UC Berkeley students and other community members packed into The Daily Californian’s annual ASUC Candidates Forum Friday to hear this year’s candidates for ASUC executive positions discuss their visions for the campus and student body in the upcoming academic year.
The candidates addressed a number of contentious topics, including the shrinking affordability of higher education and the need to increase diversity of the student body and find new ways to finance student groups and the student government as a whole.
One area of dissention among the presidential candidates was the validity of current ASUC President Connor Landgraf’s recent executive orders to place the Class Pass and Health and Wellness referendums on the ballot.
Without the passage of the Class Pass referendum, students will lose unlimited access to AC Transit buses and campus shuttles.
Student Action presidential candidate Rafi Lurie said that Landgraf’s executive order to place the Class Pass referendum on the ballot was warranted because of an administrative error made by the UC Office of the President.
“(Executive orders) should not be issued unless there is no other way to fix a problem,” Lurie said. He said that Landgraf — who is also a member of Student Action — issued the executive order because access to AC Transit buses is critical to student life on campus.
DeeJay Pepito, the CalSERVE candidate for president, responded in a pointed rebuttal, saying that Landgraf admitted during a senate meeting that he had gotten approval from UCOP weeks before and that the Class Pass delay was not due to UCOP but rather to an error in his office.
SQUELCH! presidential candidate Jason Bellet echoed Pepito, saying that executive orders should only be used in very limited special circumstances.
“I won’t be issuing (an executive order) without reaching out to the students that this will be affecting,” Bellet said. “Vetoes are an extreme situation — not something I take lightly. I would make sure we have student voice and input.”
Defend Affirmative Action Party presidential candidate David Ramirez Douglass said that he would use executive orders to disband UCPD because of alleged discrimination against students of color.
According to the ASUC Constitution, executive orders can only be issued for such actions “urgent and necessary to maintain the functioning of the ASUC until the Senate can again meet.”
The presidential candidates and many audience members visibly reacted when contenders were asked whether UC Berkeley has a campus climate problem. All candidates responded affirmatively that there is a problem with inclusion and equitability, although each described different visions for what should be done to alleviate tensions.
Pepito spoke strongly about the need to improve UC Berkeley’s social, cultural and academic environment, highlighting student safety, mental health and a lack of campus resources as key areas in need of improvement.
Pepito directly attacked Landgraf’s work toward improving the mental health of UC Berkeley students while in office, saying that while an event hosted last night by his office to bring awareness to mental health issues was laudable, it wasn’t enough to make a real impact on the campus community.
“Drawing attention (to mental health) is not the same as doing something about it,” Pepito said.
In a moment that received widespread snaps of approval from audience members, Bellet said that though he was “privileged” as a “white cisgendered male,” his time in the senate has educated him on the diverse cultures that have been affected by problems with campus climate.
“As president, I would look out for the interest of all students regardless of what party I’m part of and what groups I’m part of,” Bellet said. “My door is open.”
Bellet is running partly on a platform of increasing the engagement of the campus by organizing events to bring communities together around common passions.
Candidates further addressed the need to improve equitability and inclusion on campus when asked about the recent passage of SB 130, which states that the ASUC Senate has “no confidence” in the campus’s handling of sexual assault cases.
Pepito, who was an author of the bill, and Bellet, who voted in favor of it, both spoke passionately about the problem of sexual assault on the UC Berkeley campus and the need to reform the current campus policies toward such crimes.
Lurie, however, acknowledged that while he had voted against the bill, the reason for his vote was not that he does not think sexual assault is a problem but rather that he heard from sexual assault victims who said the bill did not adequately represent them.
“It should be something we’re engaging in every year on this campus, and we’re constantly doing everything we can to make sure sexual assault is not prevalent on this campus,” Lurie said.
Other issues facing candidates include the new executive vice president’s management of the Cal Lodge, a Lake Tahoe property owned by the ASUC that has been plagued with financial problems. Last year, the the lodge faced a $27,000 deficit due to these difficulties.
CalSERVE EVP candidate Nolan Pack cited his experience on the SURGE committee, which is overseeing the redevelopment of Lower Sproul, as well as his background in fundraising for students as reasons he would be most competent to manage the ASUC asset.
Pack said that he would look at all viable options but would renovate and restore the Cal Lodge so that it would stop operating at a deficit. Pack said that he would like to make the lodge viable for use in the summer as well.
Chen-Chen Huo, the Student Action EVP candidate, said he also plans to restore the Cal Lodge but would do so by temporarily closing and renovating it. After reopening the lodge, he said, he hopes that the property would be used by both UC Berkeley students and residents of the city of Berkeley.
Candidates for academic affairs vice president had a range of ideas on how to manage funding for student grants. Student Action AAVP candidate Ryan Kang said he wants to implement an entrepreneurial grant for students interested in opening their own businesses, and DAAP AAVP candidate Christina Hamilton said that grants were tangential to the real issue of tuition and fee hikes.
“We need to increase funding overall,” she said. “(We need to say), ‘Hey, public, we’re your people, fund us.’”
The candidates for external affairs vice president spoke to the need of gaining greater student representation on Berkeley City Council as well as increasing the student voice at the state and national level.
“What we need to do is register every single student on this campus who is eligible to vote,” said Student Action EAVP candidate Safeena Mecklai. “There are 37,000 of us, and D.C. will have no choice but to listen to us.”
The candidates also spoke about the importance of placing a student representative on Berkeley City Council to provide a voice for student interests citywide.
Spencer Pritchard, the EAVP candidate for CalSERVE, said he would like to place students on other councils in addition to the City Council — such as the rent board.
“(I want to) create a comprehensive plan to appoint students to commissions and address the concerns of students in this campus and city, such as the revitalization of Telegraph and promoting safety on Southside,” Pritchard said.
Pedro Hernandez, the DAAP EAVP candidate, raised issue with Berkeley lobbying Sacramento alone.
“We should be lobbying with community colleges and other schools,” Hernandez said. “(We should be) sending students to Sacramento to show that our education is the future and the key to a self-sustaining economy. We need to be the ones who are mobilizing.”
Other issues discussed at the forum included a referendum to encourage the university to divest from fossil fuels, a referendum asking students if they support overturning the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision and a referendum that would amend the ASUC Constitution.
Contact Ally Rondoni and Sara Grossman at [email protected].
“A previous version of this article stated that the ASUC SURGE committee is overseeing the redevelopment of Lower Sproul. In fact, this committee only met for one month and was used to help the office of the Executive Vice President understand groups who moved to Hearst Gymnasium and Hearst Field Annex during the Lower Sproul redevelopment process.”
A previous version of this article also misspelled ASUC president Connor Landgraf’s name.