Year-end review: VP External Cristina Ilnitchi’s closes off two terms of advocating for affordability, accessibility

Now at the end of her two terms as VP external, Cristina Ilnitchi is proud of what her office has achieved in student advocacy.

Ilnitchi first got elected to the position in 2018, and since then has seen the VP external office through federal elections, much of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as several government reforms on student issues.

Federal election

Ilnitchi spent most of the first semester of her current term focusing on the 2019 federal election and capitalizing on the opportunity to engage students in politics. During the elections, she oversaw the increased mobilization of student voices to increase voter turnout and also joined forces with other student unions to lobby federal parties on key student issues like affordability and climate action.

According to Ilnitchi, working with other student groups and stakeholders across the country has been the best part of her work as VP external.

“One of the reasons why I’m so proud of the work that’s gone into building those relationships is because we’ve seen how successful it is when students come together to do this work and when we work as partners,” she said.

Lobbying governments

Ilnitchi stated that collaborative advocacy has been particularly beneficial for issues of student affordability, such as the BC Access Grant that was announced in early 2020.

“It was a really, really great success for this year,” she said. “And it was really great to see the provincial government continue to be so responsive to student needs and to be partners in this.”

Ilnitchi has also spent much of this term engaging in federal government advocacy as part of the Undergraduates of Canadian Research Intensive Universities (UCRU) lobby group. She has advocated for increasing federal student grants, creating clear pathways to permanent residency for international students and further support and funding for Indigenous students.

When Ilnitchi was first elected in 2018, one of her priorities was securing the Skytrain to UBC. Since then, the VP external office engaged in strong transit advocacy to the federal and provincial governments. While the Skytrain was endorsed by Vancouver City Council in 2019, the project is a long way from completion and still needs a secure source of funding.

Student equity

The AMS has, in the past, been criticized for a lack of respectful consultation with key student groups when they perform advocacy. In the AMS Elections Indigenous Forum in March, the society was criticized for not having given more than a week’s notice to Indigenous participants to accompany them on a lobbying trip to Ottawa.

“The AMS can do better [consultation] and always needs to work to do better,” Ilnitchi said.

She added that going into next year, the new AMS Equity Plan will be helpful in guiding the consultation process and will codify a standard of best consultation practices. The plan is still being developed and incoming VP External Kalith Nanayakkara will be tasked with continuing this work.

Ilnitchi also said that, in collaboration with other student lobby groups, she was able to make strides with the provincial government in sexual violence policy advocacy. Part of her work this year included the creation of a student environment survey which tracks the effectiveness of anti-violence work on college campuses.

“We need a mechanism for monitoring and reporting on what’s working and … if students are becoming more educated about these issues over time.” she said.

‘Making strides’

As she transitions out of the role, Ilnitchi has also been busy over the past few weeks focusing her efforts on the COVID-19 crisis. Ilnitchi mentioned that she has been advocating to the federal and provincial government for increased student aid in response to the pandemic.

“To have to switch priorities this quickly … to meet student needs is unprecedented,” she said.

The federal government announced the Canada Emergency Student Benefit for students ineligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. However, rent programs such as the BC Temporary Rental Supplement do not apply to students living in residence.

Overall, Ilnitchi is “really proud” of the achievements of the VP external office over the past two years.

“We’ve seen everything from investments into anti-sexual violence work to eliminating interest on BC student loans to getting this BC Access Grant,” she stated. “As well as making strides in the conversation of getting the SkyTrain to UBC.”

“It’s exciting to see the result of a lot of the work that’s gone on,” she said.

“But it’s also really exciting to know that a lot of the work … is hopefully going to be continued over time and is going to result in changes that make life more affordable, accessible and supportive for students.”