With the end of the semester drawing near, it’s time for The Daily Californian to check in with ASUC elected officials.
In an effort to hold student representatives accountable, the Daily Cal’s editorial board interviewed ASUC executives, while smaller groups of three to four interviewed senators. Griselda Vega Martinez and Sam Coffey, however, were unresponsive. Meanwhile, Ashley Rehal did not have time to interview, and Gabbi Sharp declined to interview.
During the interview process, we sought to better understand each representative’s progress on initial campaign promises as well as goals for the spring.
Here is how the Daily Cal’s editorial board feels about the ASUC’s work so far.
President: Chaka Tellem
Chaka Tellem has proven a strong voice for students from marginalized backgrounds and experiences.
His efforts on campus have included creating a fully funded mentorship program with the Cal Alumni Association, which is intended for low-income and marginalized students and will be expanded in the future. Tellem has also hosted events on everything from graduate student exams to mental health and has reached out to underrepresented students such as student mothers and formerly incarcerated students to increase their representation.
Some of his most impressive action items have come off campus — working in juvenile facility halls to create pathways to university. He has also collaborated with K-12 schools in the East Bay to develop education and curricula on sustainability. While these efforts do not directly serve the current campus population, they are meaningful and important in maintaining UC Berkeley’s relationship with its local and regional community.
Tellem pointed out that much of the president’s duties come when addressing emergencies, crises and specific needs, which is especially critical as students return to in-person education. This has been one of his primary goals, and he has reached out individually to Registered Student Organizations, or RSOs, that serve marginalized communities to ensure they receive sufficient funding.
Tellem is also collaborating with other ASUC Senate and executive offices to serve students. Rather than try to create new resources, Tellem is using tabling and his social media platforms to make the multitude of existing resources more accessible.
Tellem continues to prioritize equity and inclusion in all that he does, setting a positive example for those around him and future ASUC members. His continued efforts to communicate and reach out to students will be much-needed in the spring.
Executive vice president: Giancarlo Fernandez
After coming into office following former executive vice president, or EVP, Aditya Varma’s resignation in September, current EVP Giancarlo Fernandez seized the opportunity to advocate for changes he always wanted to see. At the heart of his passion for diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI; coalition building; and leadership development lies his goal to make every student feel they belong. He believes students need more than just academic support — they need safe spaces, equitable services and sometimes, simply a hug.
Fernandez has built strong relationships with DEI administrators to recruit a staff who is more than 50% transfer students and student parents. He has also worked to open the senate chambers to students and has been involved with several campus communities.
The abrupt transition into his new role proved an obstacle for Fernandez — having to learn the inner workings of the EVP position within 48 hours understandably limited his institutional knowledge. As a first semester junior transfer student, Fernandez has also struggled to feel a sense of belonging and wants to use this experience to open conversations about mental health, therapy and transparency.
Fernandez hopes to work throughout the winter break to make systemic changes within his office and to compensate for the preparation time he lost. These changes include broadening the criteria to fund a larger range of RSOs and focusing on marginalized communities. He also wants to introduce a project tracker, so the EVP can easily identify which projects need more support. Other goals include creating a hiring policy that publicizes top leadership positions and job opportunities and training new hires to be allies for marginalized groups on campus.
Although there are still many projects in the pipeline, Fernandez is setting a positive trend for future ASUC leaders — where students can come from truly diverse backgrounds without having to accrue institutional knowledge.
Academic affairs vice president: James Weichert
UC Berkeley students have a number of things to thank James Weichert for. Since he took over as the academic affairs vice president, or AAVP, Weichert has worked to ensure all students have two late drops beginning this semester. He has also supported the Disabled Students’ Program, or DSP, in a time of need, addressed student fees and advocated for increased COVID-19 safety measures.
Ensuring sufficient accommodations — both for students enrolled in DSP and for those generally struggling during difficult times — has been at the forefront of Weichert’s work. In addition to expanding late drops, he has called on campus to increase opportunities for remote instruction and to extend pass/no pass allowances to potentially include major requirements.
Weichert’s term has also come with some financial successes, as he saved campus $1.1 million by renewing and safeguarding Microsoft and Adobe licenses. He also secured $20,000 from the ASUC and $5,000 from the Graduate Assembly for a student technology grant, which helps ensure all students have sufficient and equal access to critical resources.
