Optimistic Votes in a Troubling Election
Despite the fact that a single slate is running unopposed this election cycle, the endorsements below came out of careful consideration of the individual candidates’ platforms. After individually interviewing each member of the EMPOWER slate and the two independent candidates, the UCSD Guardian Editorial Board considers the individuals discussed here to be qualified and prepared to take on their respective positions.
That being said, we feel obligated to express our extreme hesitation to endorse anyone at all given that there is so little competition in this year’s pool of applicants. Not only does competition in the electoral process lead to a continuous process of debate and growth, it also ensures that students have the right to decide who most accurately reflects their interests and goals for elected office. Students should not have to settle for their elected officials. And yet in this election cycle, we must.
The Guardian editorial board views this situation as an extension of the concerning trend of disengagement from student leadership and campus affairs. That a singular, incomplete slate is running nearly unopposed is a dual indictment of the Associated Students Council and the student body at large. The irony of an incomplete slate — one that operates on a platform of empowering students to take action on the issues that directly affect them — running nearly unopposed is not lost on us. Going forward into the 2018-2019 academic year, the Guardian editorial board encourages those who are elected in this cycle to constantly push to build their relationships with their constituents; that some students do not even know that students’ governance exists on this campus is proof of the failed connection between these two bodies. Also, we insist that the student body take a moment and consider this death of democracy to inspire a sense of civil duty and participate in the political process on all levels. This goes beyond voting to include the active participation in tackling the challenges facing students within and without this campus. Students consistently lament their issues with Housing Dining Hospitality, Chancellor Khosla, the Academic Senate, and the UC Office of the President, but caring about an issue is entirely separate from engaging with an issue.
The student leaders listed here all have unique experiences that inform their platforms and their approaches to student governance. For this reason, the UCSD editorial board is confident in these endorsements. Time will tell whether or not these candidates will be able to reverse the decline in civic engagement and restore UCSD’s political process to one that the students deserve.
How We Chose
The Guardian Editorial Board conducted interviews with all members of the EMPOWER slate and the two independent candidates. Our questions sought to determine their platforms, past experience with student leadership, and the individual’s level of preparedness for the position for which they are running. The final decision of whether or not to endorse a candidate, and which candidate to endorse for those positions that have competition, was made based on the these three criteria. The views expressed in the endorsements are those of the Guardian Editorial Board, not of an individual in particular.
A current sophomore from Thurgood Marshall College, Kiara Gomez has not lost any time getting involved on campus. After working at the Teaching and Learning Commons and as a Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services staffer her first year, she took on a position as a cabinet member of Marshall College her second year — as well as a position in the campus office of human relations.
This election marks her first time running for A.S. Council, but Kiara is well aware of her lack of experience — balancing it out with plenty of initiative and ideas. In our interview, she mentioned restructuring how the A.S. Senate works, instituting workshops to train incoming executives and coalition building between campus communities. She has shown her dedication and abilities to help first-generation students and undocumented students, and if elected, would prove an effective leader to all UC San Diego students.
Kiara’s platform is threefold. Her first priority is retention, as that has been an issue with A.S. in the past, and she’s already begun combatting that problem by only putting forward dedicated candidates. Second is accessibility, where she intends to fight in support of basic needs for students, taking the succession of her predecessor Lesly Figueroa. Lastly, she wants to improve engagement on campus and in our great city. She floated the idea of a coalition with other universities in the San Diego area as an example, along with improving access to all of A.S. through public forums and a “rebranding” for the students.
Within A.S., she wants to emphasize more cooperation between the offices and with the college councils, centralization of information regarding A.S. initiatives and reaching out to traditionally underserved communities such as transfer students and commuters. Finally, she intends to work with local lawmakers and entities to push a pro-student agenda forward at both the local and state level.
Yet one word kept coming back: retention. In order to be more efficient in serving the students, she will work on retention of student leaders and community representatives as well as elected student representatives. And if anyone is ready to take on that challenge, it is Kiara Gomez, our pick for next year’s A.S. President.
