The ASUC ABCs: a roadmap to Berkeley student government

Karen Lin/Staff

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We see it every spring — changed Facebook profile pictures and increased Lower Sproul Plaza activity — because everybody from your floormate to the Crossroads employee seems to be either running for office or campaigning for someone who is. But right after election results are posted, there’s a drop in awareness.

While the ASUC, UC Berkeley’s student government, appears on the average student’s radar for a few months every year, the organization — which prides itself in being “one of the largest and most autonomous student governments in the nation” — is actually charged with multiple responsibilities that affect student life. What actually happens between the annual campaign cycles, and who are the key players involved?

ASUC Senate

The ASUC Senate, the legislative branch of the student government, is made up of 20 students. In recent years, CalSERVE and Student Action have dominated both the ASUC executive and legislative branches as the main political parties. At its weekly Wednesday night meetings, the senate discusses and passes bills. For example, in spring 2015, the senate passed bills urging the University of California and the Berkeley campus to divest from the Republic of Turkey, encouraging food security on campus and condemning anti-Semitism. Aside from two independent senators, members of the 2015-16 senate class hail from the following parties.

CalSERVE (Cal Students for Equal Rights and a Valid Education)

This year, along with holding four executive seats, CalSERVE has the strongest senate representation of any party in office, holding a total of eight seats. With roots leading back to the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, CalSERVE has traditionally been known as a progressive, multicultural student coalition.

Student Action

Founded in the mid-1990s, Student Action has traditionally been known to represent the Greek, engineering and Jewish communities. The students holding the party’s seven seats this year represent a broader span of groups, including undocumented and international student communities.


A traditionally satirical third party, SQUELCH! has often spiced up the ASUC scene in recent years. In 2013, the party stopped running satirical candidates in an effort to focus more on its serious candidates. This spring, however, it ran a satirical and unsuccessful executive slate consisting of a mime, a king, an individual who resembled former chancellor Robert Birgeneau, and a hermit crab. The party also ran a serious senate slate and currently holds two senate seats.

Cooperative Movement

The Cooperative Movement Party represents about 1,300 members of the Berkeley Student Cooperative nonprofit organization. Founded in 2008, the party has held a senate seat each year since, with the exception of the 2013-14 academic year. The party previously partnered up with CalSERVE. This year’s senator, Sheena Paul, ran on platforms of prioritizing affordable student housing, empowering sexual assault and violence survivors, and expanding Student Learning Center resources.


The position of the ASUC president, who serves as the chief executive and representative of the ASUC, is filled this year by Yordanos Dejen of CalSERVE. Dejen plans to focus on three core issues: improving the student experience, addressing campus climate and ensuring financial and nutritional security. Along with bringing “world-class” entertainment — similar to UC San Diego’s Sun God Festival — and extending orientation programs, Dejen intends to work with the administration to promote a more inclusive atmosphere for underrepresented students.

Executive vice president

This year’s executive vice president, CalSERVE’s Lavanya Jawaharlal, is tasked with overseeing the reopening of Lower Sproul Plaza, for which renovations started in 2012. Along with managing resources — such as office spaces and equipment — for student organizations, the executive vice president serves as chair of the senate.

External affairs vice president

The external affairs vice president represents the ASUC on local, state and national levels outside the campus — including the city of Berkeley and the UC Student Association — and supervises lobbying efforts. Marium Navid of CalSERVE aims to advocate for students by focusing on issues such as affordable housing, tuition hikes and increased state funding for the university.

Academic affairs vice president

Responsible for students’ scholastic experience, the academic affairs vice president distributes grants, offers student-run programs and works with the Academic Senate. This year, CalSERVE’s Melissa Hsu plans to focus on mental health issues and develop nap spaces on campus.

Student advocate

Often referred to as the campus’s public defender, the student advocate, who is traditionally nonpartisan, champions students’ causes in disputes over campus-related matters. This year’s student advocate, Leah Romm, plans to further expand the office’s roles in overseeing casework — related to grade disputes, financial aid and grievance processes, among others and educating students on their rights regarding issues such as protests, conduct hearings and housing. Romm will also continue the work she began last year as the student advocate’s chief of staff regarding sexual assault policy to create an equitable adjudication process.

Contact Heyun Jeong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @heyunjeong.