Midway through their terms, here’s what ASUC officials have accomplished

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: The Daily Californian's editorial board evaluated ASUC officials' campaign platforms and current progress.

Cheyenne Tex/Staff

A key part of our job is to hold our elected officials accountable. As such, members of The Daily Californian’s editorial board interviewed all five executive ASUC officials and almost all 20 ASUC senators — with the exception of Jenny Kim, with whom we were unable to schedule an interview — to discuss the progress that they’ve made on their campaign platforms.

Whether it’s dealing with administrative red tape or trying to secure funding for a particular initiative, ASUC officials overall seem to be working earnestly toward seeing results. After carefully evaluating campaign promises against current projects, here is our ASUC midyear progress report.

ASUC Executives

ASUC President: Amma Sarkodee-Adoo

The ASUC president’s role has historically been supportive, without concrete guidelines. To her credit, Amma Sarkodee-Adoo did create platforms that could come to fruition. She’s made good progress on the initiatives begun this year, but because many of her ideas are long-term, whoever takes her place come April is going to have to finish the job.

In an interview with the Daily Cal’s editorial board, Sarkodee-Adoo talked extensively about her space-planning initiatives. She’s been working on an auxiliary Tang Center on Northside and received a commitment from the UC Berkeley Division of Student Affairs about a space assessment for community resource centers. The satellite Tang idea is a good one — for those who live on Northside, dragging their sick selves all the way to Bancroft Avenue can be a whole feat in itself — but it’s going to take a lot more than just conversations to make it a reality. Sarkodee-Adoo will need a stable source of funding to ensure that an auxiliary Tang location can remain open.

Sarkodee-Adoo also discussed her efforts to secure partnerships with the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, specifically in order to increase student access to these publications. As a newspaper, we appreciate that her office is actively trying to help the student body become more worldly-wise. On a different note, Sarkodee-Adoo should put more attention on her housing-related platforms, which will require more of an understanding of the city’s limitations on space and regulations surrounding housing density and, thus, be more complicated to tackle.

Executive Vice President: Andy Theocharous

Executive Vice President, or EVP, Andy Theocharous has come a long way from his campaign platforms last spring, when he displayed less of an understanding of his role. But while he seems to have made progress on several new initiatives, there are a number of things that need fleshing out for his platforms to truly have a lasting impact on the school.

Theocharous told the Daily Cal’s editorial board about one of his office’s primary focuses this semester: increasing the number of internship coordinators and counselors specifically for students in the College of Letters and Science. He’s so far created a working group to discuss the issue with key administrators, and while his passion for and progress on the project is evident, it’s unclear why he chose to take it on as EVP.

He has also made headway on reforming the Sproul area, including pitching a supermarket within ASUC Student Union property — a useful feat if he can get those cogs turning. He also has pretty detailed plans regarding a new time allocation system for Upper Sproul tabling and plans to make Lower Sproul available to registered student organizations during club recruitment season. Theocharous, however, should prioritize gauging interest before moving any further with these plans.

If he wants to be a student advocate, Theocharous needs to take student perspectives into account and focus his attention on space allocation initiatives — something that definitely falls under the purview of the EVP’s office and means a lot to student groups fighting for the limited number of designated spaces on campus.

External Affairs Vice President: Varsha Sarveshwar

In the last few years, the Office of the External Affairs Vice President, or EAVP, has churned out more-than-qualified candidates to take the helm, and Varsha Sarveshwar is no different.

A seasoned budget advocate, Sarveshwar displayed her extensive knowledge of the state’s and the UC system’s financial proceedings in an interview with the Daily Cal’s editorial board. Under her guidance, students successfully convinced the UC Board of Regents to amend the budget request within a single regents meeting, citing the need to fund student academic preparation for underrepresented minorities on all campuses. She’s also worked on scheduling lobbying efforts to get the UC Office of the President to remedy its sexual harassment and sexual violence policy, especially in relation to allegations against board members.

At the city level, the local governmental relations team in the EAVP’s office has advocated for several housing projects on Shattuck Avenue to be approved. The team also made an effort to stay engaged and involved in local events, such as the Happy Neighbors event in the Parker-Piedmont neighborhood and Berkeley’s United Against Hate Week. It’s encouraging to see an EAVP office that extends its presence not only to university-related affairs but also into the city.

