Student advocate candidates run with differing views on partisanship

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Candidates Jillian Free and Asahi Hardy are running for student advocate in this year’s ASUC elections, both with differing positions about the place of partisanship in the Student Advocate’s Office.

The student advocate, who has historically been nonpartisan, serves as a representative for students experiencing problems ranging from grade disputes and enrollment issues to sexual harassment and discrimination. The Student Advocate’s Office offers free and confidential assistance in four divisions, including academics, conduct, financial aid and grievances with the university.

Free, a political economy major, has spent much of her time at UC Berkeley working with the Student Advocate’s Office under current Student Advocate Selina Lao, whereas Hardy has gained experience by working with various campus groups that represent marginalized communities.

Free, who is running as an independent candidate, has spent the past three years working in the Student Advocate’s Office, first as a caseworker and then as director of the office’s conduct division from 2016 to 2017.

“I understand the unique position that the advocate occupies … that you really only get from working the inside the Student Advocate’s Office,” said Free.

Hardy, who is also running for ASUC Senate, is representing the Defend Affirmative Action Party, which advocates for increased representation of minority students at UC Berkeley. A second-year integrative biology major, Hardy said he draws his experience from working with groups on campus that advocate for students coming from diverse backgrounds.

Hardy added that his experience working with the bridges Multicultural Resource Center last semester helped him better understand how he wanted to help other students during his time on campus. After he saw DAAP tabling on Sproul Plaza in February, he said he was moved by its goals and decided to become a part of the organization, leading him to run as student advocate with DAAP for the spring 2017 ASUC elections.

“What I fight for goes beyond just political affiliations,” Hardy said, adding that he believes protecting human rights is not a partisan issue.

If elected as student advocate, Free said she would focus on three main tenets, including basic needs security, equity in the student experience and sexual assault prevention education. Hardy plans to focus primarily on doubling the admissions of minority students to UC Berkeley. He said he intends to achieve this goal by encouraging campus activism and standing up for students who are negatively impacted by a lack of diversity.

“Minority students really need a support system, and they need to feel safe on campus in instances of racism and violence, which are still very real and very present,” Hardy said.

Free said she agrees that campus activism is powerful but added that she believes it is most important ensure the SAO services feel accessible to all students. She explained that this goal means working to make policy changes internally and supporting community members participating in activism outside of the SAO without compromising the ability to work within the system. She said she feels maintaining the nonpartisan history of the office will prevent students from feeling excluded from services.

Hardy said he hopes to make sure the ASUC stands against injustices, especially after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Hardy says that for him personally, challenging Trump would mean challenging sentiments from the administration that Hardy says are racist and sexist.

While Free stressed the importance of the office not alienating any students, Free said she agrees that the current political climate will affect the “obligations” of the student advocate. She added that if the federal government puts students at risk, it is important to intervene in order to protect those who are most vulnerable.

“It all centers around the question, ‘Are we helping and protecting students?’ ” Free said. “And when you are able to answer that question … ‘yes,’ then I think the advocate should do it.”

Selina Lao, the current student advocate, said in an email that her previous experience in the SAO office has helped her the most during her time as student advocate because she had already built relationships with administrators and was able to bring personal experiences with previous casework into the conversation. She added that she believes the objectives of the student advocate need to be reasonable and put students’ rights first.

“The SA should aim to understand both the student activist and University admin perspective and mediate between the two to achieve results beneficial to students and realistic for the University,” Lao said.

The 2017-18 ASUC general elections will take place April 10, 11 and 12.

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @K_Tinney.