The Daily Californian sat down with ASUC President Pavan Upadhyayula to talk about his goals for the year, thoughts on student body activism, and more.
What are your goals for the year?
Our overarching goal is to work together as an ASUC: the executive team, the senate, working for a couple of common issues that we’ve identified. We and I believe that the public character of the university is instrumental to a lot of the questions that we’re facing. Under this idea of building a community, I think there are a couple of key issues that need to be addressed on campus: the issues of sexual assault, mental health and wellness and safety. I think these three issues all together are very important for us to elevate the public character, to really come back to our roots and understand that we’re part of a community at Cal. In short, the goal is rebranding, focusing on the elevating the public character, but specifically through key issues. That being said, my office is going to be very active in programming this year. We’re going to be holding a lot of events, jointly with faculty, students, with different communities — the goal is to really show the student body what the ASUC does.
Do you think that’s been a problem in the past — the student body not knowing what the ASUC does?
I think so. I think the fact that when it comes election time, you see a lot of elected officials, and then the rest of the year they disappear, that’s a big problem. And I know the EVP office, Justin, as well as the marketing (and) communications director, have been working a lot this year on the ASUC tabling program. I know my office is doing a lot of marketing related to that, too. It shouldn’t be only during campaigning that you meet elected officials.
What does the ASUC do well? What could it do better?
I think the ASUC is really good at working with administration. I know that administration, Chancellor Dirks, others on campus, have expressed interest in having a shared form of governance — that they’re willing to give us a seat at the table. That being said, I think that we don’t market what we do well. There’s so many things that the previous president did that even as a senator I had no idea, and I have so much respect for the work that she did in office. The breadth of what you do is just so much that it’s very difficult to convey to the public. This year, we really need to focus on marketing and telling the students how we serve them in all the different ways that we do. Because there are events, there are policy proposals, there’s working with student groups, there’s funding student groups, there’s figuring out Lower Sproul, there’s an infinite number of things, and it’s just like, how you do create a digestible form of information for students? Being a constant presence, always having that dialogue with students, so it’s not like they only see us when controversial things happen or it’s elections. They should really be seeing the full scope of what’s happening. And then, it will become more a part of student life.
What advice do you have to incoming or returning students?
I want to say there’s two things. First, it’s challenge yourself every semester. Set a goal — and it can be anything. It could be something academic, it could be joining a club, it could be getting a leadership position in the club, but set a goal for every semester, because then at the end of your eight semesters, you’ll have eight things that you’ve accomplished and that you know you have done. And that’s something that really helped keep me focused.
Another thing is don’t pigeonhole yourself into tracks just because that’s the way people tell you you need to go. You may think that you’re premed or prelaw, which means you have to do research, you have to volunteer, you can’t explore. And (the) undergraduate experience is all about exploring — it’s all about the relationships, it’s all about the academics, but it’s really ensuring you get the whole picture rather than limiting yourself too soon. And if you’re an incoming student, whether you’re a junior transfer, or freshmen, or a returning student, it’s never too late to use Berkeley to explore.
How do you think activism on campus has changed since the FSM?
I think there’s a latent potential for student activism on campus. That being said, differences in demographics, (an) increasing number of international students, different priorities being put by the administration on who should and should not be attending the university, have worked either advertently or inadvertently to dampen some student activism on campus. That being said, there are a lot of amazing student activists who are engaged on very critical issues. I think what’s important is to be cognizant of the rhetoric around the administration and how the administration interacted with the original free speech movement — how student activism was portrayed in 1960s versus now. As ASUC president, I’m learning that it’s difficult to navigate the administrative structures, inevitably. And at times, we’ll have to be activists, at times we’ll be able to engage in shared governance, and I think as we move throughout the year, I think we’ll be able to see how elements of the FSM live on, not only in the ASUC but within the student body in general and how that’s going to play out on different battlegrounds, on issues of wellness, mental health, sexual assault, and safety, and campus climate, and the price tag of the university and tuition increasing.
Would you say that student politics have become too partisan?
I know that this year we’re working together. Me and Justin, EVP, have been collaborating a lot working on setting the agendas for the year, figuring out how we want to work with the senators. I’ve been meeting a lot with the senators and figuring out how we can work together, how we can elevate their conversations, their platforms, how we can really make the ASUC what it always was. While I do think the parties have a very important place, I think they both stand for very different things, and they’re both equally important and they both provide spaces for students, but I also think once we come into these roles as ASUC president, I have a responsibility to the ASUC as a whole as well as to my party, and I think when working and talking with other executives and other senators, everyone understands that. So, we’re willing to work together, set boundaries, understand each others perspectives and experiences and how that informs our politics.
Do you think students have become apathetic when it comes to student politics?
In some ways yes, in some ways no. There’s always the issues that will bring students to the table and there’s always students who are concerned about certain things. I think by focusing the discussion on issues that are very prevalent, we can help bring more students to the table. Are students apathetic? I don’t know. I’ve had an amazing reception from the new freshmen this year; students from all walks of life want to come be part of the ASUC, really get involved, and I think people are seeing that the ASUC has an impact. If people are feeling that way, I think this year we’re going to show them what we’re capable of, with all of our events, all of our programs, the changes that we’re going to make administratively. People will see what the ASUC is. Maybe there will inevitably be some apathy, but at the end of the day, we’re going to ensure that students understand what the ASUC does, and once they see that, people will automatically start to respect the organization and understand.
Can you go over again how you’re going to get people to understand what the ASUC does?
I’ve met with the executive board, I’ve met with all the senators, we’re talking about how we’re moving forward, how we’re branding the ASUC. The biggest thing is we’re unified as the ASUC. We will have differences, we will have important discussion about campus and about politics in general, but more than anything, we’re going to be working together to elevate certain topics, to ensure that the public character of our university is maintained — and that happens on a lot of fronts. That happens with us being out there on Sproul, campaigning always to students. That happens with having a mobile application, with having a lot of events, with always being present for the students, but it also happens behind the scenes. Working with administration, opening the new building, creating spaces for students to be able to use, fighting for the rights of students on campus — so all of this is going to be happening, we’re just going to showcase it more.
Mitchell Handler is a senior staff writer. Contact him at [email protected].