Halfway through their terms, here’s what our ASUC officials have been up to

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: Here are the Editorial Board's takes on what the ASUC has gotten done so far this year and what they have planned for the spring.

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It’s that time of year, time for The Daily Californian to check in with the ASUC.

In our efforts to hold our elected student representatives accountable, The Daily Californian’s Editorial Board interviewed the 2020-2021 ASUC Executives and 1 to 3 members interviewed each Senator, with the exception of Savannah Rodriguez who could not be reached for an interview as of press time. We chatted with them about their progress on their original campaign promises and how they are adapting to this unprecedented, virtual semester. 

Here are our takes on what the ASUC has gotten done so far this year and what they have planned for the spring.

ASUC Executives

President: Victoria Vera Photo of Victoria Vera

When the Daily Cal endorsed Victoria Vera for ASUC President last spring, we were blown away by her cohesive and conscientious platform to support students. Now, after Vera’s first semester in office, we are impressed with her follow-through and her ability to shift advocacy to the virtual space.

Vera and her office have focused on maintaining the health and safety of the entire UC Berkeley community, both on campus and off. Promoting COVID-19 testing, supporting the mandating of flu shots and examining safety precautions for students has been a focal point of the semester. 

Moreover, Vera has worked to uplift underrepresented communities and promote accessibility. After conducting outreach with these groups about their needs and organizing efforts, Vera aided administration in guiding spacing and funding resources by consistently highlighting organizations’ needs. Advocacy about students’ financial situations amid discussions about a hybrid semester was another focus of Vera’s, specifically to shift the mindset and considerations of administrators when making large-scale decisions.

As the sole voting student representative on the building unnaming commission, Vera’s work in institutionalizing knowledge about the history of marginalized groups on campus also yielded fruit this year. This aided Vera’s efforts to promote understanding and acknowledgment about equity and inclusion on campus. 

These projects are just the tip of the iceberg of progress Vera has embarked on. Although Vera has not made much headway into ASUC transparency or handling the culture of pettiness within the body, we are hopeful that Vera will set a more concrete precedent for addressing internal conflicts and tensions next semester. 

 

Executive Vice President: Melvin Tangonan Photo of Melvin Tangonan

The Office of the Executive Vice President, or EVP, maintains and advocates for student spaces on campus. But with the majority of students far from Berkeley this semester, the tangible impacts of Melvin Tangonan’s work feel sparse. Tangonan’s office has honed in on how to remotely assist students and Registered Student Organizations, or RSOs, but has faltered on how to specifically enact this support.

A central tenet of Tangonan’s campaign platform was to reinvent Sprouling by streamlining the process of signing up for slots, as well as gathering online booking services for student spaces and compiling them into one central reservation website. For RSOs, Tangonan’s office has also created a space for virtual tabling. Additionally, Tangonan has fought to ensure that various communities, especially the Latinx and Filipinx communities, obtain the spaces they need.

But Tangonan’s endeavors have been largely forward-looking, representing a mismatch of priority given the difficulties of this online semester. Efforts to further develop basic needs and career center resources have been stymied because of funding, although Tangonan has successfully advocated for the distribution of masks and opening up individual workspaces in Eshleman Hall and the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union. 

In the spring, Tangonan will ideally refocus on as many remote learning-based efforts as possible, such as the virtual RSO recruitment and retention efforts. Students need support, specifically online support, now, and we hope Tangonan can flesh out this goal with more clarity in the spring.

 

Academic Affairs Vice President: Nicole Anyanwu Photo of Nicole Anywanu

Nicole Anyanwu and her office are focused on knocking down barriers to student academic success, and this semester Anyanwu’s work has truly been expansive and groundbreaking. After working over the summer and into the fall, the Academic Affairs Vice President, or AAVP, succeeded in shaping and implementing a Pass/No Pass, or P/NP policy, in addition to pursuing a variety of other projects aimed at ameliorating students’ academic success.

After examining the various colleges’ policies and highlighting students’ struggles as a result of the online semester — for instance through the Cal During COVID Twitter — Anyanwu and her office succeeded in rolling out P/NP campuswide.

