Midterm review: President Cole Evans's unconventional strategies engage students but meet concern over methods, oversight

Cole Evans focused his campaign and his time in office so far around increasing student engagement, promoting student well-being and empowering students from equity-seeking groups. Halfway through his term, Evans has made progress on all three issues, but not without criticism from students around his methods.

COVID-19 impacted every aspect of the AMS, Evans said, making it a key priority for the year.

One pandemic adaptation was the adoption of a mandatory mask policy in the Nest before the university itself even mandated masks. But, students have questioned the effectiveness of the policy’s enforcement, as some people in the Nest still fail to wear masks.

Evans defended the strategy, saying that there was insufficient staff capacity to strictly enforce masks.

“It’s important for everybody to understand the limitations that we have as an organization as well, when it comes to controlling individual behavior,” he said, adding that he trusts mask usage will continue to increase, aided by the new free masks to be made available throughout the Nest.

“We’ve gone ahead and ordered our own sets of masks to bring in — [the] program [of] rolling out free masks should be starting whenever [we] receive those shipments of masks,” he said.

The pandemic has also forced many AMS operations online, including student engagement.

Evans exceeded engagement expectations at the AMS’s annual general meeting (AGM) — held over Zoom — which hit quorum for the second time in 40 years. Last year’s AGM saw fewer than two dozen seats filled, and this year’s attendance peaked at over 1,400.

Evans said the AMS is interested in pursuing an online format for future AGMs. But the AGM didn’t come without controversy, with students criticizing the $4,000 the AMS spent on prizes to encourage people to attend, and the long-failing bylaw changes that were passed with a fraction of the number of votes needed to pass through referendums.

When asked about critiques that offering prizes was an unethical way to boost student turnout and voting at the AGM, Evans put down the concerns — saying that offering prizes was a valid strategy to increase engagement.

“It’s a similar argument that we hear certain groups make when they say, well, if you mail out ballots … you’re going to get higher voter turnout,” he said. “Which makes the results of the election less valid because who’s to say what those people would have voted anyway.”

Evans’s platform also included support for marginalized groups by implementing the AMS Equity Plan.

The AMS Equity Plan is still on track for its initial goal of a launch by the end of the fiscal year, according to Evans. The budget for the plan tripled this year, an “error” on the AMS’s part due to the last AMS team underestimating how much a plan like this would cost, he said.

Now, they’re launching consultation and discussion sessions on the plan.

“[Consultation is] an important part because it provides … a safe space for individuals to be able to share their experiences and their thoughts with the individuals who are working on the plan, so that we can incorporate that feedback more effectively into the end product,” Evans said.

Evans still has goals and campaign promises to fulfill in the second half of his term. These include his bold promises on carbon neutrality for the Nest, and working with external organizations to make in-person events — when they happen again — like the Welcome Back BBQ, safer for students.

“There’s still a lot to do. There’s always a lot to do with AMS,” Evans said. “But we’re excited. We’re happy with the work we’ve been able to accomplish so far this year and looking forward to finishing strong over the next five and a half months.”