UC Berkeley junior Sophie Bandarkar announces candidacy for student advocate in ASUC elections

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Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

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UC Berkeley junior Sophie Bandarkar announced Sunday that she is running independently for the position of student advocate in the upcoming ASUC elections.

Bandarkar is running on a platform focused on ensuring holistic wellness and basic needs security, promoting equity in students’ academic experience and addressing campus sexual violence and harassment — echoing the focus of past student advocates as well as current Student Advocate Jillian Free.

Following the tradition of independent student advocate candidates, Bandarkar said she will make the casework of the Student Advocate’s Office, or SAO, more accessible to students and maintain the student advocate’s nonpartisanship.

“We want to make sure that no student, depending on their background and political beliefs, feels uncomfortable coming to our office for casework services,” Bandarkar said.

The student advocate’s role is designed to protect student rights by developing initiatives and projects. The position also requires representing student groups in cases of conduct violations or financial aid problems that arise against the campus.

“The role of the student advocate stands apart from the role of other elected officials in that the person who comes into the role is stepping into a precedent of these very long institutional relationships,” Bandarkar said.

Bandarkar has worked in the SAO since her freshman year, serving as a caseworker in the conduct division for four semesters. This academic year, she is the external chief of staff for the SAO. She also serves as the sole undergraduate UC Berkeley representative on the Title IX student advisory board to the UC Office of the President.

“She’s never just a figure with a title that steps in; she brings her own life into it,” said Josephine Chiang, Bandarkar’s campaign manager.

Because of UC Berkeley’s increased enrollment in the past decade, campus academic resources are strained, according to Bandarkar. To address this, she wants to advocate for policies promoting student retention and access to academic spaces. Bandarkar added that she hopes to continue to accommodate the increasing number of students in the Disabled Students’ Program in order to ensure “nobody is falling through the cracks.”

Despite her past efforts with the office to increase student basic needs resources, Bandarkar said the SAO is waiting for the campus to give long-term monetary commitments to programs that are currently funded by student fees. She added that the SAO needs to prove the necessity of programs, such as the SAO-piloted emergency housing program, in order to convince campus administrators to institutionalize funding.

Bandarkar’s outreach coordinator, Nava Bearson, called Bandarkar an action-oriented and creative problem solver.

“Her passion and insight to the student experience and her ability to listen to people and validate people’s experiences … is going to be an asset for her in this position,” Bearson said.

Voting for the ASUC elections will be held April 9, 10 and 11.

Hannah Piette is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Hannah_PietteDC.