The AMS wants to run another referendum to nearly triple the student fee for their Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC), a year after a referendum failed.
The Sexual Assault Support Fund (SASF) currently charges students $3.65 per year, but the increased operational costs of SASC have pushed it over budget for the past two academic years.
Pending approval from AMS Council, the referendum question would raise the fee to somewhere between $8.50 and $9.50.
Last year, the AMS ran a referendum that would have raised the SASF fee to $7.00, but it was bundled with changes to other groups’ fee structures. The proposal faced backlash from clubs and groups who said they weren’t consulted on the proposal and that it would put their funding in jeopardy.
The proposal failed to reach quorum.
This year’s proposed fee increase would be a standalone referendum.
“Our priority was to make sure that SASC is funded”
SASC’s operational costs have been outpacing the $185,000 generated by the current SASF fee.
Expansions in staff numbers, operational hours and outreach programs increased costs to $340,000 this year — a $30,000 jump from last year’s level.
“[SASC Manager] Sandra [Suasnabar] and her team have done an amazing job in reaching out to as many people in the community and supporting survivors very well,” said AMS VP Finance Kuol Akuechbeny, “so that comes with additional costs.”
SASC has seen particular growth in its Healthier Masculinities program and outreach workshops with campus groups.
“We are reaching out a lot to communities that we hadn’t had a chance to reach out to for a really long time,” said AMS President Marium Hamid. “The uptick from the community on matters of consent and just being there to support survivors has increased a lot, and we are happy that SASC has been able to be there for any community member to fulfill that role.”
Currently, the SASC and the AMS are also going through collective bargaining. While the details are unclear because discussions and updates at AMS Council about the process are done in camera, the costs could be a lot higher than they are right now.
The AMS has been using money from the Sexual Assault Initiatives Fund (SAIF), which is sourced from the same student fee as the SASF but is normally dedicated to funding sexual assault awareness initiatives from UBC students.
“People have projects that need to be funded from that fee, but we’ve changed things so that they can apply to another fund [like] the Student Initiative Fund, instead,” said Akuechbeny.
But all the money from the SAIF is now gone.
According to Hamid, the AMS tried to make minor cuts within their departments to fund the SASC. She herself cut two staff members from her office.
“Every single department basically came up with ways in which they could contribute to the remaining deficit,” said Hamid. “Even if it remains that we run a deficit this year, our priority was to make sure that SASC is funded to the fullest extent.”
Raising the fee
AMS councillors are currently considering how much they what they want to raise the fee. At $8.50 per student, the fee will provide enough to manage their current budget, but they have also considered raising it up to $9.50 per student to manage future cost increases.
The funding would be used to sustain the SASC’s operations, but Suasnabar suggested it could also be used to increase educational outreach or hire more support workers.
“Mondays and Fridays are extremely busy for the support team,” she said. “Sometimes we have to say to people, ‘Sorry, we can’t support you right now, can you come back later?’”
From the new fee, 50 cents would also be used to restore the depleted SAIF fund.
Hamid said that reception to the proposal within AMS Council has been widely positive, and she predicts the widespread support for the SASC will ensure the referendum passes.
After the AMS announced it would cut the Centre’s support services in June 2018, hundreds of UBC community members took to social media and over 2,100 signed a petition by the Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice Undergraduate Association to express their support for the SASC. The society reversed its decision three days later.
“As we saw earlier this summer, students want and support the SASC and this is a service they would like to see funded in the future,” said Hamid.
“We truly believe that this community will mobilize to make sure that this referendum passes, and we have full intentions to go as hard as possible to make sure that the community understands the full implications of why this matters.”
The final fee proposal will be determined at the February 6 AMS Council meeting.