Vice President Campus Affairs – Daron Kyle Woods, EMPOWER
Daron Kyle Woods is one of the easier endorsements the editorial board has made this election cycle. This international studies major from Roger Revelle College not only has experience in student governance but he also has a keen set of ideas for how to improve student governance on this campus. During his time at San Diego Community College, Woods began his involvement in student government by serving as the school’s senate president. During this academic year, he continued this trend of public service by serving as a campus-wide senator following the resignation of his predecessor. These experiences have informed his conclusions that both the current A.S. Council and the college councils need institutional changes in order to increase their efficacy.
When he sat down with the Guardian, Woods outlined a number of ways to bolster the efforts of elected student leaders. The first, and the one that stood out the most given this year’s concerningly high number of resignations, was reworking the retention of knowledge over the years. Woods recognizes that the yearly turnover of elected officials means that institutional memory is constantly at risk of being lost. So, he recommends the creation of a database to store the information that one receives during their tenure in elected office for their successor, and an increased focus on training incoming staff members, whether elected or appointed. This goes in hand with another suggestion that caught our eye, which was holding those who do not meet the standards of their positions accountable. These ambitions, along with his many other ideas concerning the structure of student government and his interest in coalition building to tackle the daunting challenges that face those in elected office, evidence his capacity to enact lasting institutional change to student governance on this campus.
However, his platform does not stop there. As a transfer, he is especially receptive to the need for a transfer student resource center and for a more inclusive and engaging campus climate. Both tie back to the overall goal of his slate to empower students to make use of their resources and advocate for the issues that directly impact student life. This student-centered mechanism of political action bodes well for Woods’ future in the role of Vice President of Campus Affairs.
Campus-wide Senator – Emma Potter, EMPOWER
Emma Potter prides herself on a platform centered around disenfranchised and marginalized groups. This political science major based in Sixth college hails from Alaska, where she first participated in student government. Her time there, and her experience as First Year Senator, informs her platform, which she says “focus on accessibility and affordability because those two things determine a student’s experience at our school.” Sustainability and mental health resources are at the top of the list of her agenda, especially access to mental health resources because the lack thereof limits a student’s opportunities to succeed.
Not only does Potter echo many of the concerns that students have with the current resources and policies at UC San Diego, but she also reflects a wise change that she and her slate are trying to instigate in the coming year: a shift from programming-based action to policy-based action. She admits that A.S. has has issues with transparency and commitment in the past, but believes that this shift will help ameliorate these issues. By switching to policy-based action, she hopes to lay the groundwork for longer-lasting institutional work. As she says, she does not want to spend “two days on an issue and leave it.”
Though her experience socially and professionally has been in Sixth College, she has made an effort to look beyond the boundaries of her campus to consider the needs of students within and without the campus. This broader focus, in tandem with the community building lessons she learned during her tenure at the Sixth College Council, make her someone that the UCSD Guardian Editorial Board is more than happy to endorse for Campus-wide Senator.
Campus-wide Senator – Daniela Salazar, EMPOWER
Daniela, a fourth year Thurgood Marshall College student and current RA, holds no hesitation in advocating for greater support of mental health services and the immigrant community on campus. She has already taken the initiative of speaking with current A.S. members in order to establish not only a sense of continuity, but to learn how to best deal with the specificity of many issues facing students today.
She’s critical of how A.S. has been in the past, noting that previous slates have been given to personal issue and conflicts due to underlying friendships that have led to resignations. That’s part of why she’s part of the EMPOWER slate — the candidates are a strong team of individuals with similar goals. With what she believes to be a strong slate and team, she believes that they can have more of an impact by producing tangible results throughout the year without major disruptions from resignations. Her and the slate’s goal of achieving a heightened sense of continuity and public awareness is one and the same. She wants A.S. to consistently have note takers on hand to foster a strong connection to student media and press, have all meetings be filmed, set clear goals, and something else that should be simple enough: communicate. By having consistent records and communication, she hopes to improve the retainment of knowledge and training that has been impacted by this school year’s turnover.
Daniela is also focusing on issues within resident life by improving what is done with any excess Residential Life money. She wