‘Go beyond the bare minimum’: AMS demands stronger mask, vaccine requirements on campus

The AMS is demanding that the university listen to students’ concerns for the fall term.

In a fiery letter sent to UBC admin and the Board of Governors yesterday, the student union called on UBC to mandate vaccinations in student residences and masks in lecture halls.

“The student union, representing all 56,000+ undergraduate and graduate students, strongly believes that the University must do more than the bare minimum to ensure that we have a safe return to campus,” the letter reads.

On Wednesday, AMS Council authorized AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Eshana Bhangu and President Cole Evans to send a letter on its behalf advocating for vaccine and mask mandates on campus.

In the letter, Bhangu and Evans accepted that the university has time and time again aligned itself with advice from the BC Public Health Office — the excuse the university has used recently to defend not mandating masks or vaccines — but said the university must do more.

“There is also no doubt that it is unacceptable for UBC, an institution that prides itself as a leader across the county, to only be doing the bare minimum in ensuring the safety and security of its students, staff, and faculty,” the two student leaders wrote.

Bhangu and Evans cited data from the recent AMS Return to Campus Survey, in which 82 per cent of students said that they would support mandatory vaccines in residence and 60 per cent voiced concern about being exposed to COVID-19 in classrooms and lecture halls.

“The reverberant message of the students we represent can no longer be ignored or dismissed by the University as it has been so far — this is an opportunity to demonstrate to students that the University's leadership is genuine in their efforts to listen to and work for students,” the letter read.

The AMS had previously sent a letter to VP Students Ainsley Carry and President Santa Ono in late June on requiring vaccines in residence. At Wednesday’s AMS Council meeting, Bhangu said that UBC had still not responded to their original letter.

As of publishing, the tweeted letter has seen 102 retweets and 211 likes — receiving widespread support from many members of the UBC community on Twitter.

“Does the university simply not care about what students are saying? Or is UBC just incapable of showing the kind of exemplary leadership that they’ve shown in the past & is needed now?” Bhangu tweeted.

In a response letter sent to The Ubyssey at 9 p.m. on Friday night, VP Students Ainsley Carry said ‘no’ to the requests made by Bhangu and Evans.

Carry pointed to the recently-signed provincial mandate letter, in which the UBC Board of Governors committed to resuming full on-campus learning in the fall and follow the guidance of the Provincial Health Officer when it came to COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Guidelines state that post-secondary institutions should not introduce COVID-19 prevention measures into their work and learning areas that are different from those supported by public health professionals,” Carry wrote.

“These guidelines are not a minimum standard as referred to in your letter, but a high standard that has been set by the Provincial Health Officer.”

Carry outlined the steps the university is taken to make the return-to-campus safe, and emphasized that UBC has seen very few COVID-19 exposures on campus.

Carry fell back on the university’s common response to requests for different COVID-19 restrictions: “Medical health officers in BC are responsible for monitoring and assessing the health status of the community and implementing actions necessary to protect the health of the public.”

“UBC is committed to the health and wellbeing of our community and we will continue to work closely with the Office of the Provincial Health Officer, provincial health authorities and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training as we continue our gradual transition approach to return to campus for Winter Term 1,” Carry concluded the letter.

In a letter to members sent Monday morning, Alan Richardson, president of of the UBC Faculty Association, acknowledged the AMS’ concerns but did not advocate for a mask mandate.

“The UBC Faculty Association (FA) has sympathy for such objections and such arguments, but in the absence of information from UBC’s own modeling as well as a more secure understanding of the potentially discriminatory effects of mask and vaccine mandates, the FA cannot responsibly advocate for mask or vaccine mandates at this time,” Richardson wrote.

The letter did, however, call on the university to release more details around what ‘back to normal’ will look like in the fall.

“It would be unconscionable for the University to send its faculty and its students into the classroom in the fall without substantial guidance on fundamental issues ... We are now three weeks past the release of the provincial guidelines and it is time for UBC to provide detailed information relevant to its academic community.”