and accommodate individuals on a case-by-case basis. Offices within UBC such as Equity and Inclusion, Access and Diversity, and Faculty Academic Advising units already do much to achieve this. As a Senator, I will advocate for greater resources to these units so that they can operate in a broader capacity. I think that the role of Senate does not readily allow for accessibility barriers to be dismantled, as the barriers are vary and are unique to each student. However, I believe that Student Senators can help overcome barriers by providing flexibility in policy that allows the aforementioned offices to accommodate students individually.

  • What is your opinion of a mandatory equity course requirement for all undergraduate students?

While I support the spirit behind a mandatory equity course requirement for all undergraduate students, I have a few concerns about the proposal. I believe that my first priority in making this decision is to consult representatives of those directly affected. My current understanding is that indigenous leaders are currently not in favour of a mandatory course on indigenous studies. I feel that the course also has potential to breed resentment amongst students who are uninformed on these issues, as mandatory components such as the Arts Language Requirement are already controversial requirements among students. Furthermore, an equity course has the potential to alienate the population of students for whom the course is meant, as uninformed students are more likely to engage in a harmful discourse. Lastly, I disagree with a single course for all students, but would support equity components that are integrated and individualized to each degree and program of study, as I believe this would be the most effective way to engage students.

Samantha So

Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/238995283100871/

This candidate is running for more than one position. Only their responses relevant to this position are posted here. Their other responses will be found in the relevant article for that position.

  • Why are you running for your position?

Before I knew anything about the AMS or student involvement, before I ever voted in an AMS election, before I even learned how to properly study for a university final – I cared about how my learning was handled. I filled out all my TA, professor, and course evaluations, as well as the AMS Academic Experience Survey. I felt like these questions led to deeper conversations about the quality of the academic experience for students that could lead to an improvement in the quality of that experience. I had barely finished first year and I wanted to be part of the conversation that took place after these answers were processed, but I had no idea how to, and trying to look it up was intimidating. So I’d do what I knew – I would fill the surveys out voraciously every term, every year. I spoke after class with my professors about things they did in lab, tutorial, discussion, or lecture that I enjoyed from a learning perspective. I asked about their academic journeys to their current positions. I’m running for VP Academic and University Affairs and a seat on Senate because the issues and topics these positions deal with have been things I’ve cared about since before I even knew these positions existed.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

-To increase the support for struggling students with easier to access resources, as well as ensure the university is easing students through the process. Particular interest in the centralization of support services to make internal referrals easier for students.

-Expanding the current level of student engagement to retain current participants as well as allow commuter students to more easily provide input – likely through further implementation of online consultation, but also to look into research from non-profits on engagement techniques.

-To better acquaint incoming international students with their immigration/permit requirements, ideally through UBC Orientations/Jumpstart.

– Promote the use of the Undergraduate Research Database by students, and increase the number of position listings by engaging with faculty.

-To implement a user-friendly medium of informing students of current land-use/CC+P projects occurring on campus.

– Cooperation with major stakeholders in the VPAUA portfolio – coordinating with graduate students and faculty on issues including tuition, open educational resources, and transparency from the university to continue to take effective action.

-Increased engagement with and advocacy for Indigenous students and groups on campus. Increased consultation and awareness of Indigenous students’ stance on University issues will promote better solutions for issues that arise.

– Continue working with the university to implement intermediate scholarship for International Students – anything helps. Clarification: Intermediate between no scholarship and the full-ride International Leader of Tomorrow Award, for example.

  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

I would like to build stronger relationships with Unions that students are a part of as well as the GSS as they are both representative of students within the student body. The current office has done a wonderful job with consultations regarding numerous issues which has really engaged a greater portion of the student body. However, I’d like to improve this further, beyond online forms, with interactive real-time online consultations.  This will allow commuters who cannot attend in person to be involved and freely give their input.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

I recognize that VP Academic and University Affairs is the portfolio that has the most direct ability to support and advocate for marginalized students at UBC. On a variety of issues including tuition, bursary access, academic support, housing, and equity and inclusion, the VPAUA has to keep up with marginalized students’ issues as well as be willing to engage with these students and the groups that represent them – this includes AMS Resource Groups. I recognize that many of these students have unique experiences and understanding regarding issues that arise, and remain committed and open to learning more and supporting them with whatever resources myself, the VPAUA office, and the AMS as a whole can provide.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

I believe that in particular, the portion of my platform that emphasizes the transparency behind university decisions on a higher, administrative level (for example, Land Use), engages with anti-oppressive frameworks in that it is my intention to make students aware of the decisions the university may make with less than optimal student consultation, and speak out against it or have the AMS do so. This will promote a campus where all students feel safe, informed, and heard.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

To me, accessible education means that a student’s access to education, once enrolled at a school, should not be hindered by who they are – this encompasses socioeconomic standing, mental health, persons with disabilities, and much more. I will strive to achieve this by lobbying the university to structure its tuition and/or its financial aid to allow for students to learn at our institution regardless of these potential difficulties. In addition, I wish to work with the University to better promote the services provided by Access and Diversity, as well as looking into increasing funding for support services like access and diversity and potentially advocating for greater funding.

  • What is your opinion of a mandatory equity course requirement for all undergraduate students?

I am on the fence about a mandatory course requirement, as many students entering UBC come from a variety of backgrounds, with a variety of understanding about equity. I would like to hear more from the groups that may be affected negatively OR positively by such a course and gain feedback before making any decision. It is my worry that having a mandatory course may breed resentment toward identities that are covered within that course that may not be as well-understood by incoming students, and may serve to work against the courses’ original purpose – acceptance, which may negatively affect students it was aiming to help.

  • Do you have anything else to add?

I’m first and foremost a student at UBC, not a student politician. Prior to my AMS involvement (and all other involvement), I cared about my academic needs, how feedback regarding them was obtained, and what was being done with that feedback. Why? Because even when you don’t feel connected to the vibrant community at UBC, you’re still here to learn, to get your degree. Academics are a priority for most students, and student – a real student’s perspective – representation and voice is needed on the university committees that decide on factors that affect our academic experience’s quality.

I was a commuter for two years – and I found myself feeling disconnected from the whole community. I almost dropped out of UBC after my first year. I tried to access Counselling Services, and after a meeting or two, I was given referrals to multiple places in Vancouver. I did not go to any of them. I ended up pulling myself out of a dark place after years of struggling – but that’s not every student’s ending. Numbers, which should be readily available but aren’t, from the university can confirm that. Reaching out as a struggling student is hard enough, but UBC makes it increasingly difficult – burying the necessary steps and potential options through layers and pages of bureaucracy. The hardest thing for a student who needs support is seeking it – and I simply wish to do whatever a VPAUA can to make that process more comfortable, easier to access, and as supportive as our students deserve.

Lina Castro

Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/594486094042189/

  • Why are you running for your position?

Over the last two years working as the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commissioner under the VPAUA office, I’ve been able to collaborate with Senate committees. I realized the extent to which students can impact academic matters at UBC, and how motivated I was to back this change. In my previous position, I directly researched and advocated for a number of current Senate projects. I am passionate about Senate’s work, and I am knowledgeable in how Senate is structured, the progress done on current projects, and the steps that will need to be done to complete these in the current triennium.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?  
  • Implement a common syllabi policy that will regulate mandatory and optional components of a syllabus, consistent across all faculties. This will ensure UBC can be certain that every student has the access to key course information in every single class.
  • Improve the Academic Calendar by adding a fall reading break and pushing Withdrawal deadlines to later dates, so students can have a longer period of time to decide whether a course load is right for them.
  • Revamp Senate’s Mental Health Ad Hoc Committee to make sure that it is upholding the Framework for Senate Consideration of Student Mental Health and Wellbeing and that it is serving a purpose in improving student mental health through Senate through tangible action.
  • Finalize the project of Enhanced Learning Records, undergoing consultations with key stakeholders to shape the system in the most useful way possible for UBC.
  • Ensure that Senate acts on the recommendations taken up by UBC in their 2014 response to a report released by the Task Force on Intersectional Gender-based Violence and Aboriginal Stereotypes in response to chants promoting rape culture and Aboriginal stereotypes that occurred during student-led Commerce Undergraduate Society FROSH activities.
  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

I plan to collaborate with the Student Senate Caucus to continue the progress that has been made on communication and transparency with the student body. To improve on this progress, I plan to do more student engagement. This can be done by reaching out to different groups of students across campus with summarized, easy-to-understand Senate updates so they can easily provide instant feedback.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

By pushing to take action on the recommendations originally set out by the Task Force on Intersectional Gender-based Violence and Aboriginal Stereotypes, I will be working to improve equity on our campus. This will directly act to improve the lives of marginalized students. In ensuring that all committees are following the Framework for Senate Consideration of Student Mental Health and Wellbeing and following up where necessary, I will be particularly mindful of marginalized students, who are the most prone to languishing mental health.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

As I’ve mentioned already, by following through on the recommendations aiming for a more equitable campus set out by the Task Force on Intersectional Gender-based Violence and Aboriginal Stereotypes directly acts on goals of equity for UBC.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

An education that can be obtained by all students, regardless of background, socioeconomic status, gender, race, creed, disability, or sexuality. Accessible education acts to diminish the barriers placed on students preventing them from reaching their educational goals. This includes making the necessary accommodations, or providing the necessary resources to even the playing field, making sure all students are allowed equal opportunities to fulfil their educational goals.