Before his election, Weichert emphasized the importance of centering student voices in every step of ASUC administrative processes. This is something he continues to prioritize. Weichert established the L&S Student Advisory Committee in collaboration with the College of Letters and Science executive dean to discuss everything from undergraduate advising to campus admissions. More than a third of its members are transfer students, who are too often under-supported. Weichert has also appointed more than 60 campus and Academic Senate committees, prioritizing diverse voices and listening to the academic experiences of various marginalized communities.
While Weichert has made significant strides, he also feels there is work to do.
Though many of his goals are tangible and would lead to positive change, Weichert is also commendably concerned about burnout, changes to campus culture and ability of the ASUC to function and long term.
External affairs vice president: Riya Master
UC Berkeley and beyond, Riya Master has been a force for positive change. So far as executive affairs vice president, or EAVP, she has tackled everything from university funding to larger, community environmental concerns.
Locally, Master has worked to divert more than 200,000 pounds of waste from landfills and has worked outside of her initial platforms to help expand AC Transit lines. She has also facilitated town halls for students to voice concerns with city policing.
Beyond campus, Master helped the university recuperate from pandemic-induced budget cuts as well as secure millions of dollars in additional funding. She has also expanded funding for Cal Grant and has helped secure $15 million in one-time COVID funding grants for low-income students.
Next semester, Master hopes to continue the work she’s started. Locally, she hopes to address safety through recommendations for increased street lighting. She also plans to further support undocumented students on campus. Opportunities to bolster civic engagement are also on the horizon — ranging from conducting an Indigenous civic engagement panel and “Votechella” to lobbying in Washington, D.C., where they will advocate for health care and menstrual equity bills.
Despite her slew of victories, Master’s term has come with challenges. Master said student engagement remains a struggle, as many are still struggling with effects of the pandemic. In order to address this, however, Master has worked to cover expenses associated with lobbying trips and has emphasized the importance of providing advocacy training to welcome more students into activist activities.
For many, a long list of goals means spreading oneself too thin. This has not been the case for Master and her team, who have commendably pioneered change on a number of critical issues at various institutional levels. With such a strong track record, the Daily Cal is confident Master will continue to meet her goals this spring.
Student advocate: Era Goel
Era Goel’s work as student advocate has revolved around meeting the complex diversity of student needs where they are now, rather than building new policies.
That work has been made more difficult by the return to in-person learning, and their office has risen to that challenge, providing both online and in-person office hours and appointments for students. Their efforts have been primarily focused on reaching as many students as possible — the Student Advocate’s Office, or SAO, has also used various social media channels and tabling to link students to funding, counseling and other relevant resources.
Goel is also advocating for specific student groups. This includes students who are unenrolled or withdrawn and need financial justice resources to meet their basic needs. Goel has also emphasized the “crisis” confronting DSP, which is understaffed and overwhelmed with casework. According to Goel, current ratios of caseworkers to students are roughly 1,000 to 1. Their office is working with campus to ensure more specialists are available to meet student needs and secure DSP accommodations.
Though much of the student advocate’s work focuses on day-to-day student needs, Goel has also institutionalized a winter break housing program for students who don’t have alternative housing options for the holidays. The program is now a “university responsibility,” and while Goel’s office will continue to assist with outreach and accountability, they have secured future housing options for countless students.
The 2021-22 academic year will present unique challenges to students who are returning to in-person learning in the midst of a pandemic. Goel is ensuring students have their needs met and are supported at UC Berkeley.
Transfer representative: Gabe Alfaro
Gabriel Alfaro’s platforms have been heavily centered around housing reform and community-building — goals that have been complicated by the partially online semester. However, with COVID-19 safety concerns in mind, Alfaro was still able to host a handful of transfer social events, as well as a town hall recruitment event. Outside of his main platforms, Alfaro and his team have advocated for guaranteed freshmen and transfer housing.
Before his election, Alfaro hoped to work with campus administration to have more transparency under his student life and housing reform platform, which has proved an obstacle throughout this semester. Coming from a community college, Alfaro expressed his frustration with the UC Berkeley administration’s comparative reluctance toward transparency, particularly in regard to utility costs in campus housing.
Additionally, Alfaro discussed the systemic limitations of the ASUC in creating change across the board in increasing transfer acceptance to student organizations. Although there were discussions with other transfer senators about later enrollment and a second review of RSO applications, he expressed that the lack of oversight from the ASUC prevented the real change he wanted to make. However, Alfaro wants to continue those conversations and promote direct outreach for transfer recruitment.
