Same position, different objectives: Student advocate candidates share their vision for the position

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Sophie Bandarkar and Casey Leeds are both running for student advocate in the spring ASUC elections to be the conduit between students and campus-related disputes — but they vary on the issues they prioritize.

Bandarkar, a campus junior majoring in political economy and public policy, has worked with the Student Advocate’s Office, or SAO, since the fall semester of her freshman year — with four semesters as a conduct case worker and two as the external chief of staff. Her platform is threefold: focus on casework services to ensure quality and consistency; nonpartisanship to prevent alienating students from various backgrounds and political beliefs; and policy initiatives.

The policy initiatives Bandarkar said she plans to hone in on are basic needs security and holistic wellness; addressing sexual violence and harassment; and ensuring equity in the student experience.

Unlike Leeds, Bandarkar is running independently.

While the student advocate position is traditionally nonpartisan, Leeds is running with the Defend Affirmative Action Party, or DAAP, which demands that President Donald Trump be removed from office, defends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and advocates for UC Berkeley to be a sanctuary campus in practice.

Leeds, who majors in English, said her platform focuses on protecting survivors of male-perpetrated violence and sexual assault, protecting protesters from academic sanctions or penalties, addressing demographic disproportionalities within the student body and making UC Berkeley a sanctuary campus, as is consistent with DAAP’s goals,.

Leeds added that her opponent’s platforms, while well-intended, are not enough.

“The difference though is that there’s no material proposal to affect meaningful change,” Leeds said. “There’s no explicit statement that, as a university, we are going to fight to defend DACA, to defend the immigrant community.”

Leeds added that DAAP is the only party explicitly defending immigrants, fighting Trump and “making a movement.”

“The role is traditionally nonpartisan, which I believe is very critical to be able to effectively fulfill the position’s needs,” said current Student Advocate Jillian Free. “I believe that if the elected student advocate is partisan, that students would potentially be deterred from accessing these resources due to the threat of bias and impartiality.”

The student advocate position is charged with representing student needs to administrators, the public and campus at large, according to Free. The SAO is also responsible for running free and confidential casework for students, such as academic disputes, grievances and financial aid changes.

Josephine Chiang, a campus junior serving as one of Bandarkar’s campaign managers and double-majoring in rhetoric and media studies, said Bandarkar — as someone who has worked in the SAO for three years — can bring experience and knowledge to the position.

“The student advocate bridges the connection between students involved in casework services and policy proposals,” said fellow campaign manager Mateo Montoya, a campus sophomore and rhetoric major. “I think Sophie’s the perfect candidate for it.”

According to Stephanie Gutierrez, a campus freshman who is running for both ASUC president and senate, Leeds is well-equipped with different leadership qualities, having organized various different protests before. Gutierrez added that Leeds is an antithesis to the ASUC, which is “very bureaucratic” and doesn’t want to “stir the pot.”

“Casey is not for that at all — all she wants to do is conduct real change for the people that matter,” Gutierrez said.

Leeds said the reason she thinks the SAO is so important is because it is all about advocacy. She added that she cares a lot about students and that, as president of her co-op, she helps people maneuver difficult situations when they feel depressed or alienated.

“We need somebody who is informed with a radical politic and intends on bringing in the support of a developing movement,” Leeds said. “We can’t be advocating for someone else if we’re not representing the collective interest of not just our campus but our entire community.”

Contact Alyssa Bernardino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.