Personally, I will strive to achieve this by acting on the Task Force recommendations for equity.

  • What is your opinion of a mandatory equity course requirement for all undergraduate students?

I wholeheartedly agree that students need more exposure to conversations around equity and how to take a part in becoming a more equitable campus. As for having a course requirement, I disagree because I believe the potential disadvantages would outweigh the benefits. Students would have to pay for another course, and often negative connotations are formed around mandatory courses where objectives are not properly conveyed. I would personally advocate for the inclusion of an equity component in current mandatory courses for each faculty.

  • Do you have anything else to add?

Although I briefly touched on it in my first response about why I’m running, I really do want to emphasize the level of commitment that I have to my platform points. With most of the projects I mention, I have seen and helped the initiatives grow from just an idea to the progressing projects that they are now. I’m personally invested in these projects, and I have full confidence that I can take the appropriate steps to complete the goals that I’ve stated in my platform.

Jenna Omassi

Website: voteomassi.com

This candidate is running for more than one position. Only their responses relevant to this position are posted here. Their other responses will be found in the relevant article for that position.

  • Why are you running for your position?

As a current student senator, and the current chair of the Ad-Hoc Senate Committee on Student Mental Health & Wellbeing, I would like to continue my work at Senate. As Senate is a very slow moving body, continuity within the Student Senate Caucus is needed to ensure that students priorities are continually promoted in Senate work. I have been very active in Senate this year, and hope to continue on as a committee chair and senator to make an impact in the last year of the triennium.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

I. Mental Health & Wellbeing

Senate adopted a Framework on Student Mental Health and Wellbeing in 2014, and instituted an Ad-Hoc Committee on Student Mental Health & Wellbeing, which I currently chair. Through this committee and others in Senate, four issues are currently being worked on and I wish to continue working on:

  1. Fall Reading Break
  2. Extending the Withdrawal Period
  3. Counting Participation, Not Attendance
  4. Common Syllabi

II. Curriculum & Tuition

When new programs are created, they go through a tuition consultation with the AMS, the curriculum goes to Senate, and the tuition amount goes to the Board of Governors. Senate would be the one to know the most about whether a tuition amount is fair or not given the program content. I have been working this year to bring the issue of tuition to the Budget Committee and the Academic Policy Committee of Senate, and will continue to work on this to ensure more fair tuition for students.

  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

The past year, my office at the AMS worked on research on student engagement, as well as best practices surrounding consultation. Consultation is a process where stakeholders groups and individuals are brought into all levels of the decision-making process, which is what I aim to do in the coming  year surrounding all areas of the Student Senate Caucus and my role as a Student Senator I will ensure that there are many different ways of engaging with student senators so that a diversity of voices and perspectives can be brought into major decisions.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

Until recently, senate policy and practices often think of students a homogenous group of individuals with similar needs, rather than a diverse group of students with different needs and experiences. This position offers a voice for the student body into the highest academic governing body, and I aim to ensure that I am not only using my own experiences to advocate on behalf of students, but recognizing the diversity of the student population. This consideration will be used as a lens to advocate for policy change within Senate.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

My platform and plan for the coming year are centred around considerations of the diversity of experiences of the student population, moving away from judgement and towards understanding difference. Both considerations of mental health & wellbeing, and of the interplay between tuition and curriculum both are centred in an understanding of the need to push against policies and practices that promote oppression.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

Accessible education is facilitated by a learning environment that is open to all, that is equitable, and for which barriers have been removed for marginalized populations. Accessible post-secondary education happens at an institution that actively works to ensure that curriculum does not create barriers for students and that socio-economic class does not affect an individual’s ability to access an educational institution. As a Student Senator, I will continue to work towards ensuring accessibility to education through mental health and wellbeing considerations in academic policy, and pushing for tuition to be considered at Senate in the curriculum approval process for new courses.

  • What is your opinion of a mandatory equity course requirement for all undergraduate students?

My opinion, which remains the same from the last election period, is that equity curriculum, as well as indigenous curriculum are important. However, the only way to effectively implement equity course material is to embed it into programming within faculties and programs, ensuring that it is relevant to students. Additionally, though curriculum is important, the university community should be focusing on equity-related issues on campus in terms of university policies and procedures, as implementing course content is only half the battle of ensuring an inclusive and well campus community.

Nick Dawson

Website: http://www.nickdawsonforsenate.com

  • Why are you running for your position?

I am running for Senate because I believe that a lot of exciting discussions were started last year during my first term on Senate surrounding the development of academic policies that have implications in student health and the relationship between the Board of Governors and the Senate. These represent some of the discussions that I have been involved with and would like to continue developing these ideas and get the ball rolling on these important initiatives.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?
  • Continue to review academic policies that specifically relate to student mental health including the implementation of standardized syllabi and a term 1 reading week
  • Start discussions about how Senate can address issues of harassment and discrimination at UBC
  • Engage with the Senate Budget Committee to discuss tuition scheduling and, more broadly, the relationship between Senate and the Board of Governors.
  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

Because our campus is so large, no single student can live the experiences of the entire diversity of voices on our campus. Therefore, to adequately represent those voices, I plan to collaborate and engage other student leaders in the Senate Student Caucus, AMS, GSS, and Board of Governors through regular meetings.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

One of my main goals is to start discussions about how Senate can address issues of harassment and discrimination at UBC. This is a broader question that can be discussed at many standing committees of Senate to see if policies of the university can be adjusted or if mandatory education would be a good fit to address these issues, for examples. Using other organizations’ practices as examples, we help foster a positive, safe environment at UBC.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

When Senate addresses how change can be affect on topics of harassment and discrimination at UBC, I believe we will naturally engage with and adopt anti-oppressive frameworks within our community. It is important that, as students, we keep pushing for this discussion at the highest levels of the university, as our current policies and practises can fall short in fostering this frame of mind.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

I would define accessible education as the right to equal access to education, regardless of disability, social standing, etc. In the past couple years, UBC has drastically increased the cost of a degree through unprecedented increases in international tuition and on-campus housing. These increases restrict the ability of students to access education, especially if do not qualify for financial assistance. I have been working in the Senate Budget Committee to discuss how tuition is set for new programs and what the Senate’s role is in tuition scheduling. I will continue to make these discussions a priority in a new term.

  • What is your opinion of a mandatory equity course requirement for all undergraduate students?

A mandatory equity course requirement for students would be a step in the right direction for the UBC community. Many organizations have adopted similar mandatory courses that newly-hired employees must complete. However, the course design and method of delivery of these courses must be carefully reviewed and considered in order to be an effective resource. This course could also be administered to existing UBC staff and faculty in order to have maximum effect on the greater UBC community.

  • Do you have anything else to add?

The strongest voice students can have in the Senate is one that is united. Engaging in collaborations with other student senators will be the key to a productive year on Senate.

Kaidie Williams

Website: https://www.facebook.com/Kaidie-For-Senate-467280720141388/?ref=bookmarks

  • Why are you running for your position?

I want to actively participate to strive towards change and advocate on behalf of the many students whose voices remain to be heard. UBC has a wide range of students and I believe that this diversity should be represented in the Senate. As student who has witnessed how central mental health and wellbeing are to the student experience at UBC, I would like to promote for policies that will consider its importance and thus create a more accessible, safe and enjoyable learning environment for all.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

I desire to bring greater attention to mental health issues on campus. I have personally witnessed how mental health concerns can significantly impact a student’s’ ability to reach their full potential and therefore, I consider it primordial for UBC to address these issues and take the necessary steps.

