Senate candidates find consensus on academic policy, engagement strategies at first debate

Last night’s senator-at-large candidate debate saw agreement among most candidates on academic policy and student engagement, with a few discussions targeting existing senators.

The forum consisted of candidates from a diverse range of background experiences in policy-making, governing roles and executive positions. Five out of the eight candidates will be elected as student senators-at-large to the UBC Vancouver Senate.

Senators found agreement on the necessity of increasing transparency and student outreach.

Most candidates proposed different approaches, such as speaking to students one-on-one, implementing a summary of student government on academic syllabi, creating personal websites outlining advocacies and policies and engaging with students using social media.

Candidates Eshana Bhangu and Romina Hajizadeh emphasized the importance of student senators attending and contributing to the committees they’re on in order to accomplish the needed change at UBC, rather than simply focusing on engagement.

“It's really important that we remember that the primary role of student senators is to fight in the spaces where we are outnumbered," Bhangu said. “Outreach [and] engagement [are] very important. But it's also really important that students are showing up to committees and doing their job that they've been elected to do.”

Anisha Sandhu suggested that student senators should connect with constituencies who don’t have representatives, such as the kinesiology department, to ensure they’re representing their views as well. Kinesiology students are actually represented through the education faculty student senator.

In order to increase transparency within the student body, incumbents recently created a website that is intended to act as a resource hub to consult student senators, look up important policies and promote involvement within the Senate. Sandhu said she took a leading role on the development of this website.

During the open debate, Kamil Kanji asked about the delay in creating that website for students, despite prior advocacies for transparency. Sandhu said it was delayed because she wanted it to be a collaborative effort.

“At the end of the day, the website was created. This could have been done years ago… but now it has happened,” she responded.

On the topic of the Senate triennial review — a review that happens every three years outlining the practices and future policy recommendations in the Senate — Dana Turdy and Dante Agosti-Moro spoke of the need to see through changes to appeals processes, while Georgia Yee advocated for the prioritization of the Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP) and equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives within the Senate.

Kaufman was the only candidate who stated he was unfamiliar with the document.

In light of the discovery of unmarked graves in residential schools and the proposed revocation of Bishop O’Grady’s honorary degree, the candidates shared similar thoughts about creating a permanent standing committee to review and audit the processes of rewarding honorary degrees. Candidates also expressed the need to look into other controversial recipients.

While Agosti-Moro said he would have liked the review process of O’Grady’s degree in particular to move faster, he said that the Senate has lacked staff and funding, contributing to delays.

Bhangu added that the reason why O’Grady’s review was taking a long time was because the process involves consulting Indigenous leaders at UBC, including the chancellor, and that it is important to have Indigenous voices at the forefront of the conclusion to the review.

Sparks flew during a fairly brief exchange on the rapid testing program for unvaccinated, partially vaccinated and undeclared individuals on campus — a program that has now been canceled. Kaufman referenced Bhangu and Cole Evans’ open letter to UBC enforcing stronger COVID-19 mandates on campus, saying that they were “advocating for limiting campus resources to students who have made private medical choices.”

Bhangu backed her advocacy, saying that her letter was about giving students a choice to declare their vaccination status or go to a rapid testing site biweekly.

“Phrases like ‘It’s time to live with the virus’ is something that we’ve been hearing lately… [and] I have received those emails from students saying that their mom has cancer and that they live with these vulnerable family members. They literally cannot live with the virus,” said Bhangu, “I stand by my advocacy to protect students.”

Correction: This article has been updated to correct that Kin students do have a representative on the Senate.

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