Isabella Bravo, a third-year management student, is the current Student Representative to the Board of Governors of the University of British Columbia. The Board of Governors is the highest governing body at the university. The board consists of 21 members, of which three are elected student representatives — two are from the Vancouver campus and one is from the Okanagan campus. These students serve as a voice of the student population in important discussions like project approvals, housing, and fee increases. As her term approaches the end, Bravo spoke about the functioning of the board and student issues like award funding, divestment, and parking, and encouraged students to vote in the upcoming elections.

Siya Gupta: What motivated you to pursue the position, and what specific goals did you aim to achieve during your term?

Isabella Bravo: I knew that I wanted to get into a position of governance on campus, and there were a lot of ways to do it. When I saw the opportunity for the Board of Governers, I did my research. I knew about the Board of Governors, but I didn't know exactly what this position entailed. I knew that I wanted to support students’ interests. Also, I wanted to advocate for transparency. If anyone ever asked me, I could give them a solid answer of . . . the work that's being done. I knew that I wanted to highlight those key issues. 

Some of the questions I asked myself were: is there a way we can reject tuition increase[s], or at least have a sustainable plan for a multiyear framework so that students know what they're getting into in their four-year or five-year undergrad? Food affordability is a big one because this year, especially with inflation, students are facing it more than ever. I volunteer at the Central Okanagan Food Bank, and I know a lot of students are coming in — and more members of the community — and I know that it's affecting the campus as well. So having more increased support on that is very important to me. And just overall more support for international students too.

SG: How have you effectively advocated for the student interests and concerns within the Board of Governors meetings and discussions?

IB: In advocating for student concerns, a big part is just talking to students. I try my best to engage whenever I hear students talking about any changes that they think should be done, and I try to bring it into discussion in those board meetings. A strategic approach, doing my research, and having data-driven arguments on the board are important because when you get on this board, it's not just, ‘Hey, we need more restaurants on campus.’ It's not just saying things like this. It's supporting it with evidence saying why we believe that there is this need.

It's important to have these data-driven arguments and then leverage the relationships that we've been able to make with members of the board. We have a lot of meetings with the admin and the executive committee. Being able to not only have those discussions on the board but talking about them afterward with [the Vice-President,] Students, Dr. [Ainsley] Carry, has been very important.

SG: Can you highlight any notable achievements that you consider as milestones during your tenure?

IB: I'd say our advocating for funding for student-led initiatives, such as the SUO’s $5 Smart Meals, because it's been such a good student-led initiative that I feel the university can try to get involved in. So, expansion of food options for this campus, and extended support for the funding of the new recreational facilities, so that students don't have to fund that as much from their own pockets. Recommendations on UBC's accessibility priorities. StEAR, which is [the] Strategic Equity and Anti-Racism Framework, was implemented, I believe, last year. 

So just making more recommendations on those, consistently working on those frameworks, influencing policy changes to support student groups, and also advocating for more international student bursaries and rewards. Mostly just the accessibility of these awards as well because there are a lot of awards that also get unused, and a lot of that has to do with not meeting eligibility. Why not expand the accessibility for students to be able to get those awards? Because you want students to get all the awards possible.

We also had an increase of $6 million in the budget for the student awards approved this year. So currently we are at $126 million, which is a win. Also, taking into consideration reports from the Student Affordability Task Force — which is a group doing major work to tackle these issues — is an important thing we have going on. Successfully advocating for the implementation of the Housing Action Plan and the Campus Vision 2050, which are plans that help address the shortage of affordable student housing on campus and enhance the overall campus experience. [These reports]  also consider transportation, and they're both just plans that are for both campuses. . . . [Also,] there's gonna be more expansions on this campus coming soon . . . for housing, and we're trying to advocate for below-market housing prices for that. 

This year, as you know, a tuition increase was accepted. Two student governors and I played a big role in almost getting that vote rejected by the board because we were only a few votes away. I think that a lot of this had to do with us advocating for the financial well-being of students. As I said, having those conversations outside of the board was very important, and we almost got that approval. But, of course, it still had to fall through by just a few votes, but I feel like we can definitely get it this year. And that's important, just having those connections to at least allow something like this. 