Over eleven thousand students on the Vancouver campus are international and for some, it takes more than 26 hours to return home. Therefore, a longer winter break will allow students to reconnect with their homelands, families and friends, hence improving their mental state.

I would also like to create a platform to listen to the many diverse voices that constitute student life. It is quite easy to feel like a small fish in a big pond when one is a member of such a large student body. I hope to truly understand the needs of the student body, not just by ensuring their voices are heard but truly understanding and capturing the full essence of their concerns.

Lastly, in light of recent events, I believe that the student body needs representatives who advocate for transparency. Transparency that allows the students body to keep me accountable as their representative.

  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

Firstly, I must acknowledge that I am in no way able to fully speak on behalf of the complex identifies which define the UBC community. I do not want my voice to speak over the voices of others, rather I want my voice to relate to their voices and engage in meaningful dialogue that will foster extensive understanding. Additionally, I would like to create greater awareness of the UBC Senate, who we are and what we do. Student senators are a group of students who are there to represent the student body, however, we must be connected to the student body in order to have accurate representation.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

I identify myself as a black woman. As such, I have had many first hand experiences of discrimination as part of a largely marginalized group. I believe I have been exposed to livings that have equipped me with the necessary tools to understand marginalized students on a deeper level, allowing me to advocate on their behalf loud and clear. This is why I truly believe it is of uttermost important we ensure the Senate is a space in which all voices are acknowledged and accepted.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

It is quite easy to get caught up in the idea that disability must be manifested physically. However, mental health is a major component of this discourse. Disability is both a biological and social construction. Combatting this discourse while keeping in mind that we must accept the similarities and celebrate the differences in which we deal with everyday life, I aspire to bring together a collective student voice that supports a healthy conversation about mental health.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

Accessible education must capture the complex identities of individuals in order to highlight the various manifestations of oppression whether implicit or explicit. It should not erase the experiences of particular groups of people and must therefore create a space which invites diverse voices to speak, be spoken to and be heard.

Accessible education must also accommodate students who do not fit the  “disabled criteria” and must recognized that students are also affected by mental health concerns such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety – all of which have an impact on their academic performance.

  • What is your opinion of a mandatory equity course requirement for all undergraduate students?

This is important in order to foster greater intercultural understanding. Colonialism is a huge part of any discourse on equity with effects that are still felt to this day. The remnants of colonialism are manifested through settler colonialism and patriarchal structures which discredit minority groups. In order to become global citizens we must recognize our privilege in order to hold ourselves accountable for our actions.

AMS candidates answer our questions: VP Administration

Another year rolls around, another set of AMS Elections. We at the Talon aim to ask hard-hitting critical questions, and in that spirit, we invited all candidates in the election to answer a set of questions that we hope will help our readers in casting their ballot. Over the next few days we will be publishing the responses for all positions. In this article are the responses for candidates for VP Administration.

Vote here from February 29th to March 4th.

Click on the candidate name to expand and see their responses

Chris Scott

Website: www.scottforadmin.com

  • Why are you running for your position?

What separates me from many other students who run in AMS elections is that I am not simply running for an executive position. I am running to fix a system. Over my term as SAC Vice-Chair, I’ve spent countless hours attempting to patch over the inefficiencies of the VP Admin portfolio, including but not limited to SAC operations, the clubs system, and the general administration of the VP Admin portfolio. What the AMS needs is a dedicated and effective leader. I’m running because I have the experience and the drive to be that leader.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

My goals for the coming year are extensive, but my three priorities are engagement, the Nest, and supporting student organizations.

  1. Engagement – The post-New SUB VP Administration should focus on building communities that will fill our student union building. I plan to do this by connecting with various groups on campus and building a student culture within the Nest.
  2. Nest – I have two priorities in the Nest. The first of these is bookings. As VP Administration I plan to move away from the system currently used and into a simpler, more consistent method. My second priority is a review of the Nest. Having used it for a year, I want to see if the building lives up to student expectations and make any changes students would like to see. I’d also like to use the survey to review the relevance of the old SUB basement renovation plans.
  3. Student orgs – There are a number of ways the AMS can and should support student organizations, but, in my opinion, the structure is too narrow. As VP Admin I will expand recognition beyond clubs to include various types of student organizations and assist them with space and publicity opportunities.
  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

I would like to create a stronger connection between the VP Administration office and the society’s resource groups. A tangible way I will go about this is redistributing seats on SAC to include representation for resource groups. This will ensure groups specialized in social justice issues are consulted.

Consulting with a diverse group of students before making decisions is otherwise a straightforward process. When making a decision that affects multiple parties, all parties should be consulted in a direct manner and with an open mind. Efforts should be made to represent a diversity of voices throughout any decision-making process.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

One of the most important issues students face is creating a sense of community. Dealing most directly with student life, the VP Administration plays a major role in helping students through this process. I hope to help each student, especially those who feel like they do not belong to a larger community, find a niche by increasing publicity opportunities for various student organizations. As VP Administration I will hold lunchtime programming in the Nest so clubs can show what they do. Publicity opportunities will also be extended to smaller groups through my plan to recognize non-club organizations.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

Oppression takes several forms I will never understand, but I must still do my part in the fight against it. Regarding sexual assault, I believe a staff trained to handle disclosures is incredibly important. Further, mandatory workshops with SASC for club executives need to be implemented, which is a step I have already taken for this year’s orientations in March. Otherwise, I believe visibility is the most important contribution I can make as VP Admin. As I stated in my platform, I will strengthen resource groups and allow groups publicity opportunities so everyone knows there is support out there.

  • How do you define accessibility to the AMS? How will you strive to achieve this?

In my opinion accessibility to the AMS means a student feels comfortable, welcome, and that his/her/their voice is heard. I plan to strive for accessibility to the AMS through availability. In the new Student Life and Sustainability Centre I will ensure the SLSC has a helpdesk open every day from the hours of 12-4, with SAC Vice-Chair, Clubs Administrator, and the VP Administration each sitting at least a couple hours per week. My platform and vision will also increase accessibility throughout the year, as I believe the AMS is a society should represent all students.

  •  Do you have anything else to add?

Perhaps the most important thing to know about my candidacy is that my platform is just a very small part of changes that need to be made. After five months in the VP Administration portfolio, I am aware that there are a number of other issues students face every day. Our clubs administration platform needs work. We must develop a handbook so students are aware of the resources available to them. Mental health within student leadership needs attention. And SAC policy desperately needs to be rewritten – just to mention a few things. All of these I plan to get to as well, but these are very technical problems that, when fixed, will leave a huge impression on the society’s operations.

Alan Ehrenholz

Website: alanehrenholz.com

  • Why are you running for your position?

I am running for AMS VP Administration because I feel I have the correct skill set to work in the changing VP Admin Office, which is moving toward incorporating more engagement of the student body. In the VP Admin role, I hope to take the lessons I have learned about engaging students from my last two years of EUS involvement, as President and VP Student Life, and bring them to the AMS

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

If elected, I intend to reinforce the importance of engaging and supporting students in the AMS. To do this I will:

  • Work closely with AMS Events to continue to increase interest in Varsity sporting events
  • Liaise with University Administrators to ensure the continuation of great events such as Block Party and the Welcome Back BBQ, and
  • Modernize the way the AMS interacts with AMS Clubs by creating levels of support of different types of clubs.
  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

There are a few ways I believe that the VP Administration can consult with the diversity of voices at UBC. First and foremost, the VP Admin has to lead by example, and reach out to students at a personal level. Second, the VP Admin has to stress that the entire office be doing the same, on the ground consultation. Finally, it’s using SAC and Orgsync as effective tools to reach out to clubs, who represent so much of our student body, and garner their feedback is  imperative.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

In working closely with the VP Academic Office, I feel that VP Administration Office can improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students by offering an engaging, exciting, and diverse programming in AMS buildings. In addition, the VP Administration Office could organize philanthropic movements of support to benefit these students. This brings up the need of the AMS to update the way they handle philanthropy as a whole. If elected, I intend to begin to support the various philanthropic groups on campus, and assist them in organizing their events.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

In the past two years we have seen multiple different global crisis which the AMS has responded to in appropriate manners. However, this type of crisis response situation has been recurring, and the AMS needs to have a set process for how to handle them. I intend to continue the work that has already begun in the Administration Office in creating such a set of processes.  Then, in partnership with the other Executives, put these processes into action.

  • What is your position on the referendum question on referendums?

This referendum question is important to the AMS, as we should not be putting oppressive or racist referendum questions to our students. However, I strongly feel students on this campus have the right to ask referendum questions to the student body, and should be able to ensure any question they put forward is in a form they approve of. I believe that the addition of mandated consultation of the group submitting the question is necessary, however I do believe that it can go into Code of Bylaws.

  • How will you work with the on- and/or off- campus indigenous communities to make campus a better place?

As the administrator of the Nest, it is very important that the Administration Office consider indigenous communities when we are using our space. Working closely with the VP Academic Office, I would like to engage with indigenous communities to program the Nest, livening the building during the day.

  • How do you define accessibility to the AMS? How will you strive to achieve this?

The dictionary definition of accessibility is “the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities.” However, to the AMS, it takes on a whole new meaning. Accessibility to the AMS is allowing ALL our students the capability to access and use our services. Student services are enshrined in the AMS Vision and Mission, and creating pathways for students to access these services should always be on our minds. I strive to achieve this by:

      • Programming the Nest for students, and
      • Creating levels of support of different types of clubs, so they can offer services to students
  • Do you have anything else to add?

I feel that I am the candidate with the correct skill set to step into the changing VP Administration portfolio. With more and more Student Life and engagement being brought into the Admin Office, someone with a diverse background of building management teams, representing clubs, and planning events is needed for this Office. Through my work as EUS President and VP Student Life the last two years, I have developed these skills and would be excited to share them with the rest of the AMS.

AMS candidates answer our questions: VP Finance

Another year rolls around, another set of AMS Elections. We at the Talon aim to ask hard-hitting critical questions, and in that spirit, we invited all candidates in the election to answer a set of questions that we hope will help our readers in casting their ballot. Over the next few days we will be publishing the responses for all positions. In this article are the responses for candidates for VP Finance.

Vote here from February 29th to March 4th.

Louis Retief is the only candidate for VP Finance.

Louis Retief

Website: louisretief.com

  • Why are you running for your position?

I have a passion for change and innovation. I started working at the AMS in April 2015 as the Associate Vice-President of Finance, when I came into the position I instantly saw opportunities for change and innovation with all aspects of the AVP Finance portfolio. I become obsessed and still am with making drastic improvement with the AMS business processes. I personally believe I have the experience and passion to continue making changes to the VP Finance Portfolio to further grow the student society.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

The VP Finance Portfolio encompasses a large variety of duties. Firstly I plan to empower student through professional development programs. These programs will increase financial literacy and offer leadership training. Furthermore I want to implement additional finance-tech initiatives like Square, and pre-paid Credit cards to improve efficiency of financial management. Secondly I plan to do a review of all AMS business finances to work towards our four pillars of business performance, social sustainability, employee development, and environmental sustainability in order to increase society revenue streams to increase social programming. In addition a re-evaluation of current fee structure to ensure a better allocation of student fees. The current fees structure allows for little flexibility in allocation of fees. I will do a full financial review to determine a long-term structural change to increase flexibility and autonomy. Thirdly I plan to review the current use of student services in order to allocate funds to best meet demand and student’s needs, and increase the development of popular services. Furthermore develop a central hub at the AMS for sustainability projects and opportunities on campus to increase student awareness and community engagement. In addition implement a data collection system to track social impact of all the different sustainability projects in the community.

  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

I believe the answer is professional development for all students. Currently a lot of student do not voice their opinions because they currently are uneducated in what the AMS does and how council works. I believe by educating more students on campus and especially the leaders on campus who are executives in Club and Constituencies will improve the communication to our counsellors to better represent the entire student body.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

Once again student professional development will engage these individuals to get involved. If the AMS offered workshops on financial literacy, personal development, career development, and leadership training we will be able to engage a large student audience and develop these students to be successful.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

My platform focuses heavily on engages all students through professional development to increase leadership and financial literacy training for all. In addition my platform focuses on increase business revenue streams to increase social program like our student service and resource groups.

  • What is your position on the referendum question on referendums?

The Support the spirit of referendum which is to allow referendums question to be unbiased and help student make better informed decisions.

  • How will you work with the on- and/or off- campus indigenous communities to make campus a better place?

I do not have prior experience working with indigenous communities. I will consult various groups of campus like the Ch’nook program at Sauder to find out how I will be able to help these groups on and off campus.

  • With what philosophy should the AMS run businesses?

I believe our current philosophy for business using the four pillars of Business Performance, Environmentally Sustainability, Employee Development, and Socially Sustainability are great pillars, but I think our current philosophy is lacking in student opinion and voice. Currently the business are run mainly by the full time staff and I think students should have a stronger voice on how businesses are operated.  Now that the President and VP Finance have a vote on ABBA I believe this problem will be solved as for they will represent the students on business operations.

  • How will you solve the current deficit situation of the AMS businesses?

There is two ways I will solve the current deficit. Firstly review the finances of all AMS businesses in order to maximize revenue streams. This will be done by improving customer service, marketing, and food variety, as well as working closely with management and ABBA to create performance based, sustainable and student friendly businesses. I have a passion for change and innovation I believe with me as VP Finance I will help lead the change our business need to increase revenues to put money back into student programming. Secondly Re-evaluate the current student fees structure to ensure the best allocation of student funds. The AMS needs to implement a long-term strategic plan for student fees to ensure fees are allocated to best benefit students through community engagement, and programming.

  • Do you believe the AMS should pay all employees a living wage? Why or why not?

A living wage in Vancouver is $20.68 an hour. It would be completely impossible for the society to pay all of its employees $20.68 an hour. The current wage at the AMS is low but it allows employees to have extremely flexible hours, in order to still focus on their studies while working. Furthermore I believe that students should not want to work at their Student Society for the money, I believe students are given the opportunity to make changes, to innovate, and to learn and grow. Due to these benefits of workings at AMS I do not think students should be paid a living wage because the opportunity of personal development is where the true value of the AMS lies.

AMS candidates answer our questions: VP Academic and University Affairs

Another year rolls around, another set of AMS Elections. We at the Talon aim to ask hard-hitting critical questions, and in that spirit, we invited all candidates in the election to answer a set of questions that we hope will help our readers in casting their ballot. Over the next few days we will be publishing the responses for all positions. In this article are the responses for candidates for VP Academic and University Affairs.

Vote here from February 29th to March 4th.

Click on the candidate name to expand and see their responses

Samantha So

Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/238995283100871/

This candidate is running for more than one position. Only their responses relevant to this position are posted here. Their other responses will be found in the relevant article for that position.

  • Why are you running for your position?

Before I knew anything about the AMS or student involvement, before I ever voted in an AMS election, before I even learned how to properly study for a university final – I cared about how my learning was handled. I filled out all my TA, professor, and course evaluations, as well as the AMS Academic Experience Survey. I felt like these questions led to deeper conversations about the quality of the academic experience for students that could lead to an improvement in the quality of that experience. I had barely finished first year and I wanted to be part of the conversation that took place after these answers were processed, but I had no idea how to, and trying to look it up was intimidating. So I’d do what I knew – I would fill the surveys out voraciously every term, every year. I spoke after class with my professors about things they did in lab, tutorial, discussion, or lecture that I enjoyed from a learning perspective. I asked about their academic journeys to their current positions. I’m running for VP Academic and University Affairs and a seat on Senate because the issues and topics these positions deal with have been things I’ve cared about since before I even knew these positions existed.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?
  • To increase the support for struggling students with easier to access resources, as well as ensure the university is easing students through the process. Particular interest in the centralization of support services to make internal referrals easier for students.
  • Expanding the current level of student engagement to retain current participants as well as allow commuter students to more easily provide input – likely through further implementation of online consultation, but also to look into research from non-profits on engagement techniques.
  • To better acquaint incoming international students with their immigration/permit requirements, ideally through UBC Orientations/Jumpstart.
  • Promote the use of the Undergraduate Research Database by students, and increase the number of position listings by engaging with faculty.
  • To implement a user-friendly medium of informing students of current land-use/CC+P projects occurring on campus.
  • Cooperation with major stakeholders in the VPAUA portfolio – coordinating with graduate students and faculty on issues including tuition, open educational resources, and transparency from the university to continue to take effective action.
  • Increased engagement with and advocacy for Indigenous students and groups on campus. Increased consultation and awareness of Indigenous students’ stance on University issues will promote better solutions for issues that arise.
  • Continue working with the university to implement intermediate scholarship for International Students – anything helps. For example, an intermediate between no scholarship and the full-ride International Leader of Tomorrow Award.
  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

