President Donald Trump’s election spurred Nicole Corona Diaz, an undocumented student, to become more involved in political activism.
“When Trump was elected, we didn’t know what was going to happen, whether we were going to get deported or whether (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) would still be around,” Corona said. “I’m fighting because it’s about time I become my own hero.”
Corona, a first-year political science student, and Gustavo Gonzalez-Ramos, a second-year psychobiology student, decided to start UCLA’s Defend Affirmative Action Party branch this year to advocate for undocumented students and other minorities who feel threatened by the Trump administration.
DAAP is a new slate running in this year’s undergraduate student government elections, which will take place in May. A national civil rights group called By Any Means Necessary supports DAAP, which also has chapters in the University of Michigan and UC Berkeley. Corona and Gonzalez-Ramos are two of the five candidates running for the three general representative positions, which represent the general student body.
Corona and Gonzalez-Ramos formed DAAP at UCLA after working as volunteers with BAMN. They said their platforms are to advocate for UCLA to be a sanctuary campus and to encourage UCLA to increase minority student enrollment.
“We understood the gravity of the situation after Trump, and we wanted to be at the forefront of a social movement,” Corona said.
Maricruz Lopez, a BAMN organizer, said her organization is supporting Corona and Gonzalez-Ramos because the candidates want to build a student movement at UCLA that could resist the Trump administration’s policies.
Lopez said BAMN protested against Trump’s executive order banning immigration from several Muslim majority countries and is currently organizing against the Trump administration’s proposed border wall and mass deportations.
“We need to fight back against Trump’s racist vision for America,” Lopez said. “We want the university to do more to protect minority students.”
BAMN provides logistical help for DAAP’s campaign, such as help with flyering and taking pictures, and also gives the candidates advice, Lopez said.
“In addition to winning the election, we really want more students to know about us and the issues we are fighting for,” Lopez added.
Gonzalez-Ramos said that as part of their sanctuary campus platform, they plan to create networks to notify and protect students in danger of deportation.
“I remember (Chancellor) Gene Block sent an email after the election supporting undocumented students, but he really just made a general statement,” he said. “We’ll be able to really highlight these issues and give specifics by getting elected.”
Corona said she thinks the administration should take more tangible action to help undocumented students, such as changing campus policies or providing spaces in Ackerman Union or Kerckhoff Hall for undocumented students who do not feel safe.
“Sanctuary campus is an empty statement when it is not backed up with what that means,” she said. “We want to pressure the administration to give a more detailed description of what they are willing to do.”
Gonzalez-Ramos said they also plan to advocate for increased minority enrollment at UCLA by encouraging the university to adopt on-site admissions at Southern California high schools. On-site admissions are when admissions counselors go to local high schools, interview applicants and then make a decision on the spot.
“On-site admission is really shown to increase minority enrollment because minority students often underperform on tests like the SAT and ACT,” he said.
Both Gonzalez-Ramos and Corona said though they have no prior Undergraduate Students Association Council experience, they feel their experience in activism qualifies them to run.
Gonzalez-Ramos said he used to work with Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and helped undocumented individuals apply for DACA, a program created during President Barack Obama’s administration that deferred deportation for undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children.
Corona said she thinks her experience as the director of her high school’s theater program and her involvement with BAMN gave her the leadership and organizational skills to be a general representative.
“If I were taking to the safe route by interning in one of the USAC offices first, then it would take too long to get things done,” she said. “That’s why we are starting now because we are ready to learn on the job.”
Corona admitted that running as a new slate has been difficult, and that they are still learning how to navigate the USAC election process.
“We are trying to catch up as much as we can,” she said. “This is the first time either of us are going through the election process and so we’re still trying to learn everything.”
She added DAAP has less resources than many of the other candidates in the race, with no campaign staff and little funding.
“We are trying to stay humble,” she said. “We aren’t trying to win over students with T-shirts or stickers, we want you to vote for our ideas.”
Click here for full coverage of the 2017 USAC elections.