Monday, January 29, 2007

Issue of the Day: First-Year Students

The AMS has done a terrific job in addressing issues of systemic barriers to access. (Note: by "access" I refer to the general ability to participate in the AMS, both in terms of services and in government.) See the gender-neutral washroom, its bursary fund, cab fares after midnight, and childcare for examples.

But take a quick glance at the demographics of AMS Council and, by extension, AMS executives. I note two glaring deficiencies. The first is an absence of first-year students, the second is the absence of non-native English speakers. Herewith begins my two-part series on AMS Access - First Year Students.

There are two ways to get involved directly with the AMS. The first is to sit on Council, the second is to win a campus-wide election. It's very very difficult for a first-year student (FYS) to achieve either. Since the undergraduate societies hold their elections in the spring, for a FYS to be on Council there pretty much has to be a vacancy at some point during the year, and some way to win the ensuing election. It's very difficult.

Some would argue that undergraduate societies (and their respective first-year committees) serve the purpose of engaging first-year students. That certainly may be true. But the situation begs for more first-year involvement, and we're doing them no favors by ghettoizing them in their faculty committees. The other argument is that FYS may not have enough of a grasp on campus issues, and need to learn a little before taking an active role. Again, that may be true. But consider the flip-side; by the time people get on AMS Council they are comfortably ensconced in the University, they have a place. They've forgotten what it's like to be a first-year, and the gut, visceral feelings it could inspire. And that's a valuable perspective we'd do well not to exclude.

(I should also note that the elections results will be held in the Gallery. I certainly hope that there is some arrangement whereby the underage candidates can participate in the Elections merriment, too.)

What solutions have been tried? We've attempted a first-year society in two successive years, each of which suffered from a lack of buy-in from various parties. Or maybe it was a doomed idea to begin with. The AMS used to have a frosh rep on Council; the position was once held by A. Kim Campbell, who would go on to become Prime Minister. Ought there to be some direct way to engage first-year students with the AMS? Or is the status quo sufficient?

The Candidates:
No candidates explicitly refer to first-year students in their platforms.
Alfie Lee (Senate) and Hillson Tse (BoG/Senate) are the only first-year students currently running for election. Jaspreet Khangura is in first-year Med, but that So doesn't count.
Jerry Fan Fan ran for President, BoG, and Senate as a first-year student.