I would like to build stronger relationships with Unions that students are a part of as well as the GSS as they are both representative of students within the student body. The current office has done a wonderful job with consultations regarding numerous issues which has really engaged a greater portion of the student body. However, I’d like to improve this further, beyond online forms, with interactive real-time online consultations.  This will allow commuters who cannot attend in person to be involved and freely give their input.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

I recognize that VP Academic and University Affairs is the portfolio that has the most direct ability to support and advocate for marginalized students at UBC. On a variety of issues including tuition, bursary access, academic support, housing, and equity and inclusion, the VPAUA has to keep up with marginalized students’ issues as well as be willing to engage with these students and the groups that represent them – this includes AMS Resource Groups. I recognize that many of these students have unique experiences and understanding regarding issues that arise, and remain committed and open to learning more and supporting them with whatever resources myself, the VPAUA office, and the AMS as a whole can provide.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

I believe that in particular, the portion of my platform that emphasizes the transparency behind university decisions on a higher, administrative level (for example, Land Use), engages with anti-oppressive frameworks in that it is my intention to make students aware of the decisions the university may make with less than optimal student consultation, and speak out against it or have the AMS do so. This will promote a campus where all students feel safe, informed, and heard.

  • What is your position on the referendum question on referendums?

I believe that the Legislative Procedures Committee (and amendments made during that council meeting) have worded it in a way that will allow for unbiased, legal referendum questions to be brought to council, and that it is worded in a way that will allow for the referendum question to run in the subsequent executive election (the portion where it directs LPC to make changes that establish a timeline within which council must reword the question). I would have feared that the original question would have made the timing of referendum questions too ambiguous, but the last clauses ensure that consultation with the question submitter and a strict timeline will be ensured.

  • How will you work with the on- and/or off- campus indigenous communities to make campus a better place?

I would be delighted to work with our indigenous communities, and intend to consult with them prior to any decisive action where they are stakeholders. I hope to promote  and support the continued celebration of their cultures through the AMS.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

To me, accessible education means that a student’s access to education should not be hindered by who they are – this encompasses socioeconomic standing, mental health, persons with disabilities, and much more. I will strive to achieve this by lobbying the university to structure its tuition and/or its financial aid to allow for students to learn at our institution regardless of these potential difficulties. In addition, I wish to work with the University to better promote the services provided by Access and Diversity, as well as looking into increasing funding for support services like Access and Diversity and potentially advocating for greater funding.

  • What will be your approach to advocating to the university?

Advocacy from an AMS Executive can be strong, but advocacy from the students is stronger. The most important part of advocating to the university, in my opinion, is not simply showing up to meetings to present and speak, or writing letters and policy, or sitting on committees. It is also to inform students and ensure that there is transparency behind the university’s actions and decisions. It is student action, whether from the AMS or another group of UBC students. This is why engaging students both online and in-person, reaching a wider, more diverse population, is so important.

  • Do you have anything else to add?

I’m first and foremost a student at UBC, not a student politician. Prior to my AMS involvement (and all other involvement), I cared about my academic needs, how feedback regarding them was obtained, and what was being done with that feedback. Why? Because even when you don’t feel connected to the vibrant community at UBC, you’re still here to learn, to get your degree. Academics are a priority for most students, and student – a real student’s perspective – representation and voice is needed on the university committees that decide on factors that affect our academic experience’s quality.

I was a commuter for two years – and I found myself feeling disconnected from the whole community. I almost dropped out of UBC after my first year. I tried to access Counselling Services, and after a meeting or two, I was given referrals to multiple places in Vancouver. I did not go to any of them. I ended up pulling myself out of a dark place after years of struggling – but that’s not every student’s ending. Numbers, which should be readily available but aren’t, from the university can confirm that. Reaching out as a struggling student is hard enough, but UBC makes it increasingly difficult – burying the necessary steps and potential options through layers and pages of bureaucracy. The hardest thing for a student who needs support is seeking it – and I simply wish to do whatever a VPAUA can to make that process more comfortable, easier to access, and as supportive as our students deserve.

Andrew Liang

Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/577739859056443/

  • Why are you running for your position?

To put it simply, I’m running as your next AMS VP Academic to fix UBC. Right now, we have an university administration that doesn’t work or listen to the voices or needs of our faculty and everyday students. This is a university that believes it is appropriate to waste millions of dollars on the Gupta boondoggle while at the same time hiking tuition, and rent. It is time that we came together to say that enough is enough and work to refocus our vision on quality and affordable post-secondary education for everyone.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?
  1. First and foremost, I want to fix how the university is run. We need to introduce transparency and accountability by opening up the Board of Governors (BoG). Furthermore, I would like to see government appointees on the BoG cut from 11 to 9 along with devolving certain powers to the AMS and student body.
  2. Create a comprehensive anti-sexual assault policy for the AMS and university.
  3. Reverse the international tuition hikes seen earlier this year and create a tuition increase cap for international tuition as well.
  4. Remove UBC’s exemption in the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA).
    1. Reduce winter housing rent by 23.55%
    2. Reduce all other rent by 5.75%
  5. Establish the Student Financial Information Service (SFIS).
    1. This is a new, unified service designed to consolidate and enhance the current financial services the university offers now.
    2. Not only will SFIS offer advice and help on tax returns, it will also offer advice on debt management, investments like TFSAs and RRSPs, and simply, financial advice and questions.
  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

Student outreach is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges for the AMS because UBC is a massive university in terms of student population but also in the sheer size of the land we occupy. While the AMS has invested considerable resources into developing a strong online presence, I still believe that the best way to reach out, connect and represent the student body is to meet them face-to-face. I am committed to sitting down and talking with clubs, fraternities, sororities and hosting weekly public forums to cut through the noise and tackle the issues that affect everyday students.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

Student affordability is an issue that touches everyone on campus, but none more so than the most marginalized students at UBC. A 2013 Bank of Montreal study showed that 36% of post-secondary students in BC has experienced stress over their financial situation. This figure is the highest in all of Canada which is why student affordability is at the core of my platform. Instead of figuring out how to pay for already expensive rent, tuition, fees, textbooks etc., students should instead be able to focus on being students. We may not be able to fix every problem, but we can work to fix the issue of affordability.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

My core of my platform deals with university affordability. Too many students at UBC are graduating with crushing debt which I believe is oppressive in a number of ways. Too many people are forced to put off major life decisions or are at a significant economic disadvantage because of their debt load and that is simply unacceptable. Christy Clark likes to talk about a debt-free BC, but I prefer to talk about debt-free students.

  • What is your position on the referendum question on referendums?

I support the changes proposed for the new referendum bylaws. They are common sense reforms that make it easier to initiate referendums and put a stop to potentially leading questions. Not only will I be campaigning for myself, I will also campaign to see these new changes through.

  • How will you work with the on- and/or off- campus indigenous communities to make campus a better place?

The indigenous lands that UBC occupies is so much more than just ‘…the unceded territory of the Musqueam people.” The land has an incredibly rich history and culture that many students don’t know about and it is a shame that we don’t leverage it more to engage and bring together the indigenous community and university population. In my platform, I’m borrowing an idea from the Surrey school district which is to host indigenous leaders and cultural events on campus to teach people about the land and the people who used to occupy this land.

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

Public universities like UBC were founded to provide quality and critically, affordable education for everybody. Over the past 15 years in BC, we have seen an astronomical rise in the cost of university to the point that it’s becoming increasingly unaffordable without student loans and crippling debt. While the AMS and university should be working together to help trim expenses and find efficiencies to pass those savings onto students, fundamentally, the only long term sustainable solution is to obtain more funding through lobbying the federal and provincial governments.

  • What will be your approach to advocating to the university?

While the AMS should continue to work closely with the university administration to cut costs and find efficiencies to pass onto students, unfortunately, the administration also has a history of putting financial interests and status over students. Given this history, I don’t believe it would be inappropriate for the AMS to also start lobbying the federal and provincial governments to have additional funding go through the AMS rather than the university. This way, the AMS can use this additional funding to increase services like mental health while reducing fees and returning money into the pockets of students.

  • Do you have anything else to add?

