CalSERVE presidential candidate Sheena Paul focuses on supporting sexual violence survivors

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Editor’s note: This is one installment in a five-part series on this year’s candidates for ASUC president. Read about the other candidates here.

ASUC presidential hopeful Sheena Paul’s room at the Wolf House co-op is immaculate. Books neatly ordered on her desk, bedsheets tucked in and not a stray sock in sight. Her life before college, however, was not always so composed.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Paul spent her teenage years in and out of the foster care system, and was often exposed to violent situations. Inspired by her time at UC Berkeley, Paul values open and inclusive conversations, and aims to encourage these dialogues as president.

Joining the ASUC her freshman year as an intern for the office of CalSERVE Senator Briana Mullen and later a staff person for CalSERVE Senator Haley Broder’s office, Paul — now a junior focused on initiatives that addressed sexual violence and mental health on campus. In fall 2015, she became the sole ASUC senator for the Cooperative Movement Party.

Having experienced homelessness herself  spending nights sleeping on campus and showering at the Recreational Sports Facility — the co-op system opened doors to safe and affordable housing.

“I (am) doing something for my own home,” Paul said about representing the Cooperative Movement Party as ASUC senator.

As a part of two governing bodies — the ASUC and the Berkeley Student Cooperative — Paul has learned how to be persuasive in student politics, but remains grounded in her support for student rights.

A self-proclaimed “scholar activist,Paul believes that academia and activism should go hand in hand. A declared history major, she said knowledge should be used for a purpose. Campus life, according to Paul, is the center of this synergy that should encourage students to apply what they learn to issues they care about.

As part of her ASUC presidential platform, one of Paul’s goals is to make sure students are included in the conversations around the campus’s strategic initiatives, announced in February, that were prompted by UC Berkeley’s annual $150 million structural deficit.

“Administration has not done a good job of making sure that they’re including students in the conversations around what’s being cut,” Paul said. “That’s a huge problem, because nobody knows the resources we need better than we do.”

Within the current governance model proposed, the campus hopes to collaborate with student leaders regarding these strategic initiatives. Paul wants these positions to be open to more than just elected ASUC officials, because “there are only 25 elected officials (in the ASUC) and we can’t assume that they represent all of the campus student body.”

Current ASUC Executive Vice President Lavanya Jawaharlal said Paul understands the importance of intersectionality, knowing that a student does not fit into one single group or category.

The crux of her career in the ASUC and her platform as president is focused on issues of sexual violence on campus. A sexual violence survivor herself, Paul emphasized the necessity of the university going beyond encouraging survivors to report, and supporting survivors with confidential resources that do not force them into a one-size-fits-all framework.

On campus, according to Paul, more than 80 percent of sexual violence survivors do not submit a formal report, adding that increasing confidential resources on campus would provide an empowering healing system.

As part of her work for the ASUC Wellness Fee Advisory Committee in summer 2015, Paul’s proposal to have three, instead of two, confidential care advocates from the Confidential CARE Advocates Office — an organization that offers affirming support for survivors and where Paul sits on the student advisory board — was approved last semester.

“Having that resource and adding more of those resources on campus is so important,” said Diana Nguyen, wellness coordinator for the committee, given the spate of sexual misconduct cases that have recently surfaced.

Currently, Paul is working with the Graduate Assembly to have a confidential advocate who is specific to graduate students, in order to support them as they navigate research and professional work.

At a time when ASUC candidates, campaign managers and representatives are working to get the attention of every campus stroller, Paul said she is prioritizing her work as a senator. Given the recent surge in high-profile sexual harassment cases on campus, Paul said she cannot afford two weeks of ignoring issues of sexual misconduct.

“I’m still a senator right now and I was elected to be responding to these issues of violence on our campus,” Paul said. “I need to make sure that I’m not just engaging with the student body on Sproul but also continuing the work I’ve done on senate.”

Drawing from her predecessors, her campaign, Paul hopes, will continue a legacy of CalSERVE leaders inspiring students to be active and demand greater rights for everyone in the campus community.

“When (former ASUC president) DeeJay Pepito was talking about sexual violence, maybe not everyone was listening — clearly not every administrator was — but I was,” Paul said. “It meant a lot to me that someone was saying those things and I want to be that for someone.”

Contact Sofia Gonzalez-Platas at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sgonzalezplatas.