Other projects Anyanwu has pursued include mental health surveys, class registration and advising, tackling remote proctoring, altering the withdrawal policies and more. Throughout these endeavors, Anyanwu and her office have centered the experiences of marginalized communities on campus, for instance through a partnership with the Equal Opportunity Program and scrutinizing the findings of the UC Audit.

Next semester, Anyanwu looks to further this fall’s academic policies into the spring, address the root of cheating and expand wellness resources, alongside other projects. The sky’s the limit for anyone that can bring P/NP to every undergraduate college, realize a virtual Llamapalooza and fulfill all the other duties of being the AAVP; we are excited to see what else Anyanwu will accomplish in the spring.

 

External Affairs Vice President: Derek Imai Photo of Derek Imai

As the External Affairs Vice President, or EAVP, Derek Imai and his office champion students’ needs before UC leadership and local, state and national government. And during an election season unlike any other, their indispensable work has been praiseworthy.

In addition to mobilizing the student population to participate in the 2020 census, Imai’s office predominantly focused on getting out the vote. The EAVP ambitiously hosted over 50 events, text- and phone-banked, posted across social media and brought 100 gecs through Votechella to civically engage the student population. Overall, their efforts were fruitful; over 1500 new voters were registered, bringing UC Berkeley into the top 10 schools of California’s Ballot Bowl. 

Beyond political engagement, Imai boosted social media outreach and engagement with students while expanding on the priorities of the EAVP’s office. Alongside fighting for fair tuition, Title IX and reinstating DACA, Imai and his office began pursuing divestment from UCPD and the Thirty Meter Telescope. 

Once new representatives take office, Imai and his office will turn to lobbying. Given possible tuition hikes, Imai will pursue securing greater UC funding and doubling the amount of Federal Pell Grants. Moreover, Imai hopes to discuss reinstating and strengthening DACA, and is currently facilitating Berkeley’s United Against Hate Week to cement inclusivity in Berkeley and beyond. Overall, the EAVP has deftly built upon his work and we are hopeful that Imai will continue to adeptly navigate the rest of this unprecedented school year.

 

Student Advocate: Joyce Huchin Photo of Joyce Huchin

Joyce Huchin is serving the students they advocate for with adept adaptability and empathy. Although most of their endeavors have been reactive, the Student Advocate Office’s, or SAO’s, efforts to shift programs that best support students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are laudable. 

Casework is at the heart of the SAO, and this semester’s spike in cheating allegations only further cemented its importance. The SAO quickly mobilized by hiring a greater number of caseworkers and instituting daily office hours for students.  

Attention has also been paid to institutionalizing financial justice resources, for instance through a holistic application for the Basic Needs Center. However, Huchin noted that housing needs resources, the copay fund for students requiring financial assistance and other finances have largely been exhausted because of COVID-19. 

As a result, Huchin’s office will pivot to proactively reaching out to students in the coming semester, engaging in outreach to better allocate resources to where they can do the most good. We look forward to seeing how else Huchin will adapt and continue their solid work of student advocacy.

 

Transfer Representative: Valerie Johnson Photo of Valerie Johnson

As the ASUC’s first transfer representative, Valerie Johnson has admirably carried the responsibility of establishing her office and working with transfer students’ changing needs amid a virtual semester. 

Johnson has hosted office hours throughout the semester to work with students, created a transfer newsletter that promotes resources and opportunities for transfer students and her office held a transfer town hall with the Transfer Center on Tuesday.

One of her primary goals has been to promote transfer student presence among campus committees, where Johnson said transfer voices have historically been absent. Johnson has been working with the office of the Academic Affairs Vice President and campus administration to improve transfer access to these committees but noted there is still more work to be done. 

Part of Johnson’s office is focused on housing advocacy, but with so many transfers spread around the globe this semester, she noted that other projects have taken priority. She said, however, that she intends to continue work on a transfer roommate matching program and work toward creating permanent housing for transfer students on campus.  

In addition to transfer representation and housing, Johnson’s focus moving into next semester will be on fostering community between current transfer students and alumni to promote greater opportunities and connection to the campus. Although some of her goals have not yet been realized, the editorial board is confident in Johnson’s enthusiasm to follow through.