We are a generation being hammered, chipped and squeezed. Day after day, you hear about unprecedented youth unemployment, record student debt and an increasingly gloomy global economic outlook. We need help. Not scandal or a university administration content with nickel and diming students at every turn. We can do better, and we will do better. The platform that I’m offering was created with students at its heart. A platform for students by students. We may not be able to fix every problem, but these are common sense first steps we can take to building a university that works for everybody.

Hussam Zbeeb

Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/229763804026421/

  • Why are you running for your position?

As the current Vice President Academic for the LFS Undergraduate Society, I have developed a strong passion for advocating on behalf of the academic interests of all students that I am representing. I have worked on a number of academic initiatives (i.e. flexible learning) that I am hoping to enhance at a university-wide level. In my position, I was also fortunate to lead the international tuition increase consultation process for my faculty, which peaked my interest in advocating on behalf of students to the university. I have witnessed first-hand how effective advocacy can be in enacting change at the university level, with real impact for the greater UBC community.

  • What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

Advocacy is key here – it is pivotal that students “get a seat at the table” in higher-level decisions involving the university. I will continue building a solid foundation with university governing bodies and ensuring that students are involved in a number of processes and decisions relevant to us. On the academic portion of the portfolio, I am aiming to enhance the flexible learning environment at UBC, including but not limited to Open Pedagogy, Open Educational Resources (OERs), and Midcourse Feedback. Finally, I will aim to promote and enhance the nature of undergraduate research available to students in an accessible manner.

  • How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

An obvious, yet key, aspect of consultation is ensuring that the right groups are being consulted. Furthermore, it is of utmost importance that students feel like they are being consulted – simply asking students to voice their opinions on a particular topic with a pre-determined outcome defeats the purpose of consultation in the first place. The way this is achieved is not only holding the university accountable to the need for student voices to be represented in university affairs, but ensuring the AMS provides an accessible platform for students to voice those very opinions.

  • How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

The University Affairs component of the portfolio includes a direct involvement in working on a number of highly important areas in student affairs involving UBC’s most marginalized students. Once again, advocacy is a critical tool I will use to strive towards improving the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students in a number of university affairs. On the academic side, I will strive to improve the nature of financial accessibility to students in a number of academic initiatives (i.e. open textbooks) that are in line with the AMS’s Accessibility & Affordability policy.

  • How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

As the VPAUA, it is a priority to act as the liaison between students and the university. Recognizing my own privilege, this requires a nuanced understanding of the multitude of highly complex issues facing students regarding their respective identities, as well as a well-rounded understanding of services available to concerned students. This allows students to not only seek out their best interests when concerned in any way, but allows the VPAUA to best advocate for those very students facing any form of oppression.

  • What is your position on the referendum question on referendums?

I am voting in favor of the referendum question asking students to vote on the changes specified in the ‘AMS Bylaws Referendum Revisions’ document. I completely recognize the implications this has when considering the motivation for referendum questions in the first place, however I still believe that referendum questions should not be leading. Different bodies putting forth referendum questions can still motivate the referendum in the “Note” section following the referendum question by informing the student body the effects of having it pass/not pass (without having the question be leading itself).

  • How will you work with the on- and/or off- campus indigenous communities to make campus a better place?

A noteworthy portion of the VPAUA’s portfolio includes a focus on aboriginal engagement. With the support of the Aboriginal Student’s Commissioner, some examples of work I will do with indigenous communities are as follows: 1) support initiatives of aboriginal and student groups, 2) work closely with the First Nations House of Learning, and 3) support existing aboriginal initiatives (i.e. Musquem weaving project and the annual powwow).

  • How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

It is important to preface this answer by recognizing AMS’s policy on Affordability and Accessibility that currently exists. With this in mind, having the AMS work with UBC to alleviate financial pressures on students as well as achieve financial accessibility would be the first critical step is achieving accessible education. One example of this is the use of Open Educational Resources (OERs) that offer students textbook equivalents at no cost. The second pivotal component to accessible education includes an emphasis on equity – students from all walks of life should have a fair shot at receiving a quality education at UBC.

  • What will be your approach to advocating to the university?

To ensure that student interests are best voiced at higher-level decisions by the university, I will strive to continue building a solid foundational relationship with various executive bodies at UBC. As someone that would describe myself as highly pragmatic, I strongly believe in using advocacy that is rooted in real-life constraints and realities, rather than engaging in principle-based advocacy that has shown not to be effective in enacting change at UBC.

  • Do you have anything else to add?

I completely recognize the enormity of the responsibility associated with acting as a go-between for students with the university – not only is it a responsibility that I hold highly but that I hope I am fortunate enough to get the opportunity to serve the greater UBC community.

AMS candidates answer our questions: VP External

Another year rolls around, another set of AMS Elections. We at the Talon aim to ask hard-hitting critical questions, and in that spirit, we invited all candidates in the election to answer a set of questions that we hope will help our readers in casting their ballot. Over the next few days we will be publishing the responses for all positions. Today we’ll start with candidates for VP External.

Vote here from February 29th to March 4th.

No response was received for the other candidate, Alex Kilpatrick.

Kathleen Simpson

Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/1722776831296441/

  1.   Why are you running for your position?

Having had the opportunity to work in the AMS VP External Office for over a year, I have had the privilege to get to know some of the advocacy projects first hand.  During this time, not only have I become very attached to these projects, but I also hope to improve the functionality and visibility of the office.  My hope is to renew the focus on advocacy to restore it to one of the primary objectives of the AMS.  To do this, I plan to reconnect the office with student advocacy groups, to combine their excellent and passionate work and engagement of students with the resources of the AMS.  Ultimately, strong student action and involvement is the most powerful advocacy tool we have.

  1.     What are the main goals you wish to accomplish during your term?

During my term as Vice President External, I hope to build a strong framework through which all student advocacy engagement can take place.  This will involve the creation and formalization of strong partnerships with on-campus advocacy groups, who play a critical role in engaging the student body on important issues.  This structure and these partnerships will not only be instrumental in bringing about meaningful change and progress on my three advocacy goals for my term, they will also continue to drive progress and meaningful discussion in future year.  The three advocacy goals that I hope to address as VP External are as follows:

  • Advocate for increased post-secondary education affordability:

Education affordability needs to be advocated for not only in the form of greater funding for post secondary institutions, but also in the form of greater accessibility to financial aid.

  • Improve rights of students in residence:

Since tenants in student housing are not protected by BC Tenancy Law, I hope to join other student associations in advocating for provincial regulation of student housing.

  • Provincially legislated sexual assault policies for universities:

Advocate for provincial legislation that mandates that all universities have stand-alone sexual assault policies that are regularly updated.

  1.     How will you strive to consult with and represent the diversity of voices that make up the student body?

If elected as VP-External, I plan to implement a restructure of the AMS External Advocacy Commission, to include student representatives from a multitude of groups across campus. Hearing first-hand from students about issues that are important to them is the most effective way to ensure that everyone can be represented equally. It also gives the opportunity to hear from interest groups on campus who are less widely represented in the UBC community. By ensuring that as many student groups as possible can have a seat at the table, communication will flourish between students and the AMS.

  1.     How will you strive in your position to improve the lives of UBC’s most marginalized students?

As I stated in my response to the previous question, I believe that an open dialogue with student groups is the first and most important step in representing all students.  With the case of marginalized students however, I think that it is especially important that they be actively involved in all phases of advocacy, from the consultation phase, to the implementation phase.  Ultimately, only they are able to understand and explain their own experiences, and it is critical that they be the ones speaking on their own behalf.  It is also important to consider and acknowledge the impact that intersectionality has on marginalized students as we advocate for change and develop policy.

  1.     How does your platform engage with anti-oppressive frameworks?

As a candidate for the VP- External, and as student at UBC in general, I cannot stress how important employing anti-oppressive frameworks is in our community. Consultation and collaboration are the two pillars of my platform. The reason for this is straightforward; I cannot possibly represent the interests of UBC students without including voices from marginalized communities. In other words, I cannot solely represent privileged voices on campus. As a result, I will include as many voices as possible by engaging with student clubs and other groups on campus before any major decisions.  Acknowledging the existence and consequences of oppressive aspects of our society is the first step to engaging in anti-oppressive work, and this should be reflected in the research, policy, and outreach of every advocacy effort made by the VP External Office.

