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2021 USAC Election Endorsements

(Photos courtesy of USAC candidates. Photo illustration by Kanishka Mehra/Photo editor)

By Editorial Board

April 30, 2021 6:02 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Atharva Kulkarni worked with Academic Affairs Commissioner Breeze Velazquez to successfully advocate the Academic Senate for more lenient grading schemes and 24-hour testing windows for international students. In fact, Kulkarni solicited student opinions, organized events and collected data to assist Bakur Madini, the current ISR, in advocating for academic leniency.

This post was updated May 3 at 10:34 p.m.

Editor’s note: The Daily Bruin Editorial Board has withdrawn its endorsement of Moises Hernandez for president in light of new information. For more details, read the board’s statement here. The featured art was updated to reflect this decision.

The spring Undergraduate Students Association Council election brings forth a new set of fresh faces hopeful for an office position within UCLA’s student government. Each year, the Daily Bruin Editorial Board sits down with each candidate to learn more about their platforms, hopes and goals for their positions. On the 2021-2022 ballot, which opened Friday on MyUCLA, there are 15 positions up for grabs, along with one referendum and three constitutional amendments. Scroll down for the editorial board’s endorsements on each:

President – Moises Hernandez (Independent)

Moises Hernandez has a passion for empowering underrepresented students.

The board is confident he will translate that passion into progressive action as USAC president.

Hernandez’s platforms to make UCLA more accessible to marginalized students may sound idealistic, but the candidate has plans to back them up. For example, Hernandez will host monthly town halls with students, organize workshops that help new Bruins find their footing on campus and advocate for better funding of campus programs aimed at uplifting underrepresented students. One of his most exciting goals is to implement a college weekend that will encourage prospective students from marginalized backgrounds to pursue higher education.

Hernandez has a drive that is hard to beat. Although this is his first year at UCLA, Hernandez, a third-year philosophy transfer student, has taken on roles in the Transfer Student Representative Office, the Academic Advancement Program’s Center for Community College Partnerships and the general representative 3’s office. As the former student body president of Imperial Valley College, Hernandez also has years of advocacy experience that he can wield to tear down institutional barriers facing current and future Bruins.

To be fair, Hernandez’s opponents have admirable plans for supporting Bruins in what will most certainly be a difficult year. The board commends Breeze Velazquez in particular for her clear and actionable plans to divest from policing.

But when it comes down to it, Hernandez offers a fresh perspective that UCLA is in dire need of.

Internal Vice President – Cassandra Gatica (For The People), Bakur Madini (Bruin Solutions)

The board believes both candidates for internal vice president are well-qualified and encourages students to look into what they value most in each candidate before voting.

Cassandra Gatica, a second-year sociology student, has the classic qualifications of an IVP candidate, having done a wealth of administrative, planning and developmental work as a member of the IVP office for the last two years. Running under the For The People slate, she has a strong set of platforms focused on strengthening students’ well-being through job-related informational work and fostering an inclusive environment for STEM students within social justice advocacy spaces. With her breadth of experience in student government, the board believes she will perform well in the role of IVP if elected.

On the other hand, Bakur Madini, a second-year mathematics/economics and political science student, has displayed a dedication to making USAC more equitable and transparent. He has weathered federal policy changes and also worked on impact-driven initiatives such as the first University of California International Student Conference. The board believes Madini will bring the same degree of innovation and pragmatism to the role of IVP that he brought to his current office of international student representative.

External Vice President – Sarah Wang (Independent)

Empathetic, humble and adaptable.

These three words best describe the candidacy of second-year communication and political science student Sarah Wang. With extensive experience in USAC with different executive offices, Wang believes that she can strongly effect change as an external vice president.

Even as a second-year student, Wang has taken up leadership roles in a variety of organizations on campus while gaining a holistic overview of student government and student life. But it was really during her time as a student worker when Wang was able to see educational inequities firsthand.

In this year’s election cycle, Wang has made it her mission to promote an equitable return to campus by enhancing the accessibility of basic resources. Her plans include setting standards for campus food pantries, educating eligible students on CalFresh use, and advocating for digital equity through Assembly Bill 34, the Broadband for All Act of 2022. During a time of social and political upheaval, Wang also hopes to educate Bruins on voter advocacy and lobbying for future elections.

Wang is looking forward to taking her projects head-on and serving the community that has supported her all along. The board is excited to see her go to work.

General Representative 1 – Asante Spencer (Independent)

As a first-year candidate, Asante Spencer brings a new voice to the room.

And despite being new, she is no stranger to using her voice to create lasting change.

