Since his first year at UBC, AMS VP Administration and President-elect Cole Evans has been riding the rollercoaster of student politics.
Now a third-year political science major, Evans’s first months at UBC saw him eagerly jump into governance, running for the Arts Undergraduate Society’s first-year representative to the AMS. The campaign proved less effective than he hoped.
“I got my ass kicked in that first election.”
Success in student governance wouldn’t elude Evans for much longer. In 2018, he would go on to win the arts AMS rep position, being elected by 557 of his peers — nearly 26 per cent of that year’s turnout.
“From there it, kind of took off. … I think that the next steps from there, whether it be running for VP admin and now running for pre— now getting elected as president — always [came] down to really having a passion for helping people and really trying to make a difference here at UBC.”
Spending time at the top
Leading the AMS’s administration portfolio this year, Evans said, gave him an appreciation for the two roles the student union is trying to fulfill: one being a multi-million-dollar organization and the other being of a union tasked with amplifying the voices of its over 50,000 members.
“Sometimes the AMS gets too focused on ‘What’s good for the organization? What’s easier for the organization?’”
Instead, Evans said, the student union should be concerned with “What’s easier and what’s good for the general student body?”
Asked what he believes the answer to that question is, Evans played the politician and talked instead about prioritizing increasing student engagement and collaboration with the union.
“The thing about engagement is that it ties in very well with every other part of a platform. So … how are you engaging the students to identify where those gaps are, but also how are you engaging students to direct them to resources?”
Student engagement was a theme of this year’s election campaign, though it didn’t always play well for Evans. Some, including presidential hopeful and Student Services Manager Ian Stone, criticized Evans for the modest progress on creating a better bookings system for club use. In an interview with The Ubyssey, Evans’s reasoning was the lengthy timeline would make sure they “get it right the first time.”
Evans added that diversity within AMS decision-making is a topic he’s interested in addressing, something especially important given 2020 marked the second consecutive year where no women ran for the union’s top job.
“Things like the work that we want to do with Equity & Inclusion [to understand] how are we reaching out to marginalized groups on campus to make sure that we’re doing good consultation. That we’re … creating structures that allow more voices to be at the table.”
A campus divided
While engaging tens of thousands of busy students may seem like a huge hurdle on its own, this past year saw controversies contribute to campus factionalization — including issues revolving around UBC’s fraternities.
Evans currently chairs the Operations Committee, which was tasked by AMS Council to review the Interfraternity Council’s (IFC) eligibility for club status — the IFC was eventually deconstituted by AMS vote. More recently, an opinion letter penned by the Organizers of the Social Justice Forum raised concerns about, among other things, the large presence of fraternity members running and voting for positions.
In the face of a campus with a diversity of opinions, the president-elect championed finding common ground: a safe, inclusive campus.
“I don’t know whether this is idealistic of me to say, but I really do think that, in the role of president, you need to make sure [you are] emphasizing community and working together.
“And that’s not to say that everybody has to, right away, get along with each other and agree with each other. … As far as [the opinion letter] and Greek life, I think that we have to realize that we, as the AMS, need to be pushing towards a common goal, which is student safety. We need to be pushing towards a common goal, which is supporting marginalized communities, and [that] by maintaining positive relationships, we can work towards that goal.”
The elections campaigning period isn’t just an arena for different campus groups and candidates to air grievances with each other. It can also be a source of ideas for the elected to look back upon and adopt.
“… It’d be arrogant to dismiss [my competitors’] platforms and just say ‘Yeah, I won so I’m just going with what I’m doing, I’m not pay attention to anything else!’” Evans said.
He pointed to some of the ideas brought up by Stone, such as expanding UBC’s Work Learn program and an AMS-run cannabis dispensary, though the latter has been in the works for a few years.
Evans is also interested in bridging groups which he sees as falling into common areas of interest, saying the student union should “… develop a body for more cross-campus collaboration.
“It’s [on an] … ad-hoc basis that we engage with groups,” he said.
“So why don’t we adopt a model that’s used by the university and other organizations where … you have a meeting with people from The Calendar, Climate Hub maybe a representative from the [Resource Groups Allocation Centre], and you can come together.”
The president-elect sees a potential increase in organizational effectiveness as a result. Finally, Evans expressed the work that remains to be done to support the various resource groups.
“… As we are working on Indigenous issues, [we should work to ensure] that we’re engaging collaboratively with the Indigenous Committee at all times.”
This collaboration is likely to be headed, in part, by the to-be-determined holder of the newly ratified Indigenous Seat on Council.
Starting in May, eyes will focus squarely on Evans as the campus waits to see how he — and his promises — fare as the head of the union. With another two months before he assumes the role, his closing words were more similar to a hopeful candidate’s than an elected official’s.
“I’m running because I believe in the work that I want to accomplish. … That’s what I kept telling myself during the election.
“I’m doing this because I truly care about the organization. I truly care about everybody on this campus.”