  1.     What is your position on the referendum question on referendums?

I personally support a ‘yes’ vote to all of the proposed referendum questions, with the exception of the changes to the bylaws surrounding Referendum Revisions.  My concern with these changes is that it leaves the AMS with too much leeway in re-writing referendum questions submitted to them by students.  Referendums are the AMS’s purest version of democracy, and even the smallest amount if change in wording has the potential to drastically alter the meaning of a question.  Although the changes are meant to help prevent the AMS from having to run referendum questions that direct them to take any illegal actions, I still maintain that there are concerns in giving any group the power to change the wording of a referendum question put forward by students and signed by a thousand of them.

  1.     How will you work with the on- and/or off- campus indigenous communities to make campus a better place?

Given that we are learning and living on the unceded land of the Musqueam people, it is imperative that our indigenous communities be stakeholders in campus affairs. I plan to restructure the AMS External Advocacy Commission to allow an appointed member from an Indigenous student group (for example, the Indigenous Student Association) to be involved in every advocacy project that the VP External Office works on, from the preliminary consultation phase, to the campaign and advocacy implementation.  Ultimately, it should be Indigenous students themselves who should speak on all matters that have a direct impact on themselves.

  1.    How do you define accessible education? How will you strive to achieve this?

Although educational accessibility is often associated with merely the financial affordability of education, true accessibility is a much broader and ultimately, challenging goal.  Accessibility is the truly equal availability of education to all, regardless of social, financial, or ability factors.

It is important that this definition include and acknowledge the effects of intersectionality, where in which multiple factors may compound to create even greater obstacles to accessing education.  In order to begin to dismantle the many barriers to education, it is critical first to maintain open conversation with the student body, paying particular attention to marginalized groups, to understand the different barriers that confront different students.  Secondly, in order to effectively advocate for accessibility of education and to bring about change, it is important to work collectively not only with UBC students, but also with students from other student associations – barriers to accessibility are present on all university campuses and a united response is the best and most powerful response.

  1.  What will be your approach to advocating to the government and other relevant external groups?

It is my personal belief that the influence that the VP External (or really any AMS executive), does not come from their position or title, but rather, from the collective support of the students they represent.  Furthermore, UBC students are entitled to always be aware of the actions and projects of the VP External, and should collectively have the ability to set the agenda and actions of the office.  For this reason, as VP External, I would like to incorporate three pillars into every advocacy project: research, student engagement, and partnership.  To elaborate, any advocacy project that I work on as VP External will be supported by strong research, will engage students during both the consultation phase of the project and the action and advocacy phase of the project, and will work collaboratively with other student associations and partner groups to deliver the strongest possible message.

  1.     What will be your approach to working with other student unions?

Very rarely do projects in the VP External portfolio affect only a single student association.  For this reason, student associations often partner together in larger organisations to collectively advocate for change on issues that have an impact on them all.  When student associations work together, they are able to share resources, coordinate strategy and messaging, and amplify their voice.  For these reasons, I strongly support working collaboratively with other student associations at both a provincial and federal level.  Although the AMS currently has informal relationships with student associations across the country, none of these relationships are formalized.  As VP External, I hope to conduct a thorough review and consultation on whether or not the AMS should consider formalizing any of these relationships through membership into coalitions of student associations, at any level of government.  Ultimately, these coalitions have the potential to provide a lot of excellent advocacy resources to their member schools, but can often come at a significant financial membership costs, which is why thorough consultation is required before committing to them.

Gonzalo Vargas, http://www.laselecta.org/2016/02/extractivistas-infantiles/

Busting the myth of Northern exceptionalism – CIRDI and Lundin’s colonial corporate (ad)ventures

An institute for “extractive governance” has moved to the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC. If we were to judge it from its partners, there are reasons to be concerned. Its largest sponsor is the Lundin Foundation, a foundation with corporate sponsors set up by the Swedish Lundin family, owners of the Lundin oil and mining companies.

CIRDI, or the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute, is a collaboration between UBC, SFU, and the École Polytechnique de Montréal, with support from the federal government and corporations. It operates on the assumption that Canadian universities can help countries make “better use of the extractive sector,” claiming that it is working to “Improve, in a measurable way, the ability of developing countries to manage and benefit from their extractive sectors in order to catalyze sustainable economic growth and reduce poverty.”

The logic behind the institute relies on the assumption that the Canadian government, companies, and academics know more and have better practices than those in the global South, and that the Canadian legal and technical norms should be exported. A similar myth exists in Sweden, the country where I grew up, which simultaneously works to silence its colonial past and present. This assumption is also coupled with another one, that somehow Swedish or Canadian capitalism and companies are “better” than those from other countries, more sustainable, fair, and technologically advanced. Such powerful myths are also the basis of a large part of research done in the name of “reducing poverty” or creating “sustainable development.” These neocolonial narratives uphold the idea that we can help people help themselves through technology and with the help of corporations from the global North, thus ignoring both structural factors and the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and communities.

While it is true that Sweden, like Canada, has a history of internationalism and solidarity, we shouldn’t forget that our high standard of living is dependent on the exploitation of resources in the global South and in Indigenous territories in the North, including national pension funds invested in mining and oil. In her book titled Business in Blood and Oil: Lundin Petroleum in Africa1, which won the investigative journalism award Guldspaden in Sweden in 2010, journalist Kerstin Lundell writes about her struggle to sell her well-researched articles to the Swedish media. Her case illustrates how Swedish media reproduce the self-image that considers Swedes to be better than everyone else. Lundell notes that the racism that underlies this belief simply comes down to viewing “some people with such little worth as there being no point wasting ink to print news when their villages are being burned down.” (p.94). Canada, I believe, has a similar problem.

When I saw that CIRDI’s largest corporate donor is the Lundin Foundation 2, set up by the Lundin family (hailing from Sweden, but currently residing in the tax haven of Switzerland), I decided to share the information readily available in Swedish and international human rights reports.

Philanthropy in colonial history and present

The story I am going to tell is not one of a “few bad apples”, but rather a problem that resides at the core of what we call “development”. In any case, let me begin with the analogy of apples: a particularly bad apple called Lundin. Lundin is a conglomerate of extractive companies based in both Sweden and Canada headed by the Lundin family. Lundin Mining is based in Vancouver, whereas Lundin Petroleum trades on the Swedish stock exchange. The founding myths of the Lundin Foundation, ostensibly a philanthropic organization, are also based on the myth of northern exceptionalism. The foundation states that it helps create sustainable livelihoods.3 It was established by the Lundin brothers who dreamed up the idea on a motorcycle trip through Africa.

You may ask “well, what is the problem with a foundation like Lundin contributing to CIRDI?” To understand the aims of such seemingly benevolent philanthropic initiatives, it may be helpful to first consider a historic example. King Leopold of Belgium, who had carefully studied how to acquire and manage a colony to amass wealth, also established himself as a great philanthropist and humanitarian to justify conquest. 4 Leopold did this by organizing international conferences to supposedly advance science, such as, for example, the 1876 Geographical Conference in Brussels with representatives from European countries and explorers. The king spoke about the need to civilize Africa and “pierce the darkness” through scientific discovery, but also about abolishing the slave trade and creating peace. The conference set up the International African Association, which served as King Leopold’s smokescreen.
In this way King Leopold acquired the Congo, and was responsible for the pillaging of resources, killing around 13 million people, and cutting off hands and heads in what became Belgium’s prized colony.

