Midterm review: President Eshana Bhangu

This year has been busy for AMS President Eshana Bhangu.

So far in her term, Bhangu has seen success in meeting quorum for the AMS Annual General Meeting (AGM), implementing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) training for AMS staff and creating Indigenous Finance Guidelines.

She also served as interim VP finance from July to September after former VP Finance Rita Jin resigned in July.

Before being president, Bhangu served as the AMS VP academic and university affairs (AUA) where she ran on a platform for COVID-19 advocacy, accessibility and affordability — which she said aligned with her priorities now.

As president, Bhangu, alongside VP AUA Dana Turdy, advocated for increased and sustained funding for food security initiatives after UBC initially cut funding to these programs early this year. UBC has since announced additional funding for food security.

In comparison to her role as VP AUA, Bhangu said being president has “so much more to it.” As VP AUA, Bhangu said in comparison to VP AUA where she could just “put … everything into one thing” and that she has had to learn how to prioritize goals based on impact.

Mental health coverage has been a long-standing issue within the AMS. In September, the student society initially allowed coverage to return to $1,000 after the $500 expired on August 31. Following widespread student complaints, the AMS announced it would increase coverage to $1,250.

Bhangu said she hopes to maintain the current $1,250 coverage, which she sees as a “permanent change.”

She said maintaining $1,500 coverage for mental health would increase fees for students in the longterm.

“Students use way more of drug coverage and pharmacy and all of those things that are part of the [AMS/GSS] Health & Dental Plan … we can’t just drop those things just to have mental health coverage,” she said.

Bhangu said she is also working on a “no-limits governance review,” which aims to align the AMS's business and student portfolios, root out inefficiencies and create more accountability. Over the summer, AMS Council approved the creation of an ad hoc committee to lead the governance review.

It will also ensure that the “top of the organization, which is [AMS] Council” cannot be out of touch within the happenings of the AMS, according to Bhangu.

“It’s looking [at] more than just accountability. It’s really looking at the whole structure and how we can be more accessible to students,” she said.

Bhangu also worked to create Indigenous finance guidelines, which aims to financially accommodate Indigenous partners and contractors, as well as efficiently send out reimbursement payments.

Although Bhangu said she has not disregarded any of her campaign priorities, she said holding two executive positions made the work slower, such as finalizing the AMS Strategic Plan.

The plan will serve as an operational blueprint for the AMS, and has been in the works since last fall — although there have been many attempts in years prior.

“I could have finished it [over the summer],” said Bhangu. “But I did not want to skip the part of genuine meaningful engagement …with Council.”

Increasing engagement for students remains a top priority for Bhangu, saying that the AGM turnout was a “big indicator” of engaged students with the AMS and the work that it is doing.

However, she says that a continued challenge in her work is establishing a sense of community for 60,000 members.

“My vision for the AMS is that we as a student union should be a part of helping create that community because university is tough, and mental health issues are one of the biggest problems students are facing these days,” she said. “I just want the AMS to participate in ways where we can help make that journey a little less tough.”