Five-year Equity Action Plan intended to be a 'backbone' for EDI in the AMS

After two years of work, the AMS’s Equity Action Plan is just steps away from completion.

The five-year plan is intended to improve the environment of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within the AMS and increase accessibility to the society. AMS President Cole Evans said the plan will ideally ensure that everything the AMS does is “centred around principles of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.”

In early 2021, in partnership with a consultant, the AMS released a survey to the community on equity issues. Since then, AMS Council has adopted the Equity Action Plan as a strategic plan.

The next steps are to finalize equity goals and objectives for this year, develop and finalize an annual cycle for the plan and bring the revised version to AMS Council for approval in the spring to incorporate lessons learned after a year of using the plan.

Maia Wallace, the equity and inclusion lead at the AMS, said it’s “detrimental” that this is only the first Equity Action Plan as it’s been needed “for such a long time.”

“I think having it in place is really gonna be a backbone of hopefully a standard way of procedure, treatment, exercising of rights that students can exert, that AMS subsidiaries, resource groups, staff and elected executives can also implement in their day to day lives and in the policies and advocacy that they do overall,” Wallace said.

Evans added that it would help the society better offer services that serve the needs of the diverse student body.

One aspect of the Equity Action Plan is to implement election spending caps and funding for students during AMS elections. Wallace said this is intended to make running for AMS executive more equitable — and ideally encourage more people to run.

“The issue is less about the spending cap and more about what if you want to run in an election and you might not have $600 on hand to spend on an election. So something ... we can do at the AMS is be more proactive with the financial assistance we give candidates during the election so they can spend up to that spending cap during the election,” Evans added.

This year, the AMS will be focusing on conducting an internal policy review through an equity lens, improving consultation practices and revising the plan to meet the AMS’s current context. Additionally, the society will be hosting events during Pride Month, Indigenous Culture Month and Black History Month.

However, Wallace emphasized the need for internal work.

“I’m not looking for change that is a nice few campaign ... ” Wallace said. “The nitty-gritty change of EDI and this Equity Action Plan is a lot of behind the scenes work, it’s a lot of nuts and bolts being moved around so that when finally people inherit the work we’ve been taking on ... it has to be stable enough that it’s moldable to the needs and wants of students of the next five years.”

Wallace also emphasized the importance of financial and operative decision-making in addressing equity issues.

“That’s a very untouched area, and I don’t think people realize how much financial decision-making and operative decisions impact KPIs [Key Performance Indicators], campaigns, even outreach ... I think people only think about EDI in terms of advocacy or policy but our core way of functioning really does come from that operative and financial aspect,” she said.

For the future, Wallace hopes that the Equity Action Plan becomes more than simply a standalone plan.

“I would love for it to be embedded in our policies and in our systems of governance, all the way from services to the student union, to student club functioning, to resource groups and interconnecting all of that so it moves as a well-oiled machine and you don’t have to enforce EDI, but it’s embodied,” Wallace said.