 

ASUC Senators

Aasim Yahya Photo of Aasim Yahya

Aasim Yahya ran on a platform dedicated to supporting the Middle Eastern Muslim Sikh and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSSA, community on campus. Despite the challenge of supporting his community from a distance, Yahya has faced it head-on. 

Yahya holds weekly office hours to directly connect with constituents, while also working on broader scale projects such as a mentorship program of 50 students — in conjunction with Senator Ruchi Shah’s office — which Yahya said will be upped to 100 students in the spring. He described a new Bcourses learning module on MEMMSA identities, as well as an upcoming proposal to secure more space for MEMMSA students on campus for meditation and religious activities. 

With his office also representing the pre-law community, Yahya’s office provides support for those going through law school admissions. Yahya said he looks forward to meeting COVID-19-specific needs of students during the spring semester, particularly as many return to campus. Yahya emphasized his office’s commitment to following through with actions, not words — hopefully spring semester will prove that. 

 

Alexis Aguilar Photo of Alexis Aguilar

In the spring, Alexis Aguilar ran on providing opportunities and support for all undocumented students on campus by strengthening campus mental wellness and resource accessibility. Aguilar seems to have made progress in these areas, as his office co-hosted an Undocumented Civic Engagement Panel and other events on Instagram Live. He also launched an Undocu Hustler’s program, aimed at providing resources for undocumented students to find paid opportunities, with or without DACA.

In the coming months, Aguilar hopes to conduct a series of speaking panels that amplify the voices of queer and trans people of color in the Undocu community as well as host a career fair, among other initiatives. As the first Undocumented senate seat, Aguilar has spent much of this semester strategizing with campus partners and laying the groundwork for projects to be launched next semester. Hopefully he will be able to deliver concretely on these goals.  

 

Apoorva Prakash Photo of Apoorva Prakash

From garnering more support for womxn in STEM to upgrading RSO risk education, Apoorva Prakash began her tenure with ambitions for widespread change. Dampened by the limitations of the semester in the cloud, Prakash’s platforms such as menstrual equity on campus were no longer as relevant this fall. 

Even so, Prakash’s work to support womxn in STEM — spearheading a STEM computing conference for next February and successfully connecting with campus organizations and companies — has been admirable. 

Although the difficulties of being remote are understandable, we hope to see Prakash learn from this semester and pursue more concrete projects. This could come in the form of drafting proposals or searching out pilot programs for her menstrual equity platform to have an impact now, virtually and into the future.

 

Chaka Tellem Photo of Chaka Tellem

Chaka Tellem’s platforms in the spring included bettering campus climate, institutionalizing environmental justice and increasing academic and professional opportunities for marginalized students on campus. These are large goals, but Tellem has made progress on them by launching a pre-med and pre-business newsletter and hosting several events and panels on topics such as herbicide justice, intersectionality in law, diversity in STEM and environmental justice and sustainability, among others.

As Tellem moves into the spring semester, he hopes to continue hosting events but also to focus more time on developing sustainable programming that will last beyond his tenure. In an interview with The Daily Californian, he shared his future goals, including the creation of a mentorship database, because mentorship at UC Berkeley is not always accessible, as well as hosting a diversity career fair. If he can keep up his momentum from this semester as he focuses more on these long-term goals, Tellem seems well-equipped for a productive spring semester.

 

Dhruv Krishnaswamy Photo of Dhruv Krishnaswamy

Dhruv Krishnaswamy ran on a broad platform touching on mental and sexual health resources, the international student experience and inclusivity in STEM. Half a year later, his office hasn’t produced many concrete results on any of these fronts. In an interview with members of the editorial board, he could not point to many initiatives spearheaded by his office. Aside from his involvement in a few workshops and events, many of his projects are still in the early planning phases.

To his credit, Krishnaswamy acknowledged this shortfall, noting that singular workshops aren’t enough to improve mental health for the entire campus community. In the spring, he hopes to focus on mental health and sexual health resources. 

Krishnaswamy has half a term left to make good on his campaign promises. Access to mental health resources is especially critical during the pandemic, and we hope he is able to move out of the planning phase and produce tangible results next semester.

