Senate candidates talk policy, mental health and student debt at first debate

This year’s race for Senate kicked off with the Tuesday debate for the AMS elections.

Six of the 11 total candidates were able to participate in the debate and battled to stand out amongst a series of similar platforms.

“Now, you’re going to hear a lot of similar ideas with the Senate, so I’m going to speak about what makes me a little different,” said Aaron Bailey, a current student senator running for his second term.

As the only candidate on the first debate panel running for re-election, Bailey emphasized his goals to derive more continuity and action-oriented progress in the student council, hoping to move the Senate’s slow pace in the direction of realistic and student-driven change.

Viet Vu, running for his first term on Senate, further advocated for a more action pushed forward through Senate, such as President Gupta’s “data-driven” direction being challenged with a more “story-driven” vision from students.

Vu is also the only candidate hoping to create a stronger connection between technology and teaching in the university.

When asked about candidates’ main campaign platforms, there was a running theme of mental health and wellbeing, as well as several objectives to reduce overall student stress.

“I want to see what UBC is lacking in [mental health and stress management] and bring that to the Senate,” said candidate Marjan Hatai.

Hatai promoted her intended areas of focus in co-curricular transcripts, a first semester academic break, and earlier final exam schedule release dates, but spoke in lesser detail as to her approach on how to do so.

Candidate Gurvir Sangha highlighted his heavy involvement in the UBC community throughout his academic career.

Regarding matters such as academic learning spaces, academic withdrawal and student focus groups, Sangha asked, “how can we make implementations that are student-centric and mindful of what students want?”

Both candidates Ian Sapollnik and Margareta Dovgal spoke about allowing for more access to academic grants and scholarships.

“There’s an increasing sentiment going on [that] universities are now less of universities and more businesses and I think that’s something the Senate can definitely tackle,” said Sapollnik.

Sapollnik also pushed for giving more academic control to students and creating more unity within Senate when it comes to disagreements, while Dovgal called for increased student representation on Senate and more transparency in course enrolment.

The debate concluded with a question from an audience member who wanted to know what the running candidates would do to advocate for graduate students at UBC.

Most candidates offered responses not too far from the same financial and academic learning policies they would promote for undergraduates, including grants, awards and scholarships.

However, Bailey and Dovgal also expressed goals to help not only resolve existing debt burdens for both graduates and undergraduates, but also to further investigate the policies on relationships between supervisors and students in the graduate schools.

“I’ve heard of this issue a few times,” said Dovgal. “It comes up in a lot of equity-related issues and I definitely think we need to explore this.”

Candidates Anne Kessler, Eric Zhao, Hannah Xiao, Jenna Omassi and Niloufar Keshmiri were absent from the debate. The Great Debate is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 10.