In the spring, Alfaro hopes to focus more on accessible mental health resources on campus, maintaining transfer representation within the ASUC and creating more physical community spaces for transfer students. Some additional goals include activating transfer-related RSOs and funding student needs in residence halls, such as laundry services.
Although Alfaro acknowledged he and his team will likely fall short on securing guaranteed housing for transfers, he identified it as an ongoing goal that will become attainable as more housing is built.
From advocating for financial literacy to publishing monthly newsletters, Adrianna Ngo began her tenure providing professional resources. Ngo has focused on organizing and centralizing these resources for students, such as creating a “Pre-Law at Berkeley” course, emphasizing the importance of mental health in the track and hosting a Law and Technology Speaker Series to connect Berkeley law professors with undergraduate students. Additionally, Ngo has collaborated with the Haas Business School Association on student events and offered additional office hours to help students with professional development.
Moving forward, Ngo and her office are excited to continue highlighting the importance of mental health in the legal field through a Mental Health in Pre-Law Symposium as well as launch the Business in Berkeley Resource Guide to make the Berkeley business community more accessible. Additionally, she and her office have advocated for more financial literacy by promoting online personal finance tools to students and faculty.
Amanda Hill has used student and policy advocacy to support DSP. Recently, Hill and Weichert demanded Chancellor Carol Christ allocate emergency funding for DSP to hire twice as many specialists and decrease wait times. Hill has also pushed for more lenient academic policies, increased access to resources such as course captures and advocated for later pass/no pass deadlines and course drops.
Hill’s BiPOC Wellness and Community Impacts platform has been temporarily pushed to the backburner to prioritize students with disabilities. However, Hill plans to refocus on BiPOC Wellness and Community Impacts in spring. Outside of their campaign platforms, Hill led a teach-in with Defend People’s Park to discuss the park’s history and worked with Students for a Sensible Drug Policy to create a pilot program for anonymous fentanyl test strips on campus, which will begin next semester.
Although Hill altered their priorities this semester, they successfully adjusted to the needs of the campus community and produced tangible results.
Amy Chen began her senatorship determined to increase representation on campus, strengthen East Asian cultural awareness and provide international students with professional resources. These efforts included releasing articles, attending UC Board of Regents meetings and streamlining advocacy resources.
Chen and her office have also worked to establish a research fund for international students through the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Student Services and Fees in tandem with efforts to decrease the Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training requirement to help more international students to gain work authorizations in the United States. Limited by the virtual semester, Chen struggled to engage and inform her constituents of advocacy against cohort-based tuition.
Chen hopes to launch an in-person East Asian cultural week in the spring, streamline advocacy platforms for international students and institutionalize an international student career fair. Moving forward, we hope Chen will involve a more diverse representation of the East Asian community on campus.
Over the last few months, Dil Sen has formed partnerships to advance his student-centered platforms. His biggest project aims to provide students with a professional attire lending service and create a campus closet by the end of the school year. Sen also sponsored more than 150 meals for food-insecure Bay Area residents and hopes to fund thousands more next semester.
Working with the Berkeley International Office, Sen organized an international student work permit workshop. Sen will also work on a proposal for a guaranteed quota admittance of international students.
With the emergence of the omicron variant, Sen is advocating for the reopening of the Memorial Stadium surveillance testing center.Sen’s work is extensive, and his ambitions reach far. While his office has made some advances in sexual violence and sexual harrassment, or SVSH, prevention and is trying to create a QR code sign-in for social events to keep track of guests’ whereabouts, we hope more stringent actions will be taken.
Immersed in international and entrepreneurial communities, Elif Sensurucu began with the knowledge and dedication to create lasting change.
Now, she is collaborating with entrepreneurial organizations to prioritize international students, provide career opportunities and educate people on barriers to entry. An ongoing project of hers aims to decrease requirements for international students to work domestically.
Her engineering team is working to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in student organizations. While she has worked to ensure women lead many positions in her office, she lacks projects focused on gender equity in entrepreneurial spaces. Moving forward, we hope to see this prioritized.
With a low turnout for physical events, Sensurucu will focus on tangible actions such as writing resolutions. She also helped draft the Student Technology Fund fee resolution, which will be voted on next year. While many projects are still in the pipeline, an entirely in-person semester will hopefully help her bolster student engagement and produce tangible results.
With her foot in the door on a multitude of campus issues, Issabella Romo has taken several small steps to achieve her goals. Romo and her office have attempted to tackle mental health, transitioning to college, menstrual equity, Latinx community needs, Greek life safety, EBT expansion and basic needs.
Her work this semester has included continuing the Latinx mentorship program, collaborating on a student resources website and releasing a survey about student mental health needs. Romo also successfully established a menstrual equity committee and is working to continue former ASUC senator Apoorva Prakash’s efforts to implement menstrual product dispensers in campus bathrooms.
Romo’s office helped host a conference on sexual violence in the age of COVID-19 and is working with the Basic Needs Center to acquire housing relief funding. Some of Romo’s plans lack detail, but we are hopeful she will make progress in the coming months.
With extensive campus connections, a slew of town halls and a focus on campus health and diversity, Jason Dones has had a promisingly productive first semester. As a Black community-endorsed senator, Dones and his office have sought to build community spaces and support underrepresented students in STEM and within the ASUC.
Last spring, Dones ran on platforms of bolstering representation in STEM research and RSOs, as well as improving campus housing and technology resources. He has made headway across the board, most notably expanding accessibility to equity programs for STEM through the Student Technology Fund and the Student Technology Equity Program; a proposal to freshly fund the programs from Dones’ office has received encouraging campus feedback.
One of Dones’ priorities for the Spring semester is to work extensively with Tellem in establishing a Black student caucus, or a conglomeration of campus’s Black-facing organizations. Dones hopes to revive the caucus with campus’s African American Student Development office, and we have full faith he will be successful.
Jerry Xu ran on platforms of campus safety and supporting the international and East Asian communities. In a year with rampant anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, his office has crucially remained a source of support for campus’s international student community.
Most of Xu’s work has involved streamlining the online education experience for students abroad. In collaboration with Weichert, Xu’s office pushed for flexible remote discussion times, generated a Zoom and online class quality survey and directly approached academic departments to address student concerns. Xu furthered his impressively collaborative work in holding a CPT/OPT work authorization worship alongside Chen’s office and relevant student organizations.
Although Xu has lagged in progress toward other campaign promises, his office has laid groundwork for furthering campus safety via partnerships with Bear Walk and UCPD, as well as embedding anti-xenophobia training into Golden Bear Orientation. We are optimistic Xu will continue his streak of productive collaboration into the spring semester.
Kalliope Zervas’ office has been an incubator for three apps and interesting solutions to major campus issues. Zervas is committed to increasing SVSH protection, ensuring student safety, supporting low-income students and addressing food insecurity.
Zervas also worked with other ASUC senators and the DSP to secure indefinite remote options from students in the program, a crucial step to increasing accessibility.
She has also made significant strides toward creating an app that would allow students to quickly and anonymously report SVSH concerns at fraternity parties and hopes to increase pressure on campus and Greek life to make SVSH processes more efficient and transparent.
Zervas is also working on apps to provide safe walking options for students living near Greek row and increase student access to Tang Center resources.
In order to provide housing-insecure students with more support and resources, Zervas is launching a low-income housing fair and plans to continue publishing newsletters with scholarship and housing information.
Mehnaz Grewal began her tenure seeking to promote student justice, pregraduate student development and representation of Middle Eastern, Muslim, Sikh, South Asian, or MEMSSA, students. Her work so far has overwhelmingly focused on community building and advocacy on behalf of those she represents.
Grewal has committed to creating spaces and events to help the MEMSSA community build relationships between individual organizations. Her office’s work producing resource guides, websites and events specifically focused on topics such as mental health and on the LGBTQ+ community. Meanwhile, Grewal has used her office’s resources and institutional knowledge to support organizations and groups within the MEMSSA community.
When it comes to student justice, Grewal is advocating for a houseless center on campus and alternative methods for reporting hate crimes that do not involve law enforcement. In spring, she hopes to combine her efforts surrounding student justice and the MEMSSA community, as well as inaugurate a speaker series on various graduate programs for interested students.
Muz Ahmad ran for ASUC Senate to support transfer students, pre-health students, Greek life and basic needs. As a transfer student, he ran on supporting fellow transfer students but pivoted away from emphasizing them during the semester.