 

Ellis Spickermann Photo of Ellis Spickermann

Ellis Spickermann is making measured, but promising progress on her platforms to represent the engineering and STEM communities and improve the accessibility of undergraduate research and engineering. 

Her office’s biggest project has been the Student Technology Fund’s renewal. The fund ensures all students have access to software such as Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office products and funds other technology used at UC Berkeley. Spickermann’s work on the renewal is admirable; she’s reached out to campus groups to refine the referendum and has finished a draft of the complicated piece of legislation. The referendum will be on this spring’s ASUC ballot, so it remains to be seen if her investment in this project will bear fruit. 

Spickermann has also worked on improving access to research and student organizations with Beehive and CalLink, providing risk management training to student organizations and a host of other, smaller projects. Like the referendum, many of her projects are long-term, but Spickermann is on track for a productive spring semester.

 

Julia Castro Photo of Julia Castro

Julia Castro has wasted no time addressing her campaign platforms during her first semesters in office. 

During the summer, Castro began working on financial aid reform and led a campaign to suspend the Cancel for Non-Payment policy, or CNP, which was adopted for the fall semester. 

Castro also ran for the senate on platforms to promote accessibility to Greek life, student wellness and represent the pre-law community. She has taken tangible steps in each area, including establishing plans for a financial aid program in some sororities with the Panhellenic Council. Castro’s office also hosted open forums with health and safety officials to educate students on topics such as COVID-19 and wildfire safety, as well as a pre-law career fair, among many other projects.  

Heading into the spring, Castro said she plans to advocate for abolishing CNP, and some projects her office has worked on thus far, such as implementing a vending machine with sexual wellness products in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, are on track to be completed

 

Liam Will Photo of Liam Will

In his second year as an ASUC senator, Liam Will has prioritized student basic needs and career development, as the virtual semester required an alteration of some of his platforms.

Will’s office has worked with the Tang Center this semester to create a student outreach team, which he said will be a first step in increasing accessibility to Tang Center resources. He also noted the creation of a professional development group called Exsurgo, which, once launched, will provide students who don’t want to get involved in consulting clubs with business experience. 

During his interview with The Daily Californian, Will also emphasized the importance of ASUC transparency among the campus population but recognized that this is still in the planning stages. Will was passionate about this and other projects, and we hope his visions, which also include revising College of Letters and Science advising practices, will be realized this coming semester.  

 

Maddy Chen Photo of Maddy Chen

Maddy Chen’s work as an ASUC Senator for the tech community, data science and social good has focused less on interactions within the ASUC and passing resolutions, but on actions and resources within the community she works with.

Chen’s office has worked to increase connections for students and student organizations within the tech community. This includes creating faculty coffee chats where students can speak with professors one-on-one and a Tech Club DeCal page to give students better access to those organizations.

While her office has done limited work in increasing accessibility to tech clubs for underrepresented communities through these programs, Chen has also facilitated collaborations with other senators and organizations oriented towards serving underrepresented communities and increasing diversity.

Finally, Chen has advocated specifically for data science students. Due to the major’s novelty and requirements within other departments, it can be difficult for these students to gain priority enrollment. Chen is working to get those benefits for students who need those classes to graduate, as well as getting scholarships for data science students to attend conferences and programs which would normally be difficult to access.

 

Michael Savides Photo of Michael Savides

Michael Savides, the ASUC Senator charged with Greek life, student health and ASUC transparency, has taken on a combination of roles when confronting the issues his office has faced.

When it comes to student health, Savides has acted as both a facilitator and advocate, working with University Health Services and the Tang Center to increase accessibility to mental health resources and COVID-19 testing. He has tried to field student feedback, and while much of his work so far has revolved around identifying the challenges faced by students, his office has also sought to increase testing for Greek organizations on campus.

His work with the Greek community has continued with in-depth attempts to increase funding for underrepresented students who want to join the Greek community and for organizations such as Cal Greeks Against Sexual Assault and the Alcohol Task Force. Savides’ role as a facilitator has come in building relations between the leadership of the Greek community and the ASUC.

