Student advocate candidates’ backgrounds influence view on role

Ariel Hayat, Rachael Garner/Senior Staff

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Candidates Stephanie Nicole Garcia and Selina Lao — who diverge in their backgrounds and policies, especially those regarding sexual misconduct — are running for student advocate in this year’s ASUC election.

The traditionally nonpartisan student advocate, one of the five elected executive positions in the ASUC, is responsible for defending students’ rights. The Student Advocate’s Office has four divisions that work on academics, conduct, financial aid and grievances with the university through individual casework and policy work.

Lao’s experience comes primarily from working in the Student Advocate’s Office, whereas Garcia’s comes from organizing students to protest administrative policies on sexual misconduct.

Lao, who is running as an independent candidate, currently serves as chief of staff to current Student Advocate Leah Romm and as grievance director in the Student Advocate’s Office, where she has worked for about two and a half years. Lao’s work includes spearheading a spring 2015 collaboration with Cal Athletics to provide peer-led consent and sexual violence prevention education for student-athletes.

“I have the institutional knowledge, I have the working relationships and I have the connection with a lot of different students on this campus to be able to voice their concern and make changes that are important to them,” Lao said.

Garcia represents the Defend Affirmative Action Party and is also running for ASUC Senate. She believes her year and a half of experience advocating justice on a personal level gives her the familiarity with the campus’s sexual misconduct investigation process and policies required to serve as student advocate. She has also worked to organize demonstrations against her alleged rapist.

“The student advocate has to be in those rooms when a person has to ask them to represent them, and I’ve been there,” Garcia said. “I’ve had firsthand experience.”

Garcia’s and Lao’s plans for addressing sexual misconduct differ, as Garcia believes that the DAAP’s method of organizing and mobilizing mass numbers of students is the way to involve the public and force meaningful change. Garcia also hopes to organize independent public student tribunals as another avenue for students’ concerns to be heard and to abolish the student code of conduct, believing it exists only to give the university power.

Lao hopes to create an environment where survivors feel like they have a choice when it comes to reporting sexual misconduct. Lao would also aim to assist students by pushing for more trauma-informed practices, procedures and policies. Lao also hopes to ensure food and housing security and preserve the student experience despite the 750 additional incoming students next academic year.

Romm pointed to Lao’s experience working in the Student Advocate’s Office and nonpartisanship as two qualities that an ideal student advocate should exhibit.

But Michael Cortez-Mejia, the ASUC presidential candidate running with DAAP, believes that what Garcia has done through mass mobilization is what the student advocate should put into practice.

“I think her way of going about, in particular addressing rape and assault, is more effective than that of the current student advocate,” Cortez-Mejia said.

The 2016-17 ASUC general elections will take place April 4, 5 and 6.

Contact Alex Fang at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @alexfang_DC.