Student Advocate’s Office report highlights past year’s accomplishments, future goals

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The Student Advocate’s Office released via its Facebook page its end-of-the-year report Tuesday, which features the past year’s casework, policies and programming, as well as highlights possible future trends in the role the office will play in representing and advising students.

The report reviewing the academic year — which ASUC bylaws require every official body to file — highlights the continued efforts of the office in tailoring its services to the needs of current students, particularly with issues regarding protest response, the Student Health Insurance Plan, sexual violence prevention and financial well-being.

To date, the Student Advocate’s Office has handled 167 cases this year. The office expects to see an additional 20 to 30 cases by the end of the semester because of possible incoming academic-related cases, including plagiarism, cheating and issues with professors and GSIs.

The report noted the office’s response to protests this year, which included distribution of safety kits, transportation for students arrested and detained during the December protests and creation of infographics on basic rights regarding police interactions. Student Advocate Rishi Ahuja said the office is continuing to look for more systematic ways of handling demonstrations and protests.

“More protests are going to happen,” Ahuja said, citing the Occupy Cal movement in 2011, tuition hike protests in November and, more recently, Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “We need to be ready to protect students and make sure students are safe in whatever capacity we can.”

The student advocate served as a student representative on the UC-wide task force on sexual violence prevention, and the office hosted external presentations to Greek and athletic communities on sexual violence policies.

In addition, the hiring of a new survivor advocate in November, better public understanding of consent and increased attention to cases of sexual violence through federal investigations has made reporting incidents a more viable option for survivors, Ahuja said.

Student advocate-elect Leah Romm, whose platform included sexual assault prevention and financial well-being assistance, said she hopes to make the office more present and proactive about issues before they negatively affect students, rather than reacting to cases when they are brought forth.

“Informing leaders to spread information available — if students need assistance with financial aid cases, emergency loan or resources such as (the) food pantry or specific centers (shaped by) their needs — is something we really need to focus on next year,” Romm said.

As the academic year comes to a close, Ahuja said he is indebted to the Student Advocate’s Office staff for the office’s accomplishments. He hopes the office will improve outreach and make connections with students who could benefit from the Student Advocate’s Office services, while sticking to the core principles of nonpartisanship. While nothing in the ASUC governing documents mandates the position be nonpartisan, all student advocates since 2004 have been independent.

“Providing quality casework services — that’s our bread and butter, and we’re always looking for ways to improve our services,” Ahuja said. “I know Leah and the crew is ready to do that, and hit the ground running.”

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ayoonhendricks.