Student Action candidates look to prioritize students, COVID-19 transition

Photo of Student Action candidates
From Left to Right, top: Ronit Sholkoff, Mateo Torrico From Left to Right, bottom: Aditya Varma, Jake Mehari

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The Student Action party announced its executive candidate slate and transfer representative candidate Sunday evening for the upcoming ASUC elections.

Current ASUC Senator Ronit Sholkoff, who has formerly worked at The Daily Californian, is running for ASUC president. Aditya Varma, current chief of staff to ASUC Senator Ruchi Shah, is the executive vice president candidate. Current ASUC Senator Mateo Torrico is running for academic affairs vice president, and Jake Mehari is running for the transfer representative position.

Although the candidates’ platforms vary, all include increasing focus on students and prioritize transitioning back to campus.

Despite its devastating effects, the COVID-19 pandemic gives the incoming ASUC a unique experience to change campus for the better, according to Sholkoff.

Her platform includes transitioning to campus life with intention following COVID-19; promoting diversity, equity and inclusion; building campus resilience for future crises and prioritizing holistic wellness for students.

“I like Cal a lot. I’m a big ‘Go Bears’ energy person, but I also understand that Berkeley doesn’t work for everyone,” Sholkoff said. “This school can be the place that it claims to be.”

If elected, Sholkoff said she plans to begin standing meetings with ASUC senators and University Health Services to address community- and health-related concerns.

Varma’s platform revolves around expanding ASUC programs and services, improving spaces and funding for registered student organizations and making the ASUC more “student-centric” and efficient.

“I believe the ASUC has an incredible platform to advocate for student spaces. Yet, year after year, we continue to have communities on campus that have nowhere to call home: no resource centers, no spaces for their orgs, no opportunities for their graduates,” Varma said in an email. “I will prioritize securing spaces for marginalized communities on campus.”

Varma added that he believes his experience and “comprehensive vision” make him a good candidate for students to vote for. While at UC Berkeley, he has authored or co-authored more than a dozen pieces of legislation, worked in several ASUC Senate and executive offices and been involved in several committees, according to Varma.

According to Mehari, who is a first-semester transfer student who attended ASUC meetings while studying at Berkeley City College, he wants to help other transfer students transition smoothly into the campus community.

Despite being new to campus, Mehari said he has leadership experience working with the city of Oakland’s Environmental Services Division and former California assemblymember Tony Thurmond, who is the current state superintendent of public instruction.

“I always knew that I wanted to (be involved in the ASUC) when I got here, and an opportunity kind of created itself,” Mehari said. “I’m more than prepped and more than excited to take on the challenge.”

One way he hopes to help transfer students is by creating a mentorship program between old and new students alike. According to Mehari, transfer student advice is more invaluable for those who are transitioning than the advice of counselors and nontransfer students.

His other platforms are creating more leadership and professional development opportunities for transfer students and advocating for their various needs.

Torrico plans to run on four major platforms — diversity, equity, inclusion and retention; academic accommodations; mental and physical wellness; and post-COVID-19 transitioning. Creating spaces for different marginalized groups on campus is one of Torrico’s primary goals if elected, he said.

Currently, however, Torrico noted that UC Berkeley must address the “disengagement” of students who have been forced to be away from campus by the pandemic.

“Most of the students that stayed home either stayed home to save money or stay with family. They’re not as connected to campus as the students who live on or near campus are,” Torrico said. “How are we going to bring in this entire cohort who has been away from campus for so long?”

ASUC elections will be held virtually from April 5 to 7.

Sebastian Cahill is a student government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.