Interview Conducted by Gilberto Flores
National Beat Reporter
Photo provided by the candidate.
What makes you the better candidate for EVPSA?
I think the thing that makes me the best candidate for EVPSA is–the best way I can put it is–just like breadth and depth of knowledge about the position and knowledge about statewide affairs. Last year I worked as a campus organizing director in the External Vice President of Statewide Affairs’ office, which gave me a really good understanding of how the office works, and I got a chance to learn the mechanics of UCSA and USSA from kind of a different perspective and it gave me a good chance to learn how to coordinate with other groups on campus around a common cause. In this year, I’ve been a senator and I’ve worked on a variety of issues as the chair of the External Affairs Committee, so I’ve worked on the self governance movement, I’ve worked on advocating for a gender and sexuality GE, among other things. As far as statewide affairs go, in that office though, I’ve worked with EVPSA Singh and we’ve written an Op-Ed that we gave to Janet Napolitano expressing our views and UCSB’s views on the tuition increases. I’ve also worked with Lobby Corps, I’m a liaison for Lobby Corps, I’ve worked with Lobby Corps to organize events, both here, right after the Regents approved the stable tuition increase. I’ve participated in rallies and events and lobby visits here and in Sacramento and in Washington DC last spring break with the United States Student Association. I also served on the Southern Commission for choosing the new student regent. So I guess the thing that makes me most important as, well, firstly I would say is the experience which I was getting into, there’s no part of the EVPSA’s job that I haven’t at least had my hand in at some level. The second thing is that I think that one of my biggest strengths is that I’m good at understanding the viewpoints of people that don’t necessarily agree with me, which is something that you have to do a lot, especially as the EVPSA when you’re working on such big issues. I think that gives me a big advantage, especially with the thing that was just passing through the senate, I went out of my way to meet people from different sides and bring them together, which is something that you really have to do. I feel that the office next year has to be a little bit more focused than it has this year, and I have seen what needs to be done in order to get there.
If elected, what do you hope to accomplish while in office?
So the biggest things that I hope to accomplish, if I’m elected, is to create more of an understanding of a movement. I want to create a feeling of civic activism at UCSB. I’ve worked on a lot of voter registration campaigns, which is something that is unique to me, more than the candidates running. I find that people resonate with this idea that being registered to vote is just something that you do as a UCSB student. They take pride in that. I want to try to extend that pride to being engaged in politics in other ways. So not everybody is engaged in politics in the same way that I do, […] but the best thing I think I can do is to convey to as many students as possible at UCSB and at other UCs that politics affects you, no matter what you’re interested in. So no matter what you’re interested in, you should spend some of your time engaging in politics and attending rallies and attending lobby visit. I think that the way that we’ve become the most effective lobby group as UCSB I want to increase UCSB and the UC’s power to get what we want on a statewide level […] is to have as many students engaged as possible. More students going to rallies, more students engaged and interested in events, more students going to lobby visits. I think Lobby Corps should be a huge group, almost the way that, if you’re familiar with the accounting association at UCSB, almost everyone who’s in economics is a part of the accounting association. I think it only makes sense if you’re a political science major, a history of public policy major, you should be engaged in some way at UCSB through Associated Students or Lobby Corps. And then I also want to […] so I guess the biggest thing, that as a means to an end, the end being to prevent tuition increases. So the two ways that you do that are to, for one, we have to try to like, prevent the increases that are coming now, the five percent stable tuition increase. What I’ve done around that is to, I’ve worked with Assemblymember Das Williams’s office. We’ve created a coalition of some members of his office, students including myself and Senator Garcia and EVPSA Singh, members of the faculty association, members of the TA union, and we’ve gotten together and we’ve begun to advocate and lobby people to prevent a tuition increase. But the step beyond that, the next step on that, is to find a dedicated revenue source. It’s something that’s been going on for the last few years, it’s something that I’ve started to work on as a campus organizer my second year, it’s something that especially in the 2016 election with the possibility of recreational marijuana being legalized, that we could tax that. And we’re constantly looking for new ways to fund the UC, that’s really the biggest, to find that. And I also want to work to increase mental healthcare services in the UC, because the student service fee, which is a thing that the UC has, you know, tuition has gone up almost 100 times in the last 30 years but the student service fee is not tied to how many students are going to a school or how many new students are going to a school, so students aren’t getting the services they need.
What are some of the most important issues for students to be aware of regarding statewide policies and how will you work to inform students of these issues?