More than anything, it’s impressive that Sarveshwar has taken it upon herself to ensure that her staff members are gaining as much experience as possible. Her efforts to actively send underclassmen to events such as UC regents meetings show her dedication to sowing the seeds of the future.

Academic Affairs Vice Presiden: Aastha Jha

If there’s one thing that we’ve noticed about the Academic Affairs Vice President’s office, or AAVP, it’s that a continuing ideological legacy is very useful in pushing programs through. Aastha Jha worked in the AAVP’s office for three years before assuming leadership, which seems to have given her an edge when it comes to working directly with administration. That’s a critical tool in her toolbelt, considering that she campaigned on plans to work with the Academic Senate — a notoriously Herculean task — and reform how the body interacts with key figures, such as the ASUC and campus administration.

Jha noted in her interview with the Daily Cal’s editorial board that mending the relationship between the AAVP’s office and the Academic Senate was paramount so that future AAVPs would have more space to accomplish the work that they want done. It’s also evident that Jha is very familiar with navigating budget constraints — when asked why several of her platforms hadn’t been implemented yet, Jha cited difficulty with financing different initiatives, especially considering that the state hasn’t given enough money to the campus for her to do so.

Next semester, Jha said she hopes to focus more on her wellness platforms, which requires securing funding through the Wellness Fund. Her work with the Academic Senate includes a focus on making it a requirement to put a clearly defined excused absence policy on each syllabus, which is an admirable goal that it looks like she’ll achieve. But, here’s to hoping she’s able to lock down funding to push forward with her mental and sexual health platforms that she campaigned on last spring.

Student Advocate: Nava Bearson

Publicly, the Student Advocate’s office is the most student-facing — a large portion of the office’s work is confidential casework, representing students in disputes with the campus. While these services are widely publicized and very effective, there is policy work also housed within the SAO that is noticeably less transparent from the casework.

In her first semester as Student Advocate, Nava Bearson seems to be keeping up the momentum of her predecessor, as her office is currently on track to break the record for how many cases are being served, as well as working on initiatives ranging from basic needs security to campus sexual violence and sexual harassment policy. In an interview with the Daily Cal’s editorial board, Bearson also pointed to her office’s advocacy for the Basic Needs Fee’s application, which allocates funds toward supportive services for students who are housing and/or food insecure.

Bearson said her office is also hoping to jumpstart a project in the spring that helps low-income students afford copays for doctors’ visits. This is partially in response to the changes in the Student Health Insurance Plan, or SHIP, policy and specifically focuses on working with students with disabilities and chronic conditions. Again, it’s admirable that the SAO is taking on this kind of work, but in order for it to have a real impact, the office ought to increase the transparency of its work and initiatives.

When asked about her work toward increasing student representation in the Academic Senate, Bearson pointed to a collaboration between the SAO and a graduate student on bereavement policy, which turned into meetings with the Academic Senate leadership and eventually became a cross-collaborative project. It’s heartening to see not only that the SAO is building a better relationship with the Academic Senate, but also that it’s shifting toward serving graduate students in a similar capacity as undergraduates.

ASUC Senators

Carolyn Le (Student Action)

Carolyn Le ran on platforms of improving transfer representation and mental health programs. Since assuming office, advocating for the transfer student community has been at the forefront of her efforts. She expressed excitement for the Gateway site housing project and has used feedback from transfer students to further housing conversations. 

One of Le’s achievements is her contribution to the Green Bear Commuting Pass Program, which provides subsidized carpool permits for low-income undergraduate, graduate and professional students. This program highlights Le’s thorough understanding of the transfer population, one that she said consists of many commuters. 

While a lot of these initiatives feed into the mental well-being of the transfer student community, we hope to see more targeted efforts next semester to improve mental health resources. 

Derek Imai (Independent)

Finding your footing as a senator is always difficult, but after a bit of a stumble, Derek Imai found a way to hit the ground running, even after disaffiliating with his former party.

To tackle his nutrition platforms, Imai’s office is planning to publish a walking map of grocery stores and is on its way to having college student-friendly recipes available by the beginning of the spring semester. Imai, who also ran on pre-health platforms, is planning to have a website go live soon to consolidate resources and organizations that support pre-health students.

Some of Imai’s platforms are far from bulletproof — his infrastructure for externally funding students’ environmental and advocative internships seems to be heavily relying on getting money from specific grants — but most are on efficient tracks of student advocacy.

