CalSERVE presidential hopeful Naweed Mohabbat aims to make every student feel supported

A closer look

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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Editor’s note: This is one installment in a five-part series on this year’s candidates for ASUC president. Read about the other candidates here.

If the chaotic combination of strikers, musicians, preachers and ASUC campaigners on Upper Sproul Plaza on Thursday afternoon were a hurricane, Naweed Mohabbat would have been its eye.

Mohabbat, an ASUC presidential hopeful from CalSERVE, strolled with students from Sather Gate to their classes, pausing to walk over to his party’s tent, while some other ASUC candidates ping-ponged between Sather Gate and Sproul Hall, picking up students and pitching their platforms in just a few minutes.

UC Berkeley senior Becca Friedland, whom Mohabbat walked from Sather Gate to the west side of campus, noticed he seemed “less urgent” than other campaigners. During their walk, Mohabbat talked to her about his platforms of addressing mental health, the new student experience and administrative accountability and accessibility.

• Ensuring administrative accountability
and transparency
• Revitalizing the new student experience
• Championing a new vision for mental health

Mohabbat, however, hasn’t always felt like he had the voice to address these issues. In his third semester, he said he experienced the effects of extreme competition and a lack of institutional support on campus. He said he felt like “just an number,” like a “transaction,” and he decided to withdraw from classes midway through the semester.

“I needed to re-evaluate whether this was the right place for me, whether I did belong here,” he said.

Before the start of the next semester, Mohabbat thought deeply about why he had applied to UC Berkeley in the first place. He thought about how the admissions officer who had read his application must have seen something in him that resonated with the campus.

He concluded that UC Berkeley was the place for him and that he was going to come back “stronger than ever.”

Mohabbat’s semester of self-doubt is the root of the platform most important to him: reforming campus mental health services. If elected, Mohabbat intends to increase the number of free visits to and expand the hours of the Tang Center. Most of its offices are currently open until 5 p.m. on weekdays, and students are allowed five free counseling visits.

The specific reforms stem from personal experience.

“I was taking a midterm and having a lot of emotional and mental health issues that day. I just really needed to talk to someone,” he said. “I looked up the hours of the Tang Center — by the time my midterm got out at 5:30 p.m., it was already closed.”

Issues of mental health resonated with some of the students Mohabbat approached Thursday.

“Five free visits is a slap in the face when you understand how long-term these issues are,” said Alyssa Paradise, a UC Berkeley junior.

Growing up in San Marcos, Calif., Mohabbat first learned about issues of mental health from his mother, a special education teacher. In high school, he participated in the Best Buddies program, an organization that fosters friendships between volunteers and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“She taught me compassion, that everybody’s different, and that’s okay,” Mohabbat said of his mother.

He hopes to translate this into destigmatizing mental health through opening up a dialogue within the campus community and establishing a mental health task force.

Although he is running with CalSERVE, Mohabbat currently serves as an independent ASUC senator backed by the campus Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition.

Mohabbat, the coalition’s executive director, considers MEMSA his home and takes the role of representing it seriously. He is part of a line of MEMSA-backed senators, and his predecessor, UC Student Regent-designate Sadia Saifuddin, sits on the Board of Regents as a student representative and will have voting powers in the fall.

If elected, Mohabbat said he would be the first Afghan and first Muslim ASUC president, which would be “symbolic in a post-9/11 era.” Still, in his presidency, he wants to maintain his gaze cast on the entire student community, not just MEMSA.

“I was a senator for a community,” he said. “I want to do that for the entire school.”

From his time as a senator, Mohabbat is especially proud of a bill he authored creating an interfaith meditation space. As the chair of the senate’s finance committee, Mohabbat said his commitment to being an independent voice has proven particularly transformative in changing its culture.

“In the past, (the committee has) dropped the ball,” said Student Action Senator Sahil Pandya, who sits on the committee with Mohabbat. “Naweed’s done a good job.”

Mohabbat, a junior majoring in political economy with a minor in Middle Eastern studies, has been involved in the ASUC since his freshman year. He said working as multicultural liaison and executive communications director in the office of former Student Action president Connor Landgraf left him “disenchanted” with the Office of the President.

Landgraf said Mohabbat was “an important player” in his office but called the number of bills he has authored as senator “concerning in terms of a presidential run.”

Mohabbat said he has authored two bills — including one urging President Barack Obama to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center — and co-authored nine more. He said he is introducing two bills on massacres of Muslims this week.

Though he didn’t enter the senate with executive aspirations, Mohabbat said he was reinvigorated by how current ASUC President DeeJay Pepito, who ran with CalSERVE last year, has used her office to create institutional change. Pepito said Mohabbat has a “lovable, cool, calm and collected spirit” that will help him thrive if elected her successor.

“He will bring people together and make people believe in something again,” Pepito said. “The vision and goals that he has set forward take the student voice to a different level.”

Contact Sahil Chinoy at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @sahilchinoy_dc.