ASUC presidential candidate Chaka Tellem aims to hear marginalized voices

Photo of Chaka Tellem

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

ASUC presidential candidate Chaka Tellem is running for the office in hopes of building a better Berkeley — one he said will center around students’ needs.

Tellem, a sophomore majoring in political economy with minors in race and law and public policy, said his passions are “community-rooted” and stem from his desire to have more diverse representation in all areas on campus. His platforms are campus climate and safety, COVID-19 response and relief, environmental justice and sustainability and academic and professional opportunities.

“The next academic school year will hopefully mark the start of in-person classes,” Tellem said in an email. “It is important, now more than ever, that we have strong, experienced, and adaptable leadership.”

In his first year on campus, Tellem served as a campaign associate for Racial Justice Now under the Office of External Affairs Vice President. During his time there, he lobbied state legislators to increase funding for racial justice initiatives and programs for underserved communities.

Tellem currently serves as an ASUC senator and is endorsed by the Black community. In this position, he has hosted many events, according to his Instagram profile.

“These past experiences have taught me that true leadership involves listening to the communities you intend to represent and centering those in the margins,” Tellem said in an email. “Being an elected official requires a niche set of skills that are only developed from experience.”

Tellem is running with Elevate Cal, a coalition he co-founded with the belief that the ASUC should be an “inclusive and transparent” organization. The coalition, according to Tellem, aims to represent and advocate for all students, particularly those who have historically been marginalized. His goal in Elevate Cal’s foundation is to bring more accountability, accessibility and transparency to the ASUC.

Among his campus climate and safety initiatives, Tellem plans to prioritize support for sexual violence and harassment survivors, as well as address basic needs and housing insecurity.

He also hopes to create financial literacy programming and resources, expand grants and scholarships, refine the annual Diversity Career Fair and provide pre-professional opportunities. Among Tellem’s other goals, these plans will promote academic and professional opportunities, especially among marginalized populations, according to the Elevate Cal website.

Tellem’s plans for aiding environmental justice and sustainability include supporting the UC Green New Deal, preserving green spaces in Berkeley and encouraging students to work with local schools and environmental organizations, the website added.

As a rising junior, Tellem believes that if elected, he is in a unique position to guide and teach the next president-elect, which he hopes will combat the high turnover rate in the ASUC. He believes this will then help the ASUC to produce a “better” and “more timely” policy.

“There are so many people at UC Berkeley who want to see change and progression,” said Sydney Roberts, Tellem’s internal campaign manager, in an email. “Chaka always makes it a priority to listen to their needs and support their efforts.”

Part of Tellem’s mission is to listen to underrepresented voices and encourage them to get involved in the ASUC.

According to Tellem, his senatorial office is diverse, and his presidential campaign team consists of policy committees for many communities, including international, transfer, first-generation, low-income, Pacific Islander, Pilipinx, Black, Latinx, Middle Eastern, Muslim, Sikh, South Asian and more.

Roberts added that her vote towards Tellem is in support of inspiring more Black students to seek positions of power on campus.

“If I could tell voters one thing about Chaka it would be that no other candidate is as passionate about supporting community needs, dedicated to centering underrepresented voices, and qualified to lead a student body as diverse and great as UC Berkeley’s,” Roberts said in an email.

Lauren Good is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @lgooddailycal.