Despite the enormous roller coaster that we all are currently on, there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel with vaccines kicking into high gear. And while so much has changed as we attempted to live this new “normal,” this global pandemic provides us the opportunity to reflect as students. During this difficult but fruitful time, I want to share how our UC Berkeley student community has united to overcome this pandemic and reach that light.
The ASUC Office of the Executive Vice President has been a central component in supporting the ASUC in ensuring essential resources are accessible to students and student organizations. I joined the ASUC my freshman year of undergrad and have been in this space since then. I started as an intern my first year, became director of Pilipinx Outreach and Development in the Office of the President, became senator my junior year and in my last year, served as the executive vice president.
Being a student while serving as a student leader was not easy for me, especially during a pandemic. We are fundamentally social creatures, relying on each other for support, appreciation and motivation. For all the challenges, working at home, home schooling and working limited on-site hours, allowed us to spend more time with each other. Whether that be with your roommates or your social circle, we all made the best of each other’s time. As the executive vice president, I and my office worked hard to ensure resources such as face coverings, individual workrooms and groceries were operationally accessible. Those little trips to the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union were a precious time when we could see each other. These experiences would have been missed, and these opportunities would not have been possible without the ASUC. That is why our office pushed to waive the $250,000 that the ASUC pays annually to ensure its doors stay open and no layoffs of staff occur.
I believe change is constant; as we all know, the pace of change is getting faster and faster. We had to adapt to a new life quickly once we heard the announcement from the chancellor in March 2020 that we were going to have remote instruction for the rest of the semester. This change was at first something to celebrate, but once we heard that the fall semester was going to be fully remote, my mental health reached a new low. Remote learning is difficult to get used to, and Zoom fatigue is real. Social interaction plays an important role for all of us — to be heard by others and motivate us in our learning environment. Doing that through a screen is not helpful. However, I think we made the most of it when a lot of Registered Student Organizations used the Corq app, an app that our office sponsored for all RSO events and student engagement.
A lot has occurred this semester. Our office knew it is not going to be an easy transition next year from remote learning to in-person instruction. We heard the struggles from a lot of students this year, and that is why we thought ahead and institutionalized a couple of things that will hopefully help alleviate some of the burdens students and student officials might come into contact with. Our office institutionalized a Basic Needs Committee to streamline all Basic Needs advocacy efforts. In addition, our office also institutionalized $200,000 of ASUC Commercial Revenue for student officials to use to enhance the student experience. This includes creating a centralized Sprouling reservation system to be executed in the upcoming year. We hope the work we have done this year will continue to benefit students and help them experience what student life is like at UC Berkeley.
It has been a pleasure serving as your ASUC executive vice president. However, no matter where we go or what we do, there are going to be challenges ahead of us. What I advise is to meet those challenges with a growth mindset and open heart. Doing advocacy work, doing the work we do here in the ASUC, is difficult. The most important thing I have learned doing this work is recognizing that activism, allyship and advocacy manifest themselves in different ways. It is important to recognize our proximity to power and serve those who brought us into this position — the student community at UC Berkeley.
For those of you who are graduating this year, I congratulate you for working so hard to achieve this accomplishment. You deserve to celebrate this milestone. For those returning to Berkeley this year, this is your time to make a mark on this campus.
Melvin Tangonan was the 2020-21 ASUC executive vice president. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science and South and Southeast Asian studies.