Midterm review: Eshana Bhangu, VP academic and university affairs

Halfway through the year, AMS VP Academic and University Affairs (VPAUA) Eshana Bhangu has made progress on most of her goals — but some of the promised outcomes of her advocacy have yet to be seen.

Bhangu saw big wins with her COVID-19 advocacy to the university, after fighting for a mask mandate and a vaccine mandate. The university mostly implemented these policies, although the vaccine regulation remains a soft mandate with a rapid testing alternative for those who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or did not want to disclose their status.

As VPAUA, Bhangu said that she faced significant challenges when it came to COVID-19 advocacy.

“It was very difficult because ... the people who need[ed] to implement [the vaccine mandate were] so opposed to it, that it just seem[ed] impossible,” she said.

“Sometimes when you're the only voice out there, things don't look so optimistic. But I think that's when it really helps to remember that [I’m here] because some students out there believed in me,” she said.

Bhangu said she’s tried to approach every obstacle she faces when advocating the university with that mindset.

That resulted in some early wins. Aside from the COVID-19 advocacy, UBC put $1 million to lecture capture technology and $480,000 to a meal share program, checking off some of her goals of advocating for more accessible education and resources to fight food insecurity.

“Students have just time and time again explained to me how important recorded lectures are for them,” she said.

Bhangu also led the development of the AMS’s budget submission to UBC — a document submitted to the university before the budget process ramped up, something the previous two VPAUAs were not able to do.

But some other projects are still in the works. On remote invigilation, Bhangu committed to coming up with a replacement for Proctorio, but her team has not found one yet.

“If there's a replacement for Proctorio, it definitely needs to be equitable,” she said of that project.

Bhangu has focused her advocacy, like many past executives, on encouraging the university to not increase tuition fees.

“I've made it very clear that if this year the university tries to propose tuition increases without having a finalized affordability plan presented at that meeting, approved by Board, I will be there to protest,” she said.

She is hopeful that the university will have a finalized affordability plan presented in March.

On her promise to support Indigenous students and people of colour, Bhangu said she has been pushing for the Indigenous Strategic Plan to be embedded in the university’s budget. Bhangu also pushed for a career support counsellor for Indigenous students to help them with “career strategy, connections and opportunities,” and a Black wellness program in the budget submission.

Going forward, Bhangu said she’ll continue work on campus safety advocacy, the affordability plan and improving campus accessibility.

She’s been working on a campus safety audit, following the tragic death of two students struck by a driver near Northwest Marine Drive. Bhangu said she’s asked students to get involved by marking where they think campus is unsafe on Google Maps.

Once the audit is complete, Bhangu plans on taking the results to UBC.

Bhangu said she also plans to focus more on accessibility, with plans to advocate for an accessibility audit and a professional task force on campus accessibility.

“The only message I want to send to students out there is that I know things can get very tough sometimes. Please know that I'm here fighting for you. If there’s anything you need, they can just reach out to me, I'm just an email away,” she said.