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Campus organizations aim to make USAC more accessible for international students

(Nico Hy/Daily Bruin)

By Marilyn Chavez-Martinez

Oct. 27, 2020 8:49 p.m.

Undergraduate student leaders are working to increase student government accessibility to international students.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Office of the International Student Representative is partnering with the USA Elections Board and the Dashew Center Student’s International Student Advocacy Committee to encourage more international students to participate in student government.

Student government officials have proposed changes that would make it easier to participate in student government. Officials plan to release resource guides for international students and hope to encourage international students to run and participate in USAC elections.

USAC already faced issues engaging students in general before the COVID-19 pandemic, International Student Representative Bakur Madini said. While collecting signatures to become a USAC candidate in the spring, Madini said he often encountered students who did not know what USAC was.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has scattered students across different time zones, making it hard to make USAC meetings more accessible, because not everyone can participate while the meeting is live, Madini said.

“Many international students will not be in Westwood, will not even be in the U.S.,” Madini said. “Incoming international students, whether they’re first years or transfers, would have not even set foot on campus, so the issue is even more amplified.”

The USAC External Vice President Aidan Arasasingham proposed to submit pre-written public comments to the council before each meeting, Madini said, although the USAC president and internal vice president will determine if USAC will implement the change. The ISR office also plans to host more town halls where international students can voice their concerns.

The ISR, the ISA committee and the elections board also have a plan to prepare resource guides for international students, Madini said. These guides would provide information on housing, visas and the student government.

The three entities are also collaborating to encourage international students to run for all USAC positions and to boost voter turnout for the spring election.

To receive more input on matters affecting international students, the ISR office is trying to revive the international student leadership coalition. The coalition advocated for the ISR position on USAC before it was officially established in 2018 through a referendum.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in July that international students who were only taking classes online were not able to enter the United States. Even though ICE reversed the policy a week later, these rules remained in place for incoming international students.

[Related link: Incoming international students face struggles amid new ICE policies]

As a result, some international students must attend classes and keep up with campus life in another time zone. Madini, who lives in Saudi Arabia, attends USAC meetings at 5 a.m. on Wednesdays via Zoom, while council members on Pacific Standard Time log on at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.

The USA elections board chair, Alfred Tun, who is also an international student, said the student government must improve its connection with international students who may feel disconnected from UCLA and campus or student affairs.

“At least for me, personally … when I came to UCLA as an international student, there was a huge culture shock, there was a lot of things that I wasn’t too familiar with,” Tun said. “This … made me less confident to just be involved in campus affairs.”

This time difference for students outside of the Pacific Standard Time zone can make the public comment portion of USAC meetings – where students can comment on university matters – less accessible.

The ISA committee, a part of the Dashew Center Student Ambassador program, aims to raise awareness of issues that international students are facing at UCLA and across the University of California, said Nitya Mehta, the student ambassador for Panama.

Student ambassadors will work with the ISR this year to increase awareness of student government and student government elections, in addition to their work in setting up programming for international students and advocating for timezone friendly classes, Mehta said.

“I hope that (ISR and the ISA committee) are able to work together and make it the best that we possibly can for international students,” Mehta said.

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Marilyn Chavez-Martinez | News and outreach senior staff
Chavez-Martinez was the 2020-2021 Outreach Director. She was previously an assistant news editor managing the campus politics beat and still writes for the Daily Bruin news section occasionally. She is also a fourth-year English and Economics student at UCLA.
Chavez-Martinez was the 2020-2021 Outreach Director. She was previously an assistant news editor managing the campus politics beat and still writes for the Daily Bruin news section occasionally. She is also a fourth-year English and Economics student at UCLA.
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