Evina Wang (Student Action)

A major facet of Evina Wang’s campaign platforms involved representing East Asian communities on campus. She has reached out to help guide them through the space allocation and funding processes and has emphasized outreach by inviting East Asian music groups to perform on Sproul Plaza.

Much of the work to support international students takes a financial angle, and so Wang has faced an uphill battle on this front. Still, her office has been working with the UC Berkeley International Office to advocate for international student resources.

Wang also campaigned on “preventing xenophobic incidents” on campus, and while efforts such as a summit for the various international communities are a good start, more work could be done to fight xenophobia in a more holistic way.

Haazim Amirali (Student Action)

Elected on platforms of supporting the pre-law student community and improving basic needs services in the residence halls, Haazim Amirali has produced numerous deliverables during the first half of his term.

Expanding his platforms to improve qualitative aspects of campus-ASUC relations, Amirali has developed a structure for end-of-semester senator town halls so elected officials are able to speak directly to the student body. Among his office’s other projects are nutrition workshops and menstrual health projects to support student wellness in the residence halls, as well as the creation of a Pilipinx residential theme program.

With his first months as senator setting up a promising picture for his term, Amirali ought to continue his momentum and ensure that these initiatives come to full fruition in the spring.

Jenny Kim (Student Action)

The editorial board was unable to schedule an interview with Jenny Kim.

Jeremiah Kim (Student Action)

Jeremiah Kim ran on platforms of improving cohesion and access in the UC Berkeley dance community and facilitating Registered Student Organization, or RSO, resources with the LEAD Center.

So far, Kim has organized several workshops that are collaboratively hosted by two or more dance community organizations. Building on the work of former dance community-endorsed senator Karina Sun, he also increased communications with Cal Performances and revamped the electronic ticketing system for dance community showcases.

While Kim has begun several projects to ameliorate RSO access to campus resources — including an online portal to centralize RSO funding applications — he admitted that most of them will likely not see fruition during his term. Going forward, Kim must ensure that his incomplete projects are passed on to a well-informed successor so that no progress is lost.

Joseph Besgen (Student Action)

Last spring, Joseph Besgen promised students that if elected, he would provide better representation and resources for the tech and engineering campus communities — a promise he has delivered on thus far.

This semester, Besgen facilitated the creation of the Technology Student Council to provide a collaborative space for campus leaders in technology. He has also participated in a number of concerted efforts to benefit the tech and engineering communities, including connecting with the Society of Women Engineers to encourage engineer participation in the ASUC and planning an internship fair with UC Berkeley startup incubator SkyDeck.

In the coming months, Besgen said he wants to get his Makerspace plans off the ground, admitting that he should have started the conversations earlier. We hope he follows through with feasible plans as he has done with some of his other efforts. 

Liam Will (Independent)

Liam Will ran on a broad platform anchored in increasing student access to and awareness of basic needs. 

Throughout his term, Will has prioritized initiating dialogue between relevant UC Berkeley entities in order to catalyze changes he hopes to see on campus. In an interview with members of The Daily Californian, Will proudly cited a mid-November basic needs panel he organized, which was attended by representatives from the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, the Latinx Caucus and CALPIRG.

As Will moves into the spring semester, he hopes to conduct a series of what he termed “big studies” to investigate various potential avenues for his basic needs advocacy. Hopefully he is able to generate momentum on the many projects he has initiated thus far while doing so.

Media Sina (CalSERVE)

When she ran for a senate seat, Media Sina planned to increase academic support in the College of Chemistry and campus sustainability efforts. She has begun the process of mandating that lectures use Course Capture within the College of Chemistry, garnering feedback and support from community members. Sina seems to have a solid understanding of how Course Capture would impact the learning experience and academic support across all communities.

On the sustainability front, Sina has taken concrete steps to increase transparency around campus energy usage, including working on an energy dashboard for the campus Office of Sustainability’s website. It’s evident that she is keeping her promises in regard to her energy platforms. Sina did, however, admit to not accomplishing her mental health platform goals, which should be a priority over the course of the next semester.

Melvin Tangonan (Student Action)

As the Pilipinx community-endorsed senator, Melvin Tangonan has primarily aimed to advocate for Pilipinx students, ensuring representation of all eight Pilipinx organizations on campus.

