A recently nominated student regent and UCLA alumnus said he hopes to increase engagement of different student populations and focus on issues relating to basic needs.
Jamaal Muwwakkil, a doctoral student at UC Santa Barbara, was nominated in May to be the student regent on the University of California Board of Regents for the 2020-2021 term.
During its meeting in July, the regents board will vote on Muwwakkil’s nomination as student regent. If Muwwakkil’s appointment is approved, he will serve as a student regent-designate for the 2019-2020 term and become a voting student regent in 2020-2021.
Muwwakkil said he was interested in becoming a UC student regent because he is passionate about student advocacy and was looking for ways to make a difference in students’ lives.
“I think the (UC) is an amazing resource; it’s the best public higher education system and with that, it offers chances and opportunities and access to so many people,” he said. “My position is that California’s strength is in its diversity and we can see that represented through the (UC).”
The UC is governed by a board of regents, who meet six times a year to vote on issues concerning the UC system. The student regent is the only student position with voting powers on the board.
He said as student regent, he hopes to work with and encourage transfer students to attend schools in the UC system.
Muwwakkil transferred from Los Angeles City College to UCLA in 2014. The process of transferring to a university is difficult and not transparent for many students, particularly nontraditional students and first-generation students, he said.
“I think we could be doing a better job at all levels in engaging those students to let them know that the UC does want those students, the non-18-year-old students, the students who weren’t excellent or amazing high school students,” Muwwakkil said. “There’s an opportunity for you to gain access to and contribute to the campus climate.”
Hayley Weddle, the incoming student regent for the 2019-2020 term and doctoral student at UC San Diego, said in an email statement she thinks Muwwakkil’s experience as a transfer student will benefit the UC Board of Regents.
“(Muwwakkil’s) interest in improving the experience of transfer students and historically underserved students within the UC will be an incredibly valuable addition to the board,” Weddle said. “His commitment to expanding outreach and support programs for transfer students is exciting, and I am confident he will be an effective advocate for the accessibility of the UC.”
Muwwakkil also said he is concerned about students’ financial and housing insecurity and how that can impact their academic trajectory.
“(I’m interested in) really trying to shine light on the idea that not everybody is financially comfortable while they’re doing their studies,” Muwwakkil said. “They can be as bright as they want to be, but if you can’t afford rent and you can’t afford food, something has to give.”
Devon Graves, the outgoing student regent and doctoral student at UCLA, said he thinks Muwwakkil’s personal story and experience will make him a great addition to the regents board. He added he thinks Muwwakkil is entering at a good time because many seats are changing and there are newer members on the board with whom Muwwakkil can build relationships.
“The student regent is important because it provides a student perspective and student voice to important conversations taking place, but it’s not good enough to just have a seat at the table,” Graves said. “We have to be utilizing that seat, taking part of the larger governance of the board.”
During his term as student regent, Graves also focused on the food and housing insecurity for students. Graves said he worked to create a committee that produced a report every two years to help the University understand its successes and deficiencies in addressing basic needs.
However, Graves said he thinks while basic needs may be a popular issue, there are other localized, lesser-known issues that Muwwakkil should focus on.
“From my experience … you hear a lot of other issues that may be more localized, region-specific, campus-specific,” Graves said. “And so a big issue is that there’s just so many things out there that folks are going to come to the student regent about, so (Muwwakkil’s) definitely going to have to pick and choose his battles, and what he wants to advocate for.”
Muwwakkil said he believes the first challenge he will face as student regent designate in the 2019-2020 term will be learning about the 10 different campuses, as well as state officials, state policies and the history of those policies.
“There’s a huge amount of information, so I think that’s the initial challenge,” Muwwakkil said. “(I will) be really engaged in fact finding and relationship building.”
Weddle said she also thinks developing relationships and learning about the UC system and the issues facing the UC is important.
“My best advice to (Muwwakkil) is to invest time and energy in developing collaborative relationships this year, as the issues facing the UC are complex and require deep dialogue, strategizing and coalition building,” Weddle said.
Johana Guerra Martinez, the external vice president of the Undergraduate Students Association Council at UCLA and a rising fourth-year political science student, said she thinks it is important to form a close relationship with the student regent. She said she thinks her office will work closely with the UC student regent in the next year.
“I think a lot happens that someone like a student regent has access to and can really dedicate themselves to, so they would act as a resource … connecting us and helping us understand what’s going on,” Martinez said.
Muwwakkil said he is excited to make a change in higher education and in the UC as a student regent. He said he believes in the UC and the opportunities it offers to people, and hopes it will continue to engage nontraditional students.
“My vision is that (the UC) will be more so in line with its vision, with its master plan, which is to, say, really actively engage the local population … and really kind of leverage the idea that those California residents don’t always just exclusively include high-achieving high school students,” Muwwakkil said.