ASUC presidential candidate Victoria Vera runs to promote accessibility

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

ASUC presidential candidate Victoria Vera said she knows the feeling of being silenced very well.

Vera entered UC Berkeley as a low-income, female, Chicana first-generation college student and devoting much of her time to learn about diversity and inclusion, she said she saw the different institutional gaps on campus and how they affect different communities. As her identities shaped her experiences, Vera realized she wanted to strengthen and uplift underrepresented communities.

To make this goal a reality, Vera is running independently for ASUC president to promote accessibility, accountability and affordability and to ensure students will be able to “thrive not survive” on campus.

For Vera, combating isolation — which she said can be enforced intergenerationally through preventing access to resources and spaces — motivates her to pursue public office.

In the fall, Vera’s father visited campus for the first time in its “alive” form. Her father had immigrated from Mexico as a child and never completed higher education. As she tried to show him inside Dwinelle Hall, Vera said he stopped and asked her, “Can I really go in?”

This “sobering” moment reminded Vera of the multitude of power dynamics and experiences on campus. She explained that certain students may feel comfortable walking on campus or talking to UCPD officers for help, but that is not the case for everyone. Others may be uncomfortable in classrooms as the only student of a certain gender, ethnicity or with a certain disability.

“This moment reminded me there’s a reason I want to bust my ass,” Vera said. “I want to talk to communities and understand them more. Even though I haven’t lived their experiences, I want to learn and be there for them.”

Initially, Vera did not plan to run for this position. As the chair of the ASUC Diversity Affairs Commission for two years, Vera has already been heavily involved on campus, leading work including a demographic survey of the ASUC that showed who was making decisions on behalf of the student body.

According to campus sophomore and Vera’s campaign manager Juan Carlos Argüello, it was a result of this work that motivated numerous community leaders to approach her and ask her to consider running. Vera said they were concerned about the lack of communication and representation they perceived in the other leading presidential candidates and believed she could make a positive change, not for only some students, but for all.

With endorsements from leaders of groups including the Latin American Leadership Society, Queer Alliance Resource Center, Bears for Palestine and others, Vera and her supporters said they emphasize her transparency rather than desires to boost her resume, achieve a self-oriented dream or satisfy a political party. Vera is campaigning to bring people together, foster collaboration and ensure no one is forgotten.

Argüello commended the joy in her work ethic and the humility of her leadership.

“Just by interacting with her, you can tell she’s a listener,” Argüello said. “She’s not someone who would take up space, but who would make space in a room. Over many phone calls these past few weeks, I’ve heard her listen attentively to community leaders and their struggles, sometimes even moving us even to the point of tears. Instead of party politics and drama, we think it’s finally time to pull the attention back to actual student concerns.”

Vera said she shares the frustration other students have toward the ASUC and the “fatigue” that can come from “elitism” in the ASUC Senate chambers.

“The (ASUC) president has so much power but they don’t do anything with it. So why don’t we change it up a bit?” Vera said. “We’ve seen the same models for presidents, but when things go down, like when we have power outages, a pandemic or Israeli-Palestinian students’ conflict, we need a president to not be so afraid to be vocal.”

Vera is pushing for affordability and increased financial aid, personally working three jobs to support herself. She said she saw student workers in places such as the Black Recruitment and Retention Center being underpaid and wants to bring issues like these to the table.

Vera is also prioritizing accessibility. She is especially concerned about the stories disabled students have told her of the inadequate resources they receive in day-to-day life with the closing of the readiness program in 2016 and of the personal training program for disabled students in 2019.

Regardless of whether she is elected as president, Vera said she plans to use the information she has gained on campus to continue advocacy in the Diversity Affairs Commission or through working with the president. She believes that “student government should be collaborative.”

“Progress doesn’t happen overnight but we can still make institutional changes to make sure the future has it better,” Vera said.

Angelina Wang is a student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dc_angelina.