Campus junior Jillian Free announces candidacy for student advocate in ASUC elections

Daniel Ho/Staff

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Campus junior Jillian Free announced her independent campaign Sunday for the student advocate position in the spring ASUC elections.

Free is running on platforms focused on ensuring basic needs security, promoting equity in the student experience and addressing and preventing sexual violence and harassment. If elected, Free said she plans on continuing to improve the casework services that are offered through the Student Advocate’s Office and maintain the commitment to office’s nonpartisan independence.

The student advocate’s job is to develop initiatives, casework and policy projects designed to protect student rights. Additionally, the position entails representing students or student groups in grievances and disputes against UC Berkeley, including but not limited to conduct violations, financial aid problems and harassment.

Free said she believes that maintaining the nonpartisan nature of the SAO is important to provide an unbiased approach to controversial issues, citing that the student advocate has been an independent candidate every year since 2004. She added that if a student advocate had political preferences, some communities might feel deterred from seeking casework services.

“We need to make sure that all students feel like they can come to us, and they feel that we will be providing unbiased and equal support in this process,” Free said.

Since her freshman year, Free has been working in the SAO, first as a caseworker and now, after rising through the ranks of the office, as the director of the conduct division.

Among Free’s policy improvement plans are to create an institutionalized protocol for when a student becomes homeless in order to connect them to campus resources. She also aims to create a more in-depth sexual violence and harassment code of conduct for faculty, as there currently exists for students.

She also said her experiences as a member of the Disabled Students’ Program and the campus queer community have made her see that there are many marginalized communities who are not represented equally in the ASUC and on campus.

“It is truly important to me that we listen to the people who are affected and are going through those experiences,” Free said. “And that people in power can use those platforms to leverage the voices … that are often overlooked.”

Free’s campaign manager, campus sophomore Sophie Bandarkar, said she has known Free since freshman year when Free helped acclimate Bandarkar to the caseworking system of the SAO.

“Jill has been for me and for a lot of people in the office from my year the connection and the intro on what casework looks like, what being passionate about every student looks like,” Bandarkar said. “I think it’s gonna be really incredible next year to watch her do that … on a larger scale.”

Voting for the 2017-18 ASUC elections will take place April 10, 11 and 12.

Sakura Cannestra is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.