For me the most important issue that students should be aware of is tuition increases. It is the widest issue, it affects every single student. Part of my platform is that, I argue that, tuition increases affect every single person in California, whether or not you’re attending a higher education institute. Because there is a lot of research that shows that every single time someone graduates, the economy of the state and the economy of the country does better. Higher education is one of the best investments that you can make and so we have to create a feeling that, we have to create an understanding, that higher education is not just for individual gain. I think there’s this feeling now amongst students and a lot of people outside of the UC that you as the student should be paying for it because it’s you as a student who’s benefiting. But in reality, it’s that you as student are benefiting, obviously, you make more money and you get better job prospects and things like that, and it expands your world view, but the state overall benefits from every time someone graduates from college and so I wanted to create a feeling, I want to create that understanding amongst the state. I guess I’d say the most important thing for students to understand is the systems that affect them, who their regents are, how the regents vote, who Janet Napolitano is, her history–very problematic history–why there’s only one student regent, how we can get more student regents, why the regents feel that they have to do the things that they do, which is because the legislature is not funding them at the levels that they need to. So I want people to understand these systems, but fundamentally I want people to understand that the way that we’re funding higher education now is not normal, that before 2010 the state paid more into public education than the students did. And I think that a lot of the problems that we face now is because that’s understood to be normal, it’s like “of course im gonna go to college because that’s what I’ve been told to do my whole life, and I’m gonna go into debt.” Nobody really likes it but I think there’s this feeling that it’s unavoidable. I really want to shake that up because its not unavoidable and for a long time, it wasn’t that way.
What is your impression of the UC Regents? How do you plan on relating campus issues to the UC system’s highest governing body?
The issues with the UC regents is, of course, that there’s only one student regent. The student regent is a huge thing, that person has a lot of power, but it’s also not going to sway an entire vote, usually. This is because they’re appointed by the Governor, there’s no student input into who gets appointed, it’s generally business people. Also, in the California constitution, where it states how the regents are supposed to be decided, there’s not a lot of requirements. It says that the regents are supposed to manage the UC, but it also says that they’re supposed to represent the state of California based on socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender, and age, just represent California overall, which they just absolutely don’t do. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a regents meeting, but its mostly old white men. There are some people of color and some women, and they’re all pretty wealthy, a lot of them are retired business people or still working business people or retired politicians or something of that sort. So that’s the big problem with the regents, regent reform is something that I hope to work on but it’s an incredibly long term project. The first step around that, generally thought to be, adding a second student regent so that you can have a graduate student regent and an undergraduate student regent because right now we kind of battle it out for the position, so it would make more sense if there was one for each. What I plan to do is just to try to make them more accountable by a few means. EVPSA Singh has done a good job this year of going to nearly every single regents meeting so that he’s there for the entire meeting so that he knows exactly what’s going on so he can relay that back. I think that we should bring more students to the regents meetings on a regular basis. I’ve met some students interested in going but they’ve never had a chance to go. And I also think that the news here has done a decent job, at particularly public or controversial regents meetings, of doing things like live tweeting or streaming the meetings and I think that’s something that the EVPSA office should pick up also. One more thing I’d like to try to do is to try to lobby the regents that there be a staff member whose job it is to relay information to students, kind of like a student liaison outside of the student regent position.
If you could have a sit-down with UC President Janet Napolitano, what would you discuss with her?
The overall thing I’d want to convey to Janet Napolitano is that she’s a very shrewd politician. I’ve never met her personally, but everyone I know that has met her has said that she is very intelligent. But I think her big thing is that she’s really not afraid to use students as pawns to get where she thinks that she needs to be. So I would just try to sit down with her and try to put more of a human face on what’s going on with student debt. Because I think she thinks that it’s her versus us versus the legislature, the legislature of Governor Brown, which is kind of the situation that she has put us in with the proposed tuition increase. She’s using us as leverage to get what she needs from Jerry Brown. And I would try to convey to her that a more effective means would be to actually sit down with students more often so we can come up with a joint strategy to work against the legislature, and also tell her that the committee of two should probably–Melvin put it really well that–be more like a committee of 240,000, because we can’t get to the budget right now, we can only get to the 2013 budget. We can’t see the UC budget now, which is ridiculous, that you can’t see the budget of a public institution.
Based on your experiences with the University of California Student Association Board, what do you think they could do more effectively and what would you do to ensure that gets done?
I’ve been involved with the United States Students Association since I went to the UCSA conference the summer before my second year. I think it’s a very good group overall. It’s a bunch of dedicated individuals who try to work on a statewide level. I think the things that we should fix with it is that not all schools pay the same amount into the United States Student Association. UCSB pays like $140,000 into UCSA, not all schools pay the same amount and not all schools really get the same level of representation. So I would try to establish a means by where each delegation that goes would get a certain number of votes, because usually what happens is schools like UCLA and Berkeley push through campaigns. And the campaigns have been good, Ignite has been a pretty successful campaign and UConsent has been pretty good, but I think that it doesn’t really give schools like UC Merced or UC Riverside or smaller schools a fair chance to push through something that they would want to discuss. Another thing is that they spend a lot of time at their meetings discussing how to best push forward things on like a whole system wide level, but I found in working that, at least at UCSB, the campaigns start to get much better when it’s a little more decentralized. UConsent is the UCSA campaign, but the EVPSA’s office this year has turned it into Gaucho Consent, which is still in line with the UCSA’s ideas and still pushes for everything in the campaign, but it’s a little more UCSB specific. It’s based around our calendar schedule, our finals, our midterms, and things like that. And I’ve found that that has been much more effective, but it seems like every year it takes everybody like a couple weeks to figure that out, so I would push that any campaign we do should probably be based on that initially.