While Savides’ resolutions have been tabled this semester due to technicalities regarding funding, he is examining particular issues within the Greek community in-depth and proposing some concrete solutions for those students.

 

Mateo Torrico Photo of Mateo Torrico

Mateo Torrico ran on platforms of promoting mental health, campus inclusivity and community safety. And through several resolutions passed by the ASUC, he and his office have largely succeeded. 

Torrico took increasing campus inclusivity and creating a welcoming atmosphere for BIPOC into his own hands, prioritizing the addition of underrepresented voices in his office and through a recurring Latinx mentorship program. Regarding community safety, Torrico also successfully secured funding to restore the Piedmont Rotunda.

In addition, Torrico has committed to a transparency project for the ASUC, where students can more directly and easily submit proposals of resolutions for senators to review. Torrico also seeks to institutionalize support for survivors and weave in accountability by streamlining changes to existing bylaws for SVSH cases. 

Overall, Torrico has doggedly pursued his campaign promises. Although we would like to see him dedicate more focus on improving campus mental health, we look forward to seeing what Torrico and his office will accomplish next semester. 

 

Naomi Garcia

As the Queer and Trans, or QT, community-endorsed senator, much of Naomi Garcia’s platform promises centered around QT wellness and advocacy. Given the difficulties that the pandemic has wrought, Garcia has made good progress on their goals and is working to ensure ASUC accountability and transparency.

One of Garcia’s main campaign platforms was QT wellness, particularly concerning housing. In late October, the ASUC passed a resolution sponsored by Garcia affirming ASUC support for safe parking for students living in their cars. Moving forward, Garcia hopes to create an ad hoc committee to work on a safe parking initiative, in addition to working with the Student Advocate’s Office and other ASUC senators to secure winter break housing for students.

In terms of their other campaign promises, Garcia’s office is in the planning stages of a QT admit weekend for newly admitted QT-identifying students to learn more about UC Berkeley. Looking into the future, we’re excited to see how Garcia progresses with their platforms.

 

Rebecca Soo

After being reelected this spring, Rebecca Soo has continued with most of her campaign platforms from last year. She has wrapped up her campus security initiatives and is now focusing her energies on supporting the campus Christian community and promoting mental health.

In terms of mental health advocacy, Soo’s office has been spreading awareness about mental health resources through social media graphics. She is also pushing for the creation of mental health working groups with the ASUC Mental Health Commission and hopes to later make Tang Center mental health resources more broadly available. 

Soo appears well on her way to meeting her campaign promises. In addition to continuing these efforts, we hope Soo’s office comes up with some more tangible goals to address students’ mental health needs, which have become particularly paramount during this pandemic. She has organized several successful virtual Christian events, such as See You at the Pole and Jesus in Berkeley. We’d like to see where Soo takes these platforms going forward, especially relating to mental wellness.

 

Rex Zhang Photo of Rex Zhang

Halfway through his term, Rex Zhang appears to be making solid progress on his platforms of supporting international students and improving campus services in light of the pandemic.

Zhang’s office has pursued tangible solutions to the challenges international students face. This semester, Zhang helped organize a pilot program to ultimately improve VPN access for students abroad. He has also pushed for vital accommodations through resolutions that support getting all campus events recorded and the use of alternative methods of participation in classes. 

Regarding his promises to improve career and grad school resources, Zhang’s office has hosted several events and is organizing a career fair designed specifically for international students. Despite taking on a number of ambitious platforms at the start of his term, most of Zhang’s current efforts seem achievable and we look forward to their completion in the coming months.

 

Ronit Sholkoff Photo of Ronit Sholkoff

Ronit Sholkoff’s campaign centered around supporting UC Berkeley’s Jewish community and improving Greek life. As promised in her platforms, Sholkoff has secured more Passover dining options for the spring semester and hosted Jewish education events. 

Looking ahead, her plans to increase  outdoor study spaces align with the campus pilot program to conduct small courses in-person and outside. Her other campus-related plans are also valuable, such as working to put another wellness vending machine in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, but she should also use this semester’s experiences to create a better virtual experience. 