This semester, Tangonan’s achievements include organizing a campus appearance of Bay Area-based Pilipino rap artist P-Lo and advocating for the allocation of multicultural grant funds to the annual Pilipinx Cultural Night. Tangonan also organized a mid-November Pilipinx summit composed of campus students and faculty to discuss representation on campus and the recent calls for the implementation of a Pilipinx studies program at UC Berkeley.

In the coming semester, Tangonan hopes to devote time to other platforms, namely basic needs and mental health efforts. His efforts thus far have proven fruitful, though he should be wary of spreading his endeavors too thin. 

Milton Zerman (Students First)

Milton Zerman has been addressing his platforms in an efficient manner: One of his main platforms — student safety, specifically around the Clark Kerr Campus — is already being squared away by an increased number of UCPD security cameras around the building.

Zerman’s ASUC transparency and accountability platforms are also at the top of his list — he’s going to propose a slew of changes to election bylaws that will allegedly equalize the playing field when it comes to election campaign finances.

It’s unclear what Zerman has tangibly done for his free speech platform, other than voicing support for the Berkeley College Republicans’ events. At the very least, though, it seems that Zerman’s keeping up with all of his campaign promises.

Nicole Anyanwu (CalSERVE)

In April, Anyanwu took the top spot in the Daily Cal’s 2019 ASUC Senate endorsements because of how she had already laid the groundwork for her ambitious platforms. Halfway through her term, she has made progress on her campaign goals of addressing food insecurity and promoting a survivor-centric narrative on campus, and she plans to implement student-led UCPD sensitivity training.

Anyanwu clearly cares about the long-lasting impacts of her term. Beyond campus, she’s met with policymakers and provided feedback on legislation that will affect the student body. Looking forward, she expects to expand CalFresh-eligible locations on campus and roll out improved sexual violence and sexual harassment signatory training for RSOs next semester — we look forward to seeing if Anyanwu can deliver.

Omotara Oloye (CalSERVE)

As the Black/Afrikan community-endorsed senator, Omotara Oloye wants to create physical, social and academic spaces for students of color to succeed on campus. 

One of the problems Oloye has identified is the lack of graduate students and professors of color in many of the campus engineering departments. While she has little control over hiring, she has focused on improving campus culture by inviting more diverse groups to participate in career fairs and changing the conversation around supporting diverse faculty.

Despite speeding forward on developing resources for students of color, Oloye has struggled to establish a physical space for [email protected], an extension of the Black student organizations on campus, because of a lack of capacity. We hope that she can make progress on establishing this and other cultural centers in her next term.

Rebecca Soo (Independent)

Rebecca Soo ran to represent the campus Christian community, expand campus safety and support students’ mental wellness — most of which she’s begun tackling.

Senators with mental wellness-related platforms have formed a unified front, according to Soo, and while her mental wellness department has been working alongside the group, palpable goals have yet to be announced. We hope more than just communication — important as it is — comes out of this coalition soon.

Soo’s office has taken tangible steps toward addressing her safety platform, having already launched an infographic campaign to inform students of various campus safety resources. She has also hosted many campus events to support the Christian community, such as a successful Jesus in Berkeley event early in the semester. At this point, it looks like Soo is well poised to have a productive spring semester, should she continue in this stride.

Rocky Gerosa (Student Action)

Rocky Gerosa ran on platforms of expanding mental and sexual health resources, improving processes and conversations around sexual violence and sexual harassment, and removing economic barriers to Greek life.

Gerosa’s made a concerted effort to tackle sexual health on campus by distributing safe sex kits and trying to offer free STI testing dates every other month. On a broader scale, Gerosa’s office has been working on encouraging a culture shift within Greek life with regard to safe sex and consent. It’s great to see a senator invested in reforming aspects of the Greek community as well as finding a way to empower queer individuals within that space.

Though the reach of Gerosa’s goals is admirable (he hopes, for example, to add mental and sexual health information to every syllabus in every class), the scale of some of that work may be beyond the scope of a senator’s term. In his next semester, we hope to see him continue to lay the groundwork for long-term goals.

Romario (CalSERVE)

Last spring, Romario ran as the senate candidate endorsed by the queer and transgender community and put forth ambitious platforms, such as establishing a nonbinary housing selection option.

