As elections wrap up, current ASUC executive officers reflect on past year’s accomplishments

Tim Hyon/Staff

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As polling continues this week, candidates for the ASUC executive seats are tallying up last-minute votes, seeking to either distance themselves from or compare themselves to the individuals currently in the role.

Candidates for ASUC executive offices found that the current executives’ abilities to work with officials outside of the ASUC and across party lines within it were crucial to the effectiveness of the officials.

The makeup of this year’s ASUC executive officers consisted of three CalSERVE officers, one Student Action officer and one independent officer. It is the second year CalSERVE held the majority of executive offices, after several years of Student Action majority.

While the ASUC executives managed to tackle concrete goals, they found that many of the problems addressed in their initial platforms could not feasibly be solved in one year, but have hopes that next year’s executives will continue their efforts.

President

Though he ran on a platform of transparency, improving safety and making campus culture more collaborative, President Pavan Upadhyayula also worked to improve ASUC-campus relations and students’ mental health through “Express your Destress” events.

In the spirit of a previous ASUC-sponsored program, Upadhyayula organized a “Bears Building Bridges” program that brought traditionally opposed student communities together for dinner, such as humanities and science majors or athletes and nonathletes, in an attempt to break down social boundaries between them.

As part of the Wheeler Late Night Program, which was created by the Student Organization Services department under the executive vice president’s office in cooperation with ASUC Event Services, Upadhyayula helped execute the rental of rooms in Wheeler Hall from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. as study spaces to help improve student life, though he wished he could have opened up more campus locations.

Additionally, Upadhyayula’s technology team helped create the ASUC mobile app, which has an average of about 3,000 users, and synced it to Bear Walk and Bear Transit to help students more easily plan a safe trip home.

The work Upadhyayula is most proud of is the ASUC budget visualization model — soon to be disseminated via a campuswide email — that he helped create to improve transparency. Upadhyayula hopes the next ASUC president will find inspiration from his work when developing his or her models.

But for Upadhyayula, the ASUC president’s job “isn’t just about the tangible.” He believes the most important facet of a president’s role is the building of relationships with administrators.

Though all presidential candidates praised Upadhyayula for increasing the president’s presence in administrative meetings, CalSERVE candidate Yordanos Dejen and Defend Affirmative Action Party candidate Michael Cortez-Mejia wished Upadhyayula had challenged administrators more, while Student Action candidate Milad Razavi, independent candidate Pranay Chaurasia and independent candidate Nicolas Jaber wished he had actually taken steps toward more cooperation.

Executive vice president

Upon entering office, CalSERVE Executive Vice President Justin Kong hoped to ensure that the new Lower Sproul Plaza would maximize returns on students’ investment, utilize new technology to increase the transparency of the ASUC and streamline the space-reservation systems on campus.

Kong set up a donor network, through which he and the ASUC Student Union secured about 100 to 160 emails of past ASUC officials for potential funds through selling room-naming rights.

Additionally, Kong began a program to address the “complicated and slow” reimbursement process, where the ASUC could disperse credit cards to student groups approved for funding, with spending limits and restrictions on purchases.

To promote transparency, Kong installed glass bulletin boards in four main buildings, required senators to table on Sproul Plaza and livestreamed ASUC Senate meetings.

Additionally, Kong aided the Office of the Registrar in choosing a vendor for a new room reservation software, which he said will be available in fall 2016.

EVP candidates Lavanya Jawaharlal of CalSERVE and Paul Lee of Student Action both commended Kong for his work coordinating the space-reservation system in the new Lower Sproul Plaza.

While Jawaharlal considered Kong’s nonpartisanship largely effective, she was critical of his coordination of the Senate Leadership Institute at the beginning of the year, where she said he could have better encouraged senators to reach across party lines to fulfill the goals of their platforms. Similarly, Lee thought Kong could have worked more directly with senators off the senate floor to encourage collaboration.

