Senate candidates talk mandatory equity training at second debate

Senate candidates spoke about potential equity courses at UBC and what makes them stand out the Great Debate.

Eight out of the nine Senate candidates participated in their second debate of the race on Tuesday, March 10.

When asked about how candidates stand out from their opponents, most either referred back to their campaign or upheld a few of what they believed to be their most professionally appealing attributes, such as involvement on campus, leadership experience or connections with various faculty members.

Viet Vu prompted some laughs from the audience by claiming: “Everyone who knows me usually says that I’m the weirdest person they know.”

Candidate Eric Zhao, who was not present at the first debate last week, emphasized that he was the oldest contestant in the crowd as the only graduate student and only student in a professional program at UBC running for Senate.

“I’ve been on this campus for six years and I love this place,” said Zhao. “By the time I graduate, I’ll be here for 11 -- and let me tell you -- when you’re at a place for 11 years, you really want to make sure that you leave it a little better than you came.”

When asked about whether UBC should implement a mandatory equity course for all undergraduate students, Senate candidate and current AMS Equity Commissioner Margareta Dovgal said that, along with a course, it was necessary to expand equity education into the larger cultural dynamic of UBC.

“It’s not really a matter of ticking the boxes, but I think it’s a matter of critical engagement,” said Dovgal. “I think students need the opportunity to discuss issues like whose land we’re on, [that] we’re on Musqueam land, what ingeneity is, how it applies, [and] how colonialism has affected their lives.”

While Dovgal, along with opponents Jenna Omassi and Marjan Hatai, were generally in support of the implementation of required equity-focused courses, other candidates like Ian Sapollnik and Viet Vu questioned the efficiency of the idea.

“I don’t know if having mandatory courses is necessarily the right way to do that,” said Sapollnik. “I think some better ways to do that is to incorporate issues of equity into existing courses, whether they’re mandatory or not, and also having programs through the AMS and other university functions.”

Candidate Gurvir Sangha proposed a possible equity-centred course to be offered on Connect that students must complete before being allowed further access to the website. Sangha also raised the point of potential financial downsides of a mandatory term-long course.

“I don’t know about a course in it of itself because students would have to pay for that and they might be stretched thin if they’re already financially tight,” said Sangha.

As Bailey furthered Sangha’s proposal of online modules on Connect, he also discussed the need for mental health and support resources in course curriculums.

“I think support resources for students who are marginalized during their time here should be made mandatory on course syllabi, so individuals know within academic settings how to reach out to those resources if they need to,” said Bailey.

Zhao showed his support for the possibility of mandatory courses on equity and challenged the implementation of online modules.

“I think that an effort to introduce a course like this would be incredibly important, [but] I would actually speak against having online modules for this,” replied Zhao. “I think they’re too easy to blow off and they don’t have proper engagement.”

An audience member later asked the candidates how they would incorporate equity into courses that don't traditionally focus on it, such as science and engineering.

Bailey, Dovgal and Sangha reiterated their support for online orientation modules.

Like Sapollnik, who brought up the idea of using Imagine Day and other first day ceremonies to raise awareness on equity, Omassi put forward her vision of ensuring that student leaders are put through equity training.

"The main issue is that this problem of equity can be much better solved outside the classroom, and once it’s solved outside the classroom, that can translate inside," said Omassi. "If you look at orientations, the steps that we’ve taken in the past year has been phenomenal, but much more has to be done."

Hatai expressed her doubts about the incorporations of equity into online modules and Imagine Day orientations, saying that this step would not be enough. Vu also pushed for a bigger focus on equity both inside and outside the classroom.

“What I actually propose is that it becomes a central theme in the university,” said Vu. “For example, land acknowledgement. Those little things like that that really puts a conversation forth on equity that makes it an overarching theme.”

Candidate Hannah Xiao was absent at The Great Debate. Voting for the AMS Elections will be open until this Friday, March 13.