Student advocate candidates express opposing visions of role’s responsibilities

Related Posts

Candidates Bianca Huntley-Ortega and Leah Romm are vying for the 2015-16 ASUC student advocate position, each with opposing visions of what the role’s responsibilities should include.

Referred to as the campus’s public defender, the student advocate’s office’s primary goal is to represent students’ rights administratively and individually. While Romm hopes to continue and expand the current office’s work, Huntley-Ortega plans to introduce new means of advocacy.

Campus disputes are categorized into four main divisions: conduct, financial aid, academic issues and grievances. Traditionally, information garnered from individual casework informs the office’s administrative policy efforts and actions.

Romm, who is running as an independent candidate, currently serves as chief of staff in the student advocate’s office, whereas Huntley-Ortega represents the Defend Affirmative Action Party, or DAAP, and is also running for ASUC Senate. If elected to both offices, Huntley-Ortega plans to serve as student advocate.

“Becoming the typical advocate is not what I’m interested in,” Huntley-Ortega said.

Yvette Felarca, a UC Berkeley alumnus and former ASUC senator with DAAP, worked with Huntley-Ortega through BAMN, a national activist group. According to Felarca, Huntley-Ortega is “really courageous” and can be counted on to speak up for students.

One of Huntley-Ortega’s platforms includes an alliance between UC Berkeley and Oakland public high schools, which would guarantee admission to students graduating in the top 10 percent of their class. According to Felarca, this plan would increase enrollment of underrepresented minorities on campus.

Romm has served in the student advocate’s office for five semesters and currently holds the chief of staff position, which she said is a role designed to train the next student advocate.

Romm’s plans include teaming up with the Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence to make additional methods of receiving financial aid known. She would also educate students on their rights by disseminating information online and hosting workshops.

Since 2004, every student advocate has been nonpartisan, a tradition Romm hopes to uphold.

“The importance (of nonpartisanship) is for equitable service to all students without ties to any parties,” Romm said.

According to Rishi Ahuja, the current student advocate, it is imperative that the entire office is nonpartisan in order to ensure its credibility, as political agendas are off-putting to students looking for help.

Romm is “fully supported” by Ahuja, who said she is “the only candidate with experience.” Romm is also endorsed by Student Action, SQUELCH! and CalSERVE.

Although Huntley-Ortega unsuccessfully ran for ASUC Senate in the 2014-15 election, she said she feels qualified because she led direct action against the UC regents’ plan to cut funding to Lick Observatory, which she said resulted in reinstated funding for the research lab.

The 2015 ASUC general elections will be held April 7, 8 and 9.