AMS Elections candidates discuss mental health, consultation issues at Justice Forum

AMS resource groups hosted an AMS Elections forum last night, where candidates in seven different races answered questions and agreed on the importance of the issues discussed while slightly diverging in their approaches.

The forum focused on candidates’ plans to address various social justice issues like sexual violence on campus, climate change and the overdose crisis.

The event organizers decided to only have Dante Agosti-Moro and Romina Hajizadeh speak during the Senate portion, due to all of the other candidates running for other positions as well.

The presidential debate saw candidates agreeing on the importance of mental health and student wellbeing. Sitting VP External Saad Shoaib said he would continue his work lobbying the provincial and federal governments to provide more funding for mental health support on campus.

Tate Kaufman added that simplifying the reimbursement process would make mental health services more accessible for students.

Candidate Eshana Bhangu pointed at her work with the UBC Black Caucus to create a pilot mental wellness project and advocacy for more funding to have similar programs for other equity-deserving groups.

Bhangu added she would work to permanently increase the AMS/GSS mental health coverage from $1,000 to $1,250. The coverage is currently at $1,500 until August 2022, at which point the AMS will evaluate the temporary rise’s impact on its ability to provide students with the best coverage possible while maintaining its affordability.

Sydney Harakal said they agreed with Bhangu on increasing coverage and said having a low-barrier on-campus mental health support would help students. Remy the Rat, a joke candidate represented by Esme Decker, said he would promote resources and clubs that focus on mental health.

The only candidate absent from the forum was joke candidate The Pan.

Senate candidates.
Senate candidates. Isabella Falsetti
Board of Governors candidates.
Board of Governors candidates. Elif Kayali

During the VP finance debate, candidates Rita Jin and Angad Singh Gill both said they supported this year’s referendum questions. Candidate Noah Jassmann wasn’t present at the debate.

On expanding the AMS/GSS health and dental coverage to include gender-affirming care, Gill said he wants the plan to be more flexible and that he would talk to resource groups to learn more about students’ needs. Jin said she would consult with gender-diverse and trans students to learn about the services they would like.

“I think gender-affirming care is really important … It’s important to have these conversations with students with consistency and with regularity,” said Jin.

When asked about addressing sexual violence on campus, Jin said she would work to reallocate the budget to better support the Sexual Assault Support Centre, if the referendum on increasing its fees fails. Gill repeated his support for the fee increase and said he would work on outreach to educate the student body, but didn’t say on what.

On lobbying the provincial and federal governments to decrease police funding, VP external candidates Erin Co and James Cabagnon both underlined the importance of consultation with marginalized groups. Candidate Sanchay Jain was not present.

Co said she would consult with marginalized communities to understand what kinds of “reparations” they would like to see and added she would advocate for decreased funding if that’s what the groups wanted. Cabagnon noted the diversity of ideas among marginalized students and said he wants to make sure students on campus feel safe.

“I want to ensure that when we're lobbying on specific things like this and when we’re lobbying to the provincial government that we’re considering all students within the province, not just the students at UBC,” said Cabagnon.

A question posed by the resource groups on how the candidates would “leverage [their] relationship with the government to advocate for Palestinians and an end to Israeli apartheid,” led Co and Cabagnon to slightly diverge on their approaches.

Cabagnon said it was a “divisive topic” and that he would work to “push for these issues” but didn’t specify the issues he was referring to. Co said her priority would be to protect students impacted by the conflict.

VP Finance canididates.
VP Finance canididates. Isabella Falsetti
VP Admin candidate.
VP Admin candidate. Elif Kayali

The VP academic and university affairs debate saw candidates Dana Turdy, Kamil Kanji and Anisha Sandhu agreeing on climate change advocacy. All three said they would work to end the AMS Nest’s relationship with RBC, which is the fifth largest funder of fossil fuels in the world — and the largest in Canada. Anushreya Arora did not attend the debate.

“One of the first things perhaps [we could do] might be writing a letter of consideration for RBC to change their ways and let them know that we're considering switching if not,“ said Sandhu.

The Pan’s human representative is Thomas McLeod, The Ubyssey’s Opinion & Blog Editor. He is not involved in this year’s election coverage.

Follow us at @UbysseyNews on Twitter and follow our election coverage starting February 28. This article is part of our 2022 AMS elections coverage.

This article has been updated. A previous version incorrectly said that the increased mental health coverage of $1,500 ended in April 2022. It ends in August.