By: The Cadre Editorial Board
This year’s Vice President Academic and External Emma Drake has had to carry the torch on several initiatives started by last year’s VPAX, Taya Nabuurs. While doing so, Drake has also created a name for herself as one of UPEI’s greatest advocates for students, which is percisely what the VPAX portfolio demands.
One of the initiatives Drake was left with at the beginning of her term was providing final recommendations to the university regarding the new sexual violence policy which was approved by UPEI’s Board of Governors in October. When Drake’s recommendations, which were based on student consultations held in October 2017, did not make it into the final draft of the policy,Â Drake spoke out against the university in several media outlets forÂ ignoring student recommendations and mishandling the situation.
Drake has not stood idly by after the policy was approved, either. The VPAX has been pivotal in the consultation process of Bill 41:Â Post-secondary Institutions Sexual Violence Policies Act, a policy that will mandate Island post-secondary universities to have appropriate policies in place to address sexual violence. The policy passed it’s second reading in the PEI Legislative Assembly last Thursday.
An unforeseen component of Drake’s mandate has included addressing the housing crisis in Charlottetown that has been affecting student lives. Drake conducted a survey over the summer that led to 41% of students saying their housing situation was affecting their academic ability. Drake took the survey results straight to the province when they came out with their provincial Housing Action Plan, advocating for students to have a voice on par with low-income groups such as seniors.
This led to Drake’s first advocacy win of the year, securing one of only ten seats on PEI’s Provincial Housing Council, which will play an integral role in executing the provincial Housing Action Plan. Securing this seat means Island students will have a voice at the table when it comes to creating student-dedicated affordable housing.
In October and early November, Drake ran the Get Out the Vote campaign, an initiative to encourage students to vote in the 2018 municipal election. The campaign led to 210 students pledging to vote over two days, compared to 300 pledges in the 2015 federal GOTV campaign. Considering voter turnout is approximately 20-30% lower in municipal elections than federal elections, these results can be deemed a success. The live mayoral debate which was hosted at UPEI in October was another success in the GOTV campaign, with no seat left empty.
On the academic advocacy front, Drake has been doing a lot of work to incorporate open-educational resources (OERs) into first-year courses, an initiative which can save students hundreds of thousands of dollars. Drake plans to go before the Department of Workforce and Advanced Learning later this year to advocate for an open textbook fund dedicated to UPEI that will incentivize professors to create OERs for their classrooms.
Going a step further, Drake has utilized the SU’s surplus to create an OER research position that will work to assist professors in creating an OER for their classroom. We’re impressed that Drake decided the SU should fund this position itself, and we’re hopeful it could save students thousands.
One of Drake’s campaign promises was to implement the STRIDE program at UPEI. The STRIDE program is an adopted program from the University of Alberta that aims to provide underrepresented students such as women and international students with the tools and skills they need to run in Student Union elections. Drake has spent the fall semester consulting with underrepresented students to learn why they may not run in SU elections, and has plans to hold a one-day bootcamp session in February ahead of the SU spring elections. While we won’t know how successful the program is until February, we’re pleased that Drake is trying to address underrepresentation at the SU, and we look forward to seeing how successful it is.
Drake has branded herself as an advocate for many different types of students found at UPEI, whether that be Saudi Arabian students who are forced to leave the country, students who feel underrepresented at their SU, or students who need to be protected by stronger sexual violence policies. Drake consistently delivers on her goals, all the while going above and beyond to make sure the SU acts as a voice for students. For this, we give Drake an A.
Photo: UPEI Gallery