External affairs vice president

During her term, CalSERVE External Affairs Vice President Caitlin Quinn focused on pushing sexual assault reform and politically engaging students through lobbying and voting.

According to Quinn, she registered 2,600 students to vote in the past year, bringing the total number she has registered to 11,100. Locally, Quinn said she increased student involvement in City Council meetings to address “big issues” such as police brutality.

Quinn, in collaboration with leaders at other UC campuses, mobilized students to formulate and disseminate a petition as part of the UConsent campaign, which asks UC President Janet Napolitano to systematically reform sexual assault policies universitywide.

Quinn also said that unlike the last three EAVPs, she brought non-UCSA students to participate in the association’s board meetings. Additionally, Quinn played a role in transporting students to the UC Board of Regents meeting in November to protest the potential tuition hikes.

“This is the most active I’ve seen students since my freshman year,” she said.

Both Student Action candidate Vinay Ramesh and CalSERVE candidate Marium Navid commended Quinn for her extensive lobbying work at multiple levels, including at the university and the state levels.

Navid lauded Quinn’s office’s efficient structure and her collaboration with other lobbying organizations, which she hopes will continue to expand next year. Ramesh said, however, that he wished Quinn had focused more of her efforts on local affairs to create “more tangible results.”

Academic affairs vice president

CalSERVE Academic Affairs Vice President Mon-Shane Chou entered office with platforms of increasing support for mental health, improving financial literacy among students and preparing students for life after graduation.

During her term, Chou planned two weeklong stress-reduction programs, developed a six-year-long plan with the UC Berkeley Food Security Committee and disseminated a survey to gauge students’ mental health.

To improve financial literacy, Chou participated in a student advisory council for the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office, where she worked on streamlining existing resources.

Currently, she is setting up a series of panels this month in which graduate students discuss pursuing a graduate degree with undergraduates. Despite this, Chou felt she could have paid more attention to preparing students for post-graduation.

Chou said many of the projects she has worked on will have to span longer than a single year to “develop fundamental change.”

CalSERVE candidate Melissa Hsu commended Chou’s grant publicity, which she believes has helped increase the number of students applying for AAVP grants. Hsu added, however, that the AAVP should try to strategize more with the president, as they both sit on administrative committees.

“In the end, it’s students versus administration, not political parties against each other,” Hsu said.

Student advocate

Rishi Ahuja ran as an independent candidate with a focus on improving policies, providing casework services and maintaining the nonpartisanship of the office.

Ahuja handled a total of 147 student cases, a number he said is typical for the office.

Ahuja also disseminated infographics on tuition hikes and protest rights. After the third night of protests against police brutality in December, when hundreds of student protesters stopped traffic on Interstate 80, Ahuja’s office transported resources to arrested students and shuttled many of them from Santa Rita Jail to campus.

Independent candidate Leah Romm wants to continue Ahuja’s work by improving specialized training for caseworkers, ensuring an equitable adjudication process and expanding the office’s sexual assault prevention program.

DAAP candidate Bianca Huntley-Ortega said Ahuja did “a great job in following administration policies,” but envisioned a distinctly new role for the office, arguing the office should instead hold independent investigations and enforce its decisions through the community.

With their terms ending, Ahuja and other executives hope their successors will expand and improve the long-term projects they initiated.

“It’s always tempered in the reality that there’s a lot more to do,” Ahuja said. “When you’re working on broad policy, you’re never done.”

Sonja Hutson covers student government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that the room-naming rights process will be open only to ASUC alumni. In fact, it will be open to everyone.

A previous version of this article also may have implied that ASUC President Pavan Upadhyayula and his office began the Wheeler Late Night Program. In fact, the program was created by the EVP Office, in cooperation with ASUC Event Services. Upadhyayula helped execute the rental of rooms.

Correction(s):
Due to misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article said that the Late Night Wheeler program’s hours are 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. In fact, they are from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.