This semester, Ahmad has worked to reduce Greek life’s environmental footprint. He applied for a grant to replace red solo cups used by Greek houses with compostable cups that can be turned into soil for farmers. Ahmad has also worked with Greek houses that have improperly sorted waste to ensure they are not cut off from city disposal services.
Ahmad said his office is creating a course to train pre-health students to become scribes for University Health Services. He also hosted a pre-health fair to connect campus pre-health organizations.
Having faced financial constraints and challenges with student participation, Ahmad said fall was mostly planning and research. However, he hopes to continue with his office’s “tangible and effective” projects in spring.
Osirus Polachart’s platform of supporting low-income students is centered around challenges he’s seen and experienced — including lack of structural support and institutional shortcomings in meeting students’ basic financial and health needs.
Polachart’s work this semester has focused on advocacy for COVID-19 safety measures and calls on UC Berkeley to join other UC campuses in offering transfer admission guarantees and increasing campus diversity. Polachart has also proposed freshman admission guarantees for low-income high school students who have not had the same academic opportunities as their peers from other socioeconomic backgrounds.
While Polachart admitted he has not taken all the actions he would have liked, he’s maintained his perspective and focus on addressing some larger, systemic inequalities low-income students face. He hopes to take initiative and delegate more in the spring in order to balance his personal well-being with successful change-making.
Sammy Raucher is working to support basic needs, improve wellness and strengthen STEM ethics — all ambitious goals that will better student life. Raucher seems dedicated and has been in the right spaces to initiate change.
Raucher has communicated with ASUC and campus committees to support advocacy work for stable and safe housing. She also plans to gather student testimonials on ethics in STEM fields to inspire institutional campus changes from the bottom up.
It seems Raucher is still looking for some direction in her work. A number of her platforms remain in planning stages, which is understandable, given her brief tenure and the breadth of her problems. It also seems Raucher’s office has played a more supportive role. While important and commendable, we’d like to see her spearhead bolder initiatives next semester.
Raucher hopes to make concrete progress on her platforms come spring, and we are confident she’ll be able to do that.
Despite bureaucratic setbacks and personal challenges, Sophie Morris seems to be making headway on her major platforms, particularly those focused on the Jewish student community. So far, she has held an event focused on intergenerational trauma and has worked with Berkeley Hillel to raise awareness and understanding of antisemitism. Keen to carve out her own niche within the ASUC Senate, Morris approached her other platforms — aimed at Greek life and student housing — in unique ways that compliment but do not overlap with other senators’ efforts.
Looking ahead, Morris hopes to focus on the intersections between each of her major platforms. She also looks forward to assisting students with housing applications and is planning to collaborate with other senators on a town hall for those in Greek life.
Though off to a slower start than she hoped, Morris has clearly learned from the challenges she faced and has the tenacity to make her second semester in office a good one.
While Stephanie Wong’s platforms might spread her time and resources too thin, she has supported various campus communities and has acted upon her goals.
Her office has written three pieces of legislation. The first, which passed, is to help make the campus’s COVID-19 dashboard more accessible. The second directs the senate to wipe down spaces in Eshleman Hall and have senators release COVID-19 plans in spring. The third, which has yet to be passed, provides questions for the ASUC to ask student organizations about COVID-19 protocols. Her office also co-sponsored a bill condemning the glorification of white colonizers in Doe Library’s Pilipinx History Month exhibit and helped host a Pilipinx press conference in response. Additionally, her office has drafted internal directives encouraging COVID-19 safety and transparency across various offices.
With the remainder of her term, Wong hopes to establish infrastructure that will outlast her and continue to foster an inclusive environment both within and outside of her office.
As the ninth consecutive senator representing the environmental community, Varsha Madapoosi had big shoes to fill when she stepped into the role. Entering office, Madapoosi aimed to institutionalize environmental justice, expand intersectional sustainability education and strengthen networks within the environmental community on campus.
Thus far, Madapoosi has launched a mentorship program in hopes of improving BIPOC retention in environmental fields. Her office has also organized a teach-in to educate attendees about institutionalizing indigenous sovereignty.
Looking forward, Madapoosi hopes to continue conducting environmental justice trainings — with two planned for the spring — and to continue the effort to change the name of the Rausser College of Natural Resources. She also hopes to institutionalize some of the connections she has built with different environmental advocacy groups on campus, which will be important to ensuring the work she does will continue to engage the broader UC Berkeley community, even after her tenure is up.