But regardless, the board is already in plans to implement that multi-year framework if it were to get increased again next year — and continue funding of the x̌əl sic snpax̌nwixʷtn (the Innovation Building) and the downtown expansion as well, which are both going to give more studies study spaces on campus, and classrooms as well as labs. Those are things that have been approved, and I feel like we had a big role to play in those.

SG: The “divestment movement” has been huge, with multiple students writing letters to the Board of Governors. Because you sit on the international student committee, can you tell us if the issue has been brought up, and what has been the discussion around it?

IB: The board is definitely aware of the sociopolitical situations going on in the world, and how that could also affect our university. We are aware of the correspondence that's coming to the board. We do get to read those on the board, so it's not like they're not being unheard. It's a very tricky situation because as much as I don't want to say that there are two sides, there are two sides, unfortunately. And for the university to take a concrete position in that is very hard. 

It's difficult because I believe that this is not a war; this is a genocide that's going on, and most students believe that as well. But the university also has a duty of staying neutral in the sense that there are donors that have, I guess, specific positions with that. Divestment is something that even we, as student governors, want. But it's hard to say how feasible it is considering the position that donors play for the university in our rewards and everything and how those divestments would be at a greater scale. It's very hard to make that big of a jump during this year more than anything. So it's not like they’re not being heard [...]. And maybe it's something that we can continue having in discussions. If I'm asked this question, I always say, ‘Don't stop writing to the board.’ That might be controversial to say, but, genuinely, I feel like it is important because you are putting more pressure on the board.

And even in my position, even as just a singular governor position, you can only do so much. Certain things are just a bit hard, and are a bit out of our control specifically. 

SG: Parking fees have been another huge issue for students. What is the board’s consensus on that? Are there steps being taken to tackle the problem?

IB: I completely understand, and I relate to that issue. Like, I have a car. There's not enough parking on campus. The fees are too high. And we're having discussions on that. And it's very 50/50 still because a lot of people on the board also believe that allowing more parking spaces or even reducing those fees is kind of incentivizing driving. And for them, it's like, carbon emissions, and we want to stay away from that.

I'd understand the perspective on the Vancouver campus. Still, I've argued that the Okanagan campus is a bit of a trickier situation in terms of public transportation. It can be very limited, depending on if you live in further parts of Kelowna. Some bus lines don't even reach [further locations]. And they've considered that. We can see more parking soon. There are things in the works. So, just keep pressing on more parking. I don't know about reduced fees, but more parking, definitely.

SG: What advice would you offer to current and future students who aspire to advocate for student interests and engage in government roles within the university?

IB: I think it's super important to get into positions like this. I encourage anyone, if they feel strongly about issues like this, to get involved as much as they can.

I think that starts with the smaller steps, like who you elect to be on your SUO boards and even this position. Just doing that research yourself, seeing what these people mean, and not just voting for your friends but seeing their platforms is super important. That's already you taking a role in governance. Because those people become your student leaders, and they're the ones that are going to have to speak to administration, to the board, and have these conversations, so you want to make sure that they're individuals who have done their research and know what they're doing, and they're advocating best.

And also a big tip would be that the research part is important. If you are running for any position, I think that a lot of students can sometimes feel a little clouded in judgment and think, ‘Hey, UBC is not doing enough, our tuition is increasing every year, there are other problems on campus, and I feel like they just don't care, there are not enough minors in my program.’

But have you read into why? It's not like, as a university, we want to make students feel like they're unheard. Of course, we care; as a public university, that should be our duty as well. UBC, in terms of tuition, is actually the most affordable of the top ten universities in Canada. Why do we have to do those increases? A lot of it has to do with how the budget sits. Running on close deficit, inflation, and raising the salaries for staff and faculty are important aspects to consider.

In general, other things are being implemented as well. You should read about that. The board always has their meetings available online via Zoom. People could listen to what's being discussed. Things are being done, some of it is just not known by students, not read about. So I recommend that for anyone going into a governance position. As for the students, elections are . . . on the 15 to 22 [of April] for Board of Governors representatives. There are so many people participating. Please read their platforms and vote for the best candidate!