2019-20 ASUC executive officers reflect on work over past year

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After the 2020 ASUC elections, the current executive officers’ term is coming to a close.

COVID-19 has created a unique situation on campus, with the majority of students off-campus for the remainder of the academic year. While all executives continue work on their platforms, most found themselves adjusting their plans to address current campus needs.

President

ASUC President Amma Sarkodee-Adoo entered office hoping to increase advocacy and accountability, promote a safer campus climate and emphasize diversity, equity and inclusion.

“In creating my platforms last year, I knew many of them wouldn’t be accomplished by the time I left office—I think its the job of the Office of the President to focus on big picture items, many of which are multiple year projects,” Sarkodee-Adoo said in an email. “I do feel really pleased with how much progress has been made this year regarding the platforms I ran on.”

Though COVID-19 has tabled a lot of platform work, she has advocated for student needs such as increased counseling, psychological and career support, according to Sarkodee-Adoo.

She also worked closely with the ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President, ASUC Student Advocate and campus’s Academic Senate on this semester’s grading policy changes, as well as suggesting that the campus survey the senior class to find a solution regarding commencement.

Executive Vice President

The Executive Vice President manages the ASUC’s internal operations, oversees student organizations and chairs the ASUC Senate, along with leading campus advocacy, according to former EVP Andy Theocharous, who resigned April 11. Theocharous entered the office to increase the effectiveness and accessibility of the ASUC.

Theocharous worked with the Graduate Assembly, ASUC Student Union and LEAD Center to successfully cover the LEAD Center’s $1.2 million deficit, which would have led to a significant decrease in support for all Registered Student Organizations, if unaddressed.

Theocharous also submitted a proposal to permanently fund an internship coordinator position and for more funding for undergraduate research scholarships. He also institutionalized an ASUC budget task force, as well as negotiated contracts with The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to provide digital subscriptions, speakers and workshops for members of campus.

External Affairs Vice President

Campus senior Varsha Sarveshwar ran for External Affairs Vice President with the goal of ensuring adequate student representation before local, state and federal governments.

“I think there’s a perception that people join the ASUC for validation and resumes. I try to do the work because it’s important,” Sarveshwar said. “If I do it and do it well, students will benefit from it and so it really doesn’t matter if they know it’s me or not.”

Sarveshwar’s office has written letters to the city of Berkeley to advocate for more approved housing for students, as well as supporting bike lanes and lighting near campus. She added that it is also very active at UC Board of Regents meetings and is figuring out how to lobby the state over Zoom. Sarveshwar also submitted public comment when President Donald Trump’s administration tightened restrictions to qualify for food stamps and organized a trip for 12 students to go to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators in October 2019.

She increased voter registration on campus through events such as Votechella with Waka Flocka Flame, a concert promoting democracy. She is also working to make voting more accessible for students, even for those off-campus, and on outreach for the 2020 census.

“We’ve really contributed to the lives of students — in small, medium and, in some cases, large ways,” Sarveshwar said. “When you have the opportunity to do that, you should take it.”

Academic Affairs Vice President

Campus senior Aastha Jha entered office intending to improve academic resource equity, faculty accountability and student wellness.

Jha built a close relationship with the leaders of the Academic Senate.

She said this year has been especially “tough” in terms of academics, given the fall 2019 power outages and the current COVID-19 situation. As a result, a lot of her platform work has been paused, as her office focuses on emergency responses, according to Jha.

One thing Jha was able to do was participate in “academic resilience.” She added that she has been in a lot of meetings to convey student needs during these “tumultuous” times.

Student Advocate

Campus senior Nava Bearson said the Student Advocate represents student grievances to the campus through free and confidential casework, provides direct financial assistance for students and continues to build partnerships with various campus groups.

The Student Advocate’s office has worked on many of Bearson’s platforms, including supporting basic needs security; increasing casework services; creating a more equitable disciplinary process by solidifying the partnership between the Restorative Justice Center and the Center for Student Conduct; and improving the ASUC’s relationship with the Academic Senate. Bearson also worked on a co-pay fund after seeing how the Student Health Insurance Plan policy change “disproportionately impacted” students with chronic conditions.

Bearson said she also focused on making her office as inclusive and representative as possible. She added that she is trying to secure stipends for caseworkers so students with financial needs can afford to work in the office.

“Without a doubt, the No. 1 thing I’m most proud of is our casework,” Bearson said. “We served more than 500 students through casework this year, which is a record case number for our office. We’ve grown in so many different ways we didn’t even consider venturing into in the past.”

Contact Maria Young at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.