On Oct. 11, the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly, or GA, published its stance on the viability of the University of California Student Association, or UCSA, claiming the lack of support they received in the organization rendered it necessary to create their own organization, the UC Graduate-Professional Coalition, or UCGPC.
The UCSA is the statewide student association that represents all 250,000+ UC students to the UC Board of Regents, to the California state government and to the rest of the country. The UCGPC ostensibly seeks to be the same, but solely for graduate and professional. The GA is our campus’s graduate student government, while the UCGPC is an institution seeking to represent all graduates at all the UC campuses.
As a student that has been in the UCSA space for some time and sits on the UCSA board, I can testify that the UCSA focuses on issues that all students can resonate with, like housing insecurity, mental health resources and campus diversity. In doing so, the organization admittedly may lose sight of the nuanced needs of both undergraduates and our graduate counterparts. And in that, I agree with many graduate students, as there are institutions on this campus that struggle to represent my own interests as an undergraduate.
Yet there are some points that graduates in GA highlighted that are either inaccurate or do not have the proper context from the undergraduate perspective. I seek to shed light on that here in four basic points that the grads got wrong.
1.In UCSA, graduates have over 50 percent of the vote even though they comprise only about 20 percent of the UC student population. Graduates did not feel that the UCSA fostered a true democratic process, which can be agreed upon: graduates are grossly overrepresented on the UCSA board.
Yet, undergraduates were willing to retain this board structure in order to appease graduates in their search for proper recognition, as long as proper measures were put in place to ensure there was agreement from both sides.
2.Being in the UCSA is rather expensive when accounting for travel, and this is where graduates face the most distinct disadvantage. Lack of support for graduate participation in UCSA, and overall scarce resources, limit the capacity of grads to bring more than one representative from each campus, while undergrads are typically able to bring three. This limits the participation and effectiveness of grads in committees that tend to all meet simultaneously, limiting their voice and weakening their presence, among other things.
For years now, financial restructuring has been proposed in attempt to address the financial burdens both graduates and undergraduates have to face in terms of dues. Called SAGE, the proposal would have supported the campuses who needed the most assistance in sending representatives by raising and leveling fees for all the campuses. When brought to the attention of this year’s board it received no acknowledgement from graduate students earlier this year.
Ultimately graduate students took their disapproval a step further and completely pulled out of UCSA despite efforts to retain their presence in UCSA. The movement to keep graduates in the UCSA was led by treasurer Parshan Khosravi, a UCLA graduate student.
3. The above point makes evident the fact that graduates were not completely unified in their decision to leave UCSA. In fact, many voted to stay in UCSA, accepting the September board proposal created by this year’s board.
The previous July board proposal had been pushed onto an entirely new board without the institutional memory of the old board. Blindly accepting the new board structure would have been irresponsible (we were all on summer break), leading the us to the task of creating the September proposal.
Monumental labor was put in to appease graduate student concerns in the September proposal. Over the course of weekly multi-hour calls, a committee of six graduates and six undergraduates (including a graduate student chair) collaborated to write the September proposal.
Despite all that work, and despite passing the September proposal (with every graduate student association voting in favor, including UC Berkeley), graduates ended up making their own organization anyway, completely disregarding the weeks of effort put in and ultimately disrespecting the time, energy and labor of many undergraduates and graduates that put in the work to best address concerns.
4. This leads to my final point, the paternalism and disrespect that many undergraduates felt in UCSA from of graduate presence. Undergraduates have felt disrespect and contention from a number (not all) of UCSA graduates because of their egotism in the space.
Graduates commonly used meeting procedures, like Robert’s Rules, as a weapon against underprivileged communities unfamiliar with the rules, interrupting them mid-sentence or not allotting critical additional time to finish their points. I myself have seen the use of these rules to silence the undocumented community, BSU students from UC Merced and students curious of the UCSA but unknowing of its overly bureaucratic tendencies.
This relationship caused great tension between students tasked to work together for the betterment of all students, especially for communities that are marginalized and underrepresented.
I do not seek to minimize the struggle graduates face; their decision to leave UCSA because of their lack of representation is as valid as they see it to be. I do, however, want to share the frustrations and experiences of an undergraduate in that space. We did everything that we were asked of, even without the comfort of context. Yet in retrospect, I do believe undergraduates should have tried harder to circumvent the toxicity of the board space to open a dialogue. This will be a lesson learned for future board members.
This issue resulted in the UCSA unfortunately becoming behind in our actual work: representing students. And this schism will not likely be closed within the academic year. For now, the option of being in both UCSA and UCGPC has been agreed upon by both organizations as an option for all UC graduate associations. Additionally, the UCSA is keeping its door open for graduates who may choose to return to UCSA. Despite the contention, I truly hope the graduates who do decide to leave UCSA find success in their new organization.
Dominick Williams is the co-legislative director of the EAVP office of UCSA and sits on the University of California Student Association Board of Directors.