After serving her first three years of high school in student government, Spencer became the first Black co-president of her school.

While there, she improved the social and emotional well-being of her fellow students who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, while simultaneously founding an organization that supports students experiencing racial injustice called Snitch on Racism.

Spencer will continue to support BIPOC students as a general representative. Beyond changing overarching campus culture, Spencer plans to make immediate, actionable changes. She’ll start by hosting workshops to educate students about campus rights and increasing student voices on the Student Advisory Board within the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Student Advocate Board within the USAC Office of the President.

Furthermore, Spencer, a first-year African American studies and political science student, hopes to address the vast effects of the pandemic by ensuring that students are met with adequate resources and mental health support on campus. She’s already started tackling the latter through her internship with the Office of the President, and she plans to involve cultural organizations to take her work further. Spencer will focus on facilitating personal connections over broad sweeping actions to make sure no Bruin falls through the cracks.

In a year that shed light on injustices for many, Spencer’s determination for change comes as a breath of fresh air.

General Representative 2 – Carl King Jr. (Independent)

A Sergeant in the Marine Corps doesn’t make their way onto the USAC election ballot often.

In addition to his extensive life experience as a service member, Carl King Jr., a first-year business economics transfer student, has already done a great deal of work within the external vice president office, an achievement which the board believes will translate well into a general representative position.

King has shown a great sense of preparation and understanding in pressing student issues, tailoring his platforms around student feedback and his current work within the EVP office. He plans to establish a professional development program that would educate students on the basics of good financial well-being, a platform the board believes will fill a general blindspot in university-level education.

He also plans to extend the financial accessibility of mental health resources like CAPS for students while advocating for his transfer community in addressing current housing issues.

A rare blend of non-traditional experience along with traditional USAC office work makes King an exciting candidate for the board, one who will serve students well as a general representative.

General Representative 3 – Hailey Valles (For The People)

Though running in a pool of unique and qualified individuals, Hailey Valles still manages to stand out as a candidate for general representative.

The third-year biology student has vast experience advocating for students and leading several teams. Not only was she a director in the Academic Affairs Commission, but she also served as an Academic Senator and a director in the California Public Interest Research Group this past year, among other roles.

Valles aims to use both internal and external resources to improve accessibility to USAC and mental health resources at UCLA. Internally, she plans to increase the representation of STEM students and nontraditional students in USAC and organize workshops alongside her team that focus on mental wellness.

Externally, she plans to lobby for a budget increase for the Counseling and Psychology Services center and aims to work with CAPS, alongside other organizations, to expand resources for students. She also wants to support outreach efforts to prospective students and offer current students from historically underrepresented communities more support to learn the ins and outs of academia.

Valles acknowledged that some of her plans, such as creating one to two online courses within each major for prospective students, might be too ambitious for one term. However, her ideas are definitely worth starting right away for future student government officials to continue to carry out the work.

Valles has the experience to make her ambitious platforms a reality.

Academic Affairs Commissioner – Atharva Kulkarni (Bruin Solutions)

Promises for change are only as valuable as the ability to effect it, but Atharva Kulkarni knows how to get things done.

As chief of staff in the International Student Representative’s office this year, Kulkarni solicited student opinions, organized events and collected data to assist Bakur Madini, the current ISR, in advocating for academic leniency.

With his background and record for performance, the board believes Kulkarni will effectively further AAC’s current endeavors, including reducing textbook costs, overhauling the system surrounding academic dishonesty investigations and expanding access to class resources to keep up with a hybrid schedule next year. Most importantly, Kulkarni’s actionable plans to continue and implement these reforms are as pragmatic as they are commendable.

Kulkarni also hopes to focus his office on a holistic approach to mental health, in part by introducing Nod, an app that combats loneliness and depression. His platforms on this front also include implementing campuswide mentorship programs and an anonymous hotline for students, while addressing deficiencies in CAPS’ cross-cultural mental health services.

Kulkarni’s ability to identify problems and devise creative solutions raises him above the rest of the pack. The board is eager to see Kulkarni put his words into action next year.

Campus Events Commissioner – Maya Sanghavi (Independent)

The campus events commissioner is arguably one of the more fun roles up for grabs.

But it takes more than an eye for fun to succeed as a leader of this organization.

When it comes to entertainment and student life, Maya Sanghavi has her finger on the pulse. Her two years of experience in the CEC serve as a solid foundation in the nitty-gritty of the organization, but her commitment to serving the diverse UCLA community is what earns her this Board’s endorsement.

