Between the motions: AMS Council discusses COVID-19, services and suspension policy

With the Nest closed until at least April 14 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the AMS held its March 25 Council meeting via teleconference.

Some key talking points included how the AMS will continue to operate with the COVID-19 pandemic, the changes to Policy I-7 on Nest expulsions and the integration of two of its services.

Supporting students during a pandemic

Top-of-mind throughout the meeting was how the society should operate while the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds and disrupts student plans and wellbeing.

Science Councillor Michelle Marcus brought up a discussion of how the AMS can be providing support for students and adequately communicating those services to students during the crisis.

“I was wondering if the executives could provide some more details around specifically how you will be making sure that … [there is] a clear point of contact for students to go if they need support with something so that those concerns can then be directed to the appropriate channels,” she said. “Because I think it can be it can be difficult for a lot of students who don't really know where to go.”

AMS VP External Cristina Ilnitchi responded that the AMS is putting a lot of work into ramping up its communications online and in-person and that she’s working to keep students up to date on her advocacy to the province for student needs.

Hakim railed off a number of initiatives the AMS is undertaking, including advocacy to the university, promoting medical and mental health services through the Health + Dental Plan and Empower Me as well as working with clubs remotely as the Nest closes down.

The Food Bank has also maintained operation to support students who may have increased food insecurity during the crisis. Student Services Manager Ian Stone said he and Food Bank Coordinator Cali Schnarr have been running the bank themselves on Mondays and Thursdays. They’ve also been working to solicit community donations to accommodate increased demand for food.

Questions around convocation

Towards the end of the ceremony, councillors also discussed how the AMS should address graduation ceremonies in their advocacy to the university.

While UBC has not officially cancelled the ceremonies — as was acknowledged in the meeting — councillors talked as if cancellation were a foregone conclusion, though the details are still up in the air. An announcement from UBC about graduation ceremonies is expected soon, said several councillors.

Hakim said the AMS is advocating for UBC to opt for the same solution that other universities like Harvard have adopted: holding virtual ceremonies at the regular time and regular, in-person ceremonies at a later date when it’s safe.

Engineering Undergraduate Society President and Governance Committee Chair Katherine Westerlund, who is graduating this year, noted how hard it is for her and other students to end their university careers with a pandemic.

Board of Governors student representative and former VP Academic Max Holmes said he feels the AMS should be pushing advocacy more than ever during the pandemic on topics like this to make sure student interests are the university’s top priority. He said the AMS has “dropped the ball” on this and other areas thus far.

“AMS needs to be having more formal communications [about COVID-19], it needs to be pushing for more student consultation and it needs to be doing this in a formalized way that's also public to the student body, so the student body can actually see what’s being done,” explained Holmes.

“Because when you look at the petitions that have been created, they have probably actually done more than what we have done from an advocacy perspective.”

Proposed new service

Stone also gave a presentation on one of the key recommendations from the student services review: merging Speakeasy and Vice into one service entitled AMS Peer Support.

Stone said the recommendation came from research into how other student unions structured similar peer support services. He added that merging the two services would strengthen peer support and outreach for both, while increasing efficiency and cost savings.

“I will make it very clear, nothing will be taken away,” said Stone. “We really see that Speakeasy and Vice provide really great services.”

Stone further explained the combination of the two services into one is meant to keep the AMS in line with current changes around peer support and wellness services.

The idea is that the service can operate similar to the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) which has two “branches” of outreach and support. Under the proposed new service, the support branch would focus on confidential peer support services and the outreach branch would be in charge of events such as Vice’s naloxone training sessions.

The new service is in the proposal stage at the moment and Senior Student Services Manager Abdul Alnaar will give a full presentation on the services review at the next meeting.

Updates to Building Suspensions and Expulsion Policy

VP Administration Cole Evans and the Operations Committee brought forward a number of policy updates throughout the night, the most notable of which is the new Building Suspension and Expulsion Policy I-7.

According to the “Description & Rationale,” the revised policy encompasses “a more comprehensive version of the policy that addresses all situations where disciplinary actions relating to space suspensions and expulsions would be required.”

“[It’s] very much still based on what was there before, but wording, language, processes, stuff like that is pretty much brand new,” said Evans, adding that the revision was drafted in consultation with the AMS’s legal counsel.

The revised policy has also increased its scope to include AMS services as well as food and beverage outlets. It maintains some of the same prohibited acts, such as not wearing footwear on AMS premises or skateboarding and rollerblading that could cause damage to buildings.

Marcus brought up concerns about ambiguous language and asked how the policy would ensure students had the ability to use the Nest in “as broad a way as possible.”

Evans said the policy comes down to balancing the accessibility of the Nest as a “semi-private building” and also making sure the AMS covers insurance issues. He added that the policy is often only invoked in specific circumstances.

“This year, we haven’t actually used this policy at all, so I think that this policy is only really invoked in very specific circumstances. It’s not something that we see very common use with.”