Successfully publishing the Jewish arts and culture online magazine, “As Written,” is one example of her efforts to reach students located all over. Her Greek life-specific work did not come across very clearly in our interview, but Sholkoff’s support of the Tang Center can certainly help any UC Berkeley student. We would like to see her levy her experience as a PATH to Care Peer Educator to further promote a safe, healthy campus climate.  

 

Ruchi Shah Photo of Ruchi Shah

Last spring, Shah pledged to advocate for South Asian students, expand resources for STEM students and bolster career programs for students seeking employment. And despite the challenges posed by an online semester, Shah made impressive progress on her platforms. 

For the South Asian community, Shah launched mentorship programs, developed the South Asian Caucus and Constitution and improved resources for clubs. Shah was also able to support the STEM community, focusing on P/NP advocacy, STEMpalooza and sexual violence and harassment programming. To expand career opportunities, Shah co-hosted a career fair and aided students in salary negotiation.Looking forward, Shah hopes to establish a new admit and senior overnight program for South Asian students, which will be critical in strengthening that community on campus. For the key initiatives Shah is working on but may not complete during her tenure, we hope she lays a strong groundwork so those who follow can continue and further these programs.

 

Samuel Peng Photo of Samuel Peng

This has been a tumultuous year for international students, as they face studying in disparate time zones and antagonistic policies by the Department of Homeland Security and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. As a result, most of Peng’s work has been reactive, as opposed to representative of his campaign promises, but clearly extremely crucial. 

After introducing several proposals in support of international students, an ASUC resolution was passed to aid students abroad in enrolling in local courses, easing the difficulties of distanced, remote learning. 

Moreover, Peng has adapted his goals of supporting the East Asian community by gathering the leaders of East Asian cultural organizations over Zoom — and in the future, a possible video series — to promote intercultural exchange. 

Although Peng has faltered on his delivery of strengthening the entrepreneurial atmosphere on campus long-term, the bulk of his office’s work has been productive. We hope to see Peng more distinctly pursue his campaign goals in the spring.

 

Sarah Bancroft Photo of Sarah Bancroft

As the environmental community-backed Senator, Bancroft has adapted her campaign promises into tangible products involving institutionalizing long-term projects, the UC Green New Deal and building a culture of wellness.

Despite the challenges of mobilizing environmental action over Zoom, Bancroft has laid the foundation of several projects, ensuring that they will sustain themselves in the long term. Primarily, Bancroft’s office is working to institutionalize a sustainability course catalog and an environmental organization database within the Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC). 

Other projects have run into issues of limited student engagement and low rapport, for instance within the UC Green New Deal and even Bancroft’s actual office, which has been unable to connect as well because of its remote work. 

In the spring, Bancroft will focus on the longevity of her current projects. Breathing life into an environmental mentorship program to increase personal interactions is a priority, as is creating standing bodies to perpetuate the SERC projects. We have faith that Bancroft will keep up her momentum to personalize the environmental online space.

 

Sheena Dichoso Echano Photo of Sheena Dichoso Echano

Sheena Dichos0 Echano is the ASUC advocate for the Berkeley Dance Community, or BDC, and campaigned last spring on the expansion of student venue spaces and increased accessibility in booking said spaces. Pivoting with a virtual semester and its related challenges, Echano and her office have found ways to adapt their platforms and still cultivate a campus-esque, tight-knit community. 

Echano has resolved recruitment and retention concerns with the development of a BDC website. Moreover, projects to revamp in-person traditions such as the BDC showcase to online formats are commendable as well, as is the creation of a “Danceapalooza” to bring the dance community together.  

Echano and her team’s efforts have been impressive and a positive preview for the upcoming semester. While her original campaign initiatives are less pertinent without students on campus, we encourage Echano to continue finding creative virtual workarounds and expand her previous platforms.

 

Ronit Sholkoff is a former Daily Californian news reporter. 

Editorial board member Kate Finman recused herself from discussions because of her work as the lead student government reporter.

Editorial board member Jasper Kenzo Sundeen recused himself from discussion of Mateo Torrico because of his social relationship with him. 

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.

Correction(s):
Due to misinformation from a source, a previous version of this article included information that mischaracterized work relating to anti-racism training in Joyce Huchin’s office. That information has been removed.