In the rest of her platforms, her focus on intentionality shines through and makes her a standout candidate. She has reflected carefully on the CEC’s flaws, understanding that in order to remedy them, the organization must curate its programming to favor relevance and community. With a bundle of impactful events on her resume, she has proven her ability to lead with diverse perspectives in mind.

In a year where entertainment was a crucial escape from a grim reality, the role of the campus events commissioner has grown in weight. Sanghavi knows this better than most, and this board is confident she will use entertainment as a force for good as we break the 6-foot barrier in the coming year.

Community Service Commissioner – Mominah Subhan (Independent)

Community service is a critical part of the UCLA ethos.

As Community Service commissioner, Mominah Subhan would help service organizations on campus flourish alongside UCLA’s institutional service structures.

Subhan’s commitment to service is clear. At UCLA, she has been involved in a variety of service organizations, including CSC. She’s used her time in CSC to support community-oriented students, ensuring as co-transportation director that students had access to transportation to enable their service efforts and lifting up students’ voices as a CSC advocacy committee member. Her devotion to student volunteers on campus makes Community Service commissioner a natural next step in her service career at UCLA.

In her ambition to make CSC more visible, she aims to bridge the divide between administration-run service and student-run service. To do this, she wants to use her connections with the UCLA Volunteer Center to collaborate on service events for students on a larger scale, like the annual volunteer day.

Transitioning back to in-person service will no doubt be difficult, but the board is certain that Subhan’s background in health advocacy and transportation logistics show that she has the chops to navigate a changing volunteering landscape based on local guidelines.

Cultural Affairs Commissioner – Promise Ogunleye (For The People)

Following a monumental year of social, political and public health events, community matters more than anything else.

And Promise Ogunleye has made it her mission to ensure that the Cultural Affairs Commission fosters it.

During her past year as commissioner, Ogunleye has proven to be a strong leader amid social and cultural reckonings. Her plans for reelection build on providing more structure and stability for CAC. Ogunleye plans to create an outreach sector within CAC dedicated to engagement with Black and Indigenous people and other people of color, and also aims to secure regular meetings with the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Ogunleye’s plans to repatriate items in UCLA’s archives and museums to their original owners might not be achievable, but her ambition is admirable. At the very least, her efforts will start a conversation surrounding the issue of stolen land and property owned by the university, which would be impactful in its own right.

CAC advocates to secure underrepresented people a seat at the table, and from her experience in the past and plans for the future, Ogunleye is more than prepared to do that work.

Facilities Commissioner – Jane Ni (For The People)

The Facilities Commission requires an in-depth technical understanding of campus infrastructure.

Jane Ni brings that expertise in spades. Ni’s experience with USAC and the Facilities Commission is an asset, but it is her extensive and detail-oriented planning for the upcoming year that earns her this board’s endorsement.

Her plans are specific, down to the most accessible designs for campus hand sanitizer stations and opportunities to invest in knitting and crocheting clubs as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion.

In addition to their strength in isolation, Ni’s platforms work well together. For example, Ni pairs one platform to offer more on-campus storage space with her goals for sustainability – if clubs can store and reuse props and costumes, Ni argues, they will cut down on a cycle of trashing and rebuying these materials.

Elijah Simas, Ni’s opponent, is a clearly passionate newcomer to the USAC scene. Both candidates emphasize the importance of equity and advocacy.

But it’s difficult for anyone to compete with Ni, who is operating with a rare level of know-how and actionability. Beyond the immediate future, Ni is already looking ahead to the 2028 Paralympics, to be held in Los Angeles, which she rightly deems as an opportunity to make strides for physical accessibility on campus.

Ni is the real deal. This board is eager to see what she might accomplish in the coming year.

Financial Supports Commissioner – Emily Yu (Independent)

Emily Yu is a classically strong contender for the Financial Supports commissioner role.

In a year with so much financial hardship, Yu’s ability to hit the ground running should not be taken for granted.

Yu has a firsthand familiarity with the most prominent FSC initiatives, including holding a leadership role with the COVID-19 Relief Fund. She has practical plans to expand and improve FSC programs, including resume workshops and the iClicker Loaner Library. She understands funding processes and plans to make sure that students are connected to these resources, as well as solidify basic needs funding over the long term.

She also brings fresh ideas to the table. Her platform to create a small enterprise fund goes above and beyond the necessary and will offer startup capital to get students’ passion projects off the ground. Her goals to connect students to discounts in Westwood Village demonstrate an appreciation for our city as a financial ecosystem, which could mutually benefit small business owners and students alike.