To a large extent, today’s neocolonial corporate-academic smokescreens are shockingly similar in their strategies to promote a humanitarian image. In the case of Congo, the Belgian plunder of resources set off many other interventions. For example, in order to protect Belgian interests in mining, Katangan forces supported by Belgian forces and the CIA assassinated the popularly elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, and installed the anti-communist Mobutu as Congo’s leader. The extraction of resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has continued by multinational companies such as the Lundin Mining Corporation 5, which is operating the Tenke Fungurume Mine, one of the world’s largest sources of copper and cobalt. Lundin acquired its contract during the dictatorship of Mobutu, and according to UN Inspector Jason K. Stearns, Lundin stated they had given the rebels $50 million up front as down payment. 6 Journalists from the watchdog Swedwatch have further documented how the company displaced villages and that people became poorer as a result. 7

The myths of boys and men

But let’s go back to the first days of the Lundin companies. The founding father of the companies, Adolf Lundin, described the beginnings of the company on masculinist terms and with great pride. The company’s colonial undertakings were expressed as the dreams of a young boy who was looking for adventures and grew up to be a “self-made” successful businessman. Both in the company’s promotional materials and on a website called the “Miners and Explorers Hall of Fame,” Lundin is described, and has described himself, using words as “fearless,” and having “guts” 8. In a book about Rockefeller and Standard Oil, we learn that it was at the age of 14 that Adolf decided he wanted to dedicate his life to oil and mining. As a graduate from the Royal Institute for Technology in Stockholm, Sweden in 1956, his first job was with Royal Dutch Shell. He went to Colombia to drill for oil. Asked if it was an adventure, Lundin responded: “Yes, it was very good – very exciting for a young man to be traipsing through the jungle.” He also describes his first venture as just costing him the plane ticket to Qatar, where he then was able to acquire companies’ funding for the concession. When asked by an interviewer if he had to bribe an emir to get the concession, Lundin responded jokingly in the affirmative, and the story goes that he lost a bet, but got the license. After such successfully heroic beginnings, Lundin moved from Qatar to Vancouver, Canada, where his first mining company was called Adanac (Canada spelled backwards) and acquired the Ruby Creek molybdenum deposit in northern BC, on ancestral and unceded Indigenous territory.

Adolf was also described as a person who “compares to the great white hunters in Africa” [ibid]. And when the world established sanctions during apartheid against South Africa’s white minority regime that oppressed the black majority, Lundin was doing business there. In fact, one of Adolf’s prime role models was Cecil Rhodes, who established (read colonized) Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe) and founded the diamond business De Beers. Rhodes, who was both a politician and businessman, pushed for a law of racial segregation in South Africa, the Glen Grey Act, which forced the population in the district around Cape Town off their lands. His mines were protected by his own troops who were often brutal against the local population. Famous for saying “I prefer land to niggers,” and for his belief in white supremacy, to Adolf Lundin Rhodes “promoted a healthy economic development in Africa”9.

To Lundin’s sons, Adolf was an engineer in the truest form, “for the best of humanity,” and he had an “infallible optimism” that extraction of natural resources would prevent poverty 10. Lundin’s sons continue the legacy of their father by portraying oil and mining business as a mix between adventure and playful fun. The portrayal of Adolf’s son Lukas’ interests in extreme sports represents him as a risk-taking ‘entrepreneur’. In an interview with one of Sweden’s largest daily newspapers, Dagens Nyheter, Lukas Lundin said: “I like to build things, keep things going, do new business, find new oilfields and build new mines, it’s pretty fun”.11 And in the end of 2015, Lukas said he was “almost euphoric” when Lucara Diamond, another Lundin company, found one of the largest diamonds ever in Botswana. 12

Drastically less cheerful are the critiques of Lundin’s oil business in Sudan between 1997 and 2003. One doesn’t have to dig much more to understand how the language of adventure, fun, and progress attempts to hide its opposites: oppression, tragedy and a worsening of conditions. While in Sudan the company received harsh criticisms from Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations for allegedly displacing people and for its complicity in war crimes. 13 In 2000 Amnesty International issued a warning that the civil war in Sudan was worsened by Lundin Oil’s exploitation. 14 In 2001 the company was sold to the Canadian company Talisman Energy, and in 2003 the concessions were sold to a company from Malaysia.
After publication of the 2010 report “Unpaid Debt” by the European Commission on Oil in Sudan (ECOS), members of the Swedish Parliament asked for Carl Bildt, then Swedish foreign minister, head of the conservative party and UN peacemaker who was on the board of directors of the Lundin company, to step down as foreign minister.15 The Swedish Prosecution Authority began a preliminary investigation which is now ongoing and will be the basis for a judgement on Lundin’s complicity in war crimes. A decision is expected in 2016. According to the ECOS report, Lundin’s operations led to 160,000 people being forcibly displaced and 20,000 killed. In his defense, Lukas Lundin said to one of Sweden’s largest daily newspapers that this was a case of “reverse discrimination” against those accused, and further blamed the problems on “tribal warfare.”16

Lundin and CIRDI looking for elephants

In an article about the Lundin Group, a geologist who worked 15 years with the conglomerate and who now heads Africa Oil, attributes the conglomerate’s success to risky business: “We don’t mind taking technical risks, if the risk is big enough,” and “Looking for elephants in Africa is the way we used to portray ourselves.”17 But the risks that Lundin is known to take are also political. In 2015, two Swedish journalists went to Ethiopia to investigate Lundin’s activities and ended up in jail for 14 months. In their book 438 Days: How Our Quest to Expose the Dirty Oil Business in the Horn of Africa Got Us Tortured, Sentenced as Terrorists and Put Away in Ethiopia’s Most Infamous Prison, Martin Shibbye, one of the journalists, describes Lundin as:

…a very special company, one known for kind of being non-ethical. They did business with South Africa during apartheid. They were kicked out of Congo by the U.N. They were doing business with Assad’s Syria. It’s an oil company that goes to areas where no other oil companies enter, it’s a very special company to be on the board of. 18

With such a reputation, Lundin has felt the necessity to whitewash its public image by promoting the philanthropic mission of its foundation. It was after Bildt resigned from Lundin’s board of directors and Adolf Lundin passed away that the company philanthropic foundation was established, as Adolf’s sons imagined a new future for the company. Initially called the Lundin for Africa Foundation, the company invested in re-imaging and social responsibility. The foundation supports “sustainable livelihoods,” but three separate studies of its operations regard it as ineffective in aid but effective as a business strategy 19, since such re-branding and greenwashing works to diffuse criticisms of its businesses’ operations.

Similarly, CIRDI’s mandate to improve “extractive governance” is a form of greenwashing of the mining industry, a concept created to keep afloat the much-criticized term “development,” which has created such oxymorons like “green gold.” And “governance” is the depoliticized term used to avoid addressing power asymmetries between actors, who, in corporate doublespeak, are called “stakeholders.” The modern myth of progress tells us that we may have been mistaken in the past but with greater experience and more technology, we can achieve “sustainable mining.” On the contrary, many people and academic studies witness the ongoing destruction that mining and other extractive industries create, and how companies systematically undermine the right of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent.

Elephants in Vancouver?

As staff, students, or professors at the universities hosting CIRDI, how are we all implicated? What is our direct or indirect responsibility in CIRDI’s tacit approval and legitimization of corporate crimes and in its imposition of the dogma of extractivism? What kind of research does CIRDI support? What does it mean to conduct research when this begins with the assumption that, as CIRDI’s former executive director Daniel Dumas has asserted, mining somehow magically lifts a country out of poverty? This past summer, CIRDI’s summer institute on extractive governance collaborated with the UBC Centre for Democracy’s Summer Institute for Future Legislators and the Norma B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering. One can only wonder what CIRDI’s summer institute taught its participants about colonial dispossession and displacement, such as the kind of historical dispossession enacted by Lundin and its affiliates. I highly doubt that the various reports and the related investigation of war crimes in Sudan ever made it into the curriculum. In a recent radio interview, CIRDI’s new CEO Cassie Doyle claimed that CIRDI only partners with governmental agencies, a statement in complete contradiction with information retrieved about the institute’s corporate support and partnerships, including the $1,000,000 cash donation by the Lundin Foundation 20, and the fact that the Managing Director of Lundin Foundation sits on the CIRDI Board. As CIRDI is attempting to justify its existence by anxiously looking to form partnerships with various departments at UBC, researchers and graduate research assistants funded by CIRDI should be fully informed about its blood-stained funding. Furthermore, I find it appalling that student tuition will also go towards funding this corporate colonial venture. 21

For many students and researchers like myself, the site of our primary research interest may be far away, but that doesn’t mean that we should be passive when faced with the ugly internal mechanics of power and submission in our own universities. Rather than meddling in other countries’ mining laws, CIRDI, as an institute of a public university, could provide critical research to inform the development of a legal code that controls Canadian mining companies abroad and makes it possible to hold these companies accountable in Canadian courts, which is nonexistent to this day.22

As graduate students under constant pressure in a competitive climate to publish or perish, the professionalization of education of which CIRDI is but one example, is inherently coupled with depoliticization. Instead of publishing in journals that few people read and have access to, we as students and academics must use our acquired skills of “critical thinking” to listen, learn, and disseminate the examples of successful strategies of resistance to mining both in the global South and North, thus busting the myth of Northern exceptionalism. I am inviting you to join us.

Hanna Dahlstrom
PhD student, UBC