ASUC executive candidates discuss goals at Daily Cal forum

Hayden Irwin/Staff

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Approximately 250 students and community members gathered for The Daily Californian’s annual ASUC Candidates Forum on Friday to listen to this year’s executive candidates discuss the goals they hope to accomplish if elected.

The candidates for ASUC president, executive vice president, external affairs president, academic affairs vice president and student advocate addressed a number of topics, including how best to approach sexual assault on campus as well as improve the student government’s structure.

Unlike previous years, only the presidential race in this year’s elections is contested by the two major student political parties, Student Action and CalSERVE, as Student Action has slated only one executive candidate.

A topic of contention among the presidential candidates was fostering a relationship with new UC President Janet Napolitano. The former secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano and her appointment drew concerns among many ASUC senators, executive officers and students due to her history of deportation while secretary.

CalSERVE presidential candidate Naweed Mohabbat said that he admired the way current ASUC President DeeJay Pepito worked with Napolitano and added that he would focus on keeping Napolitano, campus and UC administrators accountable.

In the same vein, Pavan Upadhyayula, the Student Action presidential candidate, said he would also work to keep Napolitano and administrators accountable by encouraging transparent — and perhaps televised — meetings with students and also expressed that the February meeting with Napolitano during her campus visit, which ended with a walkout by students after airing deep-seated concerns, was not handled in a way most beneficial to the student body.

BearFeed.org candidate Pierre Bourbonnais, who said he is currently running as a serious candidate though his campaign initially was satirical, said he intends to engage closely with Napolitano, mentioning the possibility of obtaining her personal cellphone number so he can speak with her every week.

Defend Affirmative Action Party presidential and senatorial candidate David Douglass, however, emphatically responded that he would refuse to work with Napolitano.

“It’s an insult that she would be appointed to represent the most important public university in the world,” Douglass said. “Any other party that says they’re going to work with Napolitano has sold out.”

Watch the full ASUC candidates forum below.

Independent presidential candidate Raman Veerappan was not present at the forum.

The presidential candidates also addressed the recent strike by the UC student workers union, United Auto Workers Local 2865, which protested alleged unfair intimidation practices by the university during negotiations for a new labor contract.

Mohabbat emphasized that the UC needs to listen to student workers’ concerns, adding that he is the only candidate endorsed by the union. Upadhyayula also expressed support for the strike and said he would push for online academic collaboration so the burdens do not fall on the graduate students themselves.

Douglass responded that the best solution to the issues would be to continue to strike and shut down the campus.

Bourbonnais said he was not familiar with the strike and instead discussed the need to improve the undergraduate college experience at UC Berkeley, proposing a winter formal with a cake that feeds 6,000 people.

“Berkeley students care about having a winter formal with a large cake,” Bourbonnais said. “I’m sorry I’m in a room full of ASUC insiders and fat cats.”

Executive vice presidential candidates addressed how they would approach facilitating the ASUC Senate meetings and cooperation.

CalSERVE candidate Justin Kong, who is currently a senator, said he would ensure senators learn about potential contentious issues at the annual leadership institute for elected officials during the summer.

“The senate this year was a partisan space because of the bills we passed unanimously as a class,” Kong said. “I want to attack issues of divisiveness on the senate floor by creating a chance for senators to learn about issues before stepping onto the floor.”

Jasmine Guillen, DAAP’s candidate, however, veered away from discussion to stress the importance of public education, arguing that the administration discourages students from speaking out. She proposed the implementation of an alternative student government to be a center of discussion.

At the forum, external affairs vice presidential candidates also discussed the push needed to ensure the creation of a student district, which would likely help a student be elected to Berkeley City Council.

Though she supported having a student on the City Council, Caitlin Quinn, CalSERVE external affairs vice presidential candidate, said the relationship with the community could be improved further, saying she will work to strengthen and repair ties with Berkeley City Council and the community.

Independent candidate Nicolas Jaber countered Quinn’s points by addressing the Berkeley Student District Campaign map the council approved in December — and which will be put before voters in the November elections — saying he will push students to accept the map that has already been passed.

DAAP candidate Gabriella Padilla did not comment on the student district map and stressed the importance of making student voices heard by UC and campus administrators.

“If we want a more direct or a faster way to obtain a decision we want, it takes your voice and your body to be there,” Padilla said. “If you want a decision to come from you, you need to take action.”

EAVP candidates were also asked how they would respond to potential UC tuition hikes. Quinn said she would focus on making the University of California Student Association a more proactive voice for students, while Jaber said he would draw from his experience lobbying for education policy to facilitate with a relationship with Napolitano. Padilla plans to focus on removing Napolitano from office.

DAAP academic affairs vice presidential candidate Alison McDonald discussed the importance of students being in control of their own education. If elected, McDonald said she would listen to student voices and give them more power in the ASUC by increasing the transparency of her office. CalSERVE candidate Jeanette Corona was not present at the forum.

Candidates for student advocate discussed the topic of how the office has handled sexual assault cases in the past and how it should move forward in the upcoming year.

Independent candidate Rishi Ahuja said the student advocate’s office was not active enough in dedicating work to sexual and intends to change this by drawing upon his experiences of working in the student advocate’s office.

DAAP candidate Sayedah Mosavi expressed that her own experience as a sexual assault survivor will allow her to move forward in improving the office’s approach to sexual assault policies by directly engaging with campus administration about the issue.

“We’re not going to be able to deal with this if we sit behind a desk and wait for people to come to us,” Mosavi said.

Before the candidates took the stage, a presentation was given on the technology fee referendum, the only referendum on the ballot in the upcoming elections.

The ASUC elections will take place April 8, 9 and 10.

Jane Nho is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @JaneNho.