This board has confidence that Yu has the competence to deliver for students in this crucial office, despite the trying times.

Student Wellness Commissioner – Tayloneei Jackson (Independent)

Tayloneei Jackson has a fresh vision and detailed plans down to the last bullet point – and for that reason, the editorial board endorses her for the position of Student Wellness Commissioner.

What Jackson lacks in direct experience in the commission itself she makes up for with an equity-based approach. She is rightfully unabashed about pursuing health and wellness as a political issue for historically marginalized students, and this vision will undoubtedly help her transition SWC into a new era without sacrificing the feasibility of her immediate goals.

Jackson currently has two positions in the USAC Office of the President, is president of the California Health Professional Student Alliance and serves as the community health chair of Melanin & Medicine, a club on campus for Black students interested in health professions, in addition to her experience in the research, health advocacy and reproductive justice fields.

What sets Jackson apart, however, is her cohesive approach to a multifaceted group of platforms which center on and around social, racial and reproductive justice in order to help underrepresented Bruins succeed while supporting the greater needs of a student body returning to campus.

This year may be Jackson’s first year in SWC, but, if elected, the board trusts that she will have a lasting impact beyond her tenure.

Transfer Student Representative – Herman Luis Chavez (Bruins Adelante Coalition)

For the past year, Herman Luis Chavez has worked to push issues transfer students face to the forefront at UCLA.

The third-year transfer, currently in his first year at UCLA, hit the ground running when he got to UCLA as student director of the USAC Office of the Transfer Student Representative, a Transfer Student Center volunteer coordinator and as a student representative in the Academic Senate.

Chavez has already worked to change USAC bylaws to ensure transfer students are better represented in the Academic Senate and in discussions with UCLA administration. Not to mention, he even helped develop the curriculum for a campuswide Transfer Awareness Training.

As the transfer student representative, he plans to institutionalize the campuswide Transfer Awareness Training for future years, expand 2021 orientation and summer bridge programs and lobby for UCLA to participate in the Transfer Admission Guarantee program, which all other University of California undergraduate campuses participate in except for UCLA and UC Berkeley.

Chavez’s strong suit lies in not just his innovative ideas, which his opponent Harmonie Yacob undoubtedly has as well, but his knowledge about the office he’d be leading in this position.

Chavez’s slate, Bruins Adelante Coalition, believes goals should be accomplishable in one year, and the board fully believes Chavez will be able to accomplish his.

International Student Representative – Natalia Garcia Tang (Bruin Solutions)

By bridging her personal experience with her involvement across Greek life, cultural groups and finance organizations, this board believes Natalia Garcia Tang will bring a multifaceted approach to the Office of the International Student Representative.

Every challenge international Bruins have faced in the past year, from working across time zones to delayed updates from the UCLA administration, has been factored into Garcia Tang’s platforms. Garcia Tang is up to the task of challenging international students’ lack of institutional resources and building a more cohesive community.

With plans to revive the International Student Leadership Council, Garcia Tang plans to build a space which encourages dialogue between USAC and international students. Additionally, the second-year economics student wishes to streamline updates through an easily accessible online platform, a necessity given students still have nearly five months of remote instruction until the fall.

As for tackling the lack of resources, Garcia Tang’s approach to expand the UCLA Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars’ social programming while developing a professional mentorship program reiterates her understanding of what these students need on campus with guidance for what comes post-graduation.

For her balance of practicality and foresight, the board endorses Garcia Tang for international student representative.

Bruin Emergency Relief Fund Referendum – YES

Asking students to pitch in additional fees to an institution they’re already paying thousands of dollars for is a tall task. But for the prospective establishment of the Bruin Emergency Relief Fund – which will only support undergraduate students facing emergencies where financial assistance is required – the board believes it is a minor price to pay that will go a long way.

Under the language of the BERF referendum, student fees will increase by $2 each quarter starting fall 2021 to assist those experiencing emergency hardships, which, coming off a pandemic-adjusted school year, students should understand how helpful can be.

Considering students paid various amounts in fees over the course of this past remote school year for services they couldn’t even use, a fee that contributes directly to students in need should not be difficult to get behind.

And despite the possibly worrisome optics of a small increase in fees adding up to much more later, a general sense of empathy and commitment to their fellow Bruins should convince students that $2 a quarter is a worthwhile investment.

Constitutional Amendments

  1. Give the USA Judicial Board the jurisdiction and authority to enforce the guiding documents of the association – YES
  2. Reduce the term limits of judicial board justices to a maximum of two years from four years – YES3. Allow the elections board to certify elected candidates without USAC approval – YES
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