So far, Romario’s office has emphasized establishing resources for queer and transgender students on campus who are closeted or not involved in campus organizations. He has also remained engaged in dialogue with his community through efforts such as hosting a QT Political Engagement Panel, which featured a diverse group of LGBTQ+ elected officials.

While some of Romario’s initial platforms, including the nonbinary housing selection option, remain lofty goals for this term, his office appears to have made headway on a number of related projects.

After the Daily Cal’s interview with Romario, the Queer Alliance Resource Center revoked its endorsement of the senator.

Shelby Weiss (Student Action)

Last spring, Shelby Weiss campaigned on increasing multicultural and interfaith initiatives on campus, specifically for the Jewish community — goals that Weiss has taken aim at.

This semester, Weiss hosted the ASUC Shabbat in support of the Jewish student community and collaborated with members of the UC Berkeley Panhellenic Council to discuss bridge-building. We, however, also look forward to some of her other tangible actions in regard to other initiatives next semester, such as reform of the religious accommodation policy.

In an interview with members of the Daily Cal’s editorial board, Weiss expressed that she alone cannot change the campus climate around the issues she wants to tackle, and that’s fair. A more reasonable goal that we hope Weiss picks up is to at least lay the foundation for productive action on sensitive topics.

Sitara Bellam (Student Action)

Last year, Sitara Bellam ran on platforms based on South Asian community development and education about sexual health and financial wellness. Since then, Bellam has worked extensively with UC Berkeley’s South Asian community, creating the South Asian Caucus, the first comprehensive group of South Asian organizations on campus, and Desipalooza, a South Asian student activities fair.

Bellam’s other platforms seem to be in earlier stages of development. She has been planning workshops for financial education and has been coordinating with the LEAD Center to make financial services more accessible for students. Bellam is also laying the foundation for her sexual health education platform through conversations with University Health Services and Golden Bear Orientation representatives about increasing access to sexual health resources for the South Asian community. We hope to see Bellam follow through on these platforms in the coming months.

Sumrit Grewal (Independent)

Sumrit Grewal ran on three main platforms: academic empowerment, holistic wellness and unifiying the Middle Eastern Muslim Sikh and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSSA. Grewal emphasized her representation of and focus on the MEMSSA community, and her commitment to the community seems unwavering — she has worked extensively on building the coalition by holding town halls and making sure that its voice is heard on the senate floor. She has also continued various initiatives for South Asian, Southwest Asian and North African communities, such as working on a resource center and themed housing program.

While she has thoroughly supported the communities that endorsed her, we also want to see the results of Grewal’s other efforts, such as the wellness tab in CalCentral, which she hopes will come to fruition next semester.

Sylvia Targ (Independent)

As the environmental community-backed senator, Sylvia Targ’s office has been nothing short of tenacious in tackling an impressive number of environmental issues on campus, from holding the university accountable regarding the sustainability of its corporate partners’ practices to holding a town hall on the UC Green New Deal.

Targ is committed to a people-centered view of environmental justice, which her office has espoused through efforts such as helping out at events held by indigenous groups. Targ’s outreach work is also immaculate — for example, her office has collaborated with musicians on campus to create a series of musical videos explaining relevant topics. It’s heartening to see an environmentally focused senator making strides on their platforms — here’s hoping that she can carry that momentum into the spring.

Editorial board member Anna Ho recused herself from the discussions on Evina Wang and Media Sina because of her social relationships with them.

Editorial board member Madeleine Gregory recused herself from the discussions on Amma Sarkodee-Adoo and Sylvia Targ because of her social relationships with them.

Editorial board member Nick Schwartz recused himself from the discussions on Aastha Jha and Romario because of his social relationships with them.

Editorial board member Salem Sulaiman recused himself from the discussions on Media Sina and Sumrit Grewal because of his social relationships with them.

Creative director Kaitlan Tseng recused herself from the discussion on Derek Imai because of her social relationship with him. 

Opinion editor Revati Thatte and managing editor Sakura Cannestra recused themselves from the discussion on Joseph Besgen because of their social relationships with him.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2019 opinion editor, Revati Thatte.

A previous version of this article implied that the Basic Needs Fee was distributed through the Student Advocate’s Office. In fact, the Fee is distributed through the Basic Needs Center, though action in support of the fee and advocacy for the fee has been spearheaded by the Student Advocate’s Office.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the housing payment assistance program would serve 12 students this semester. In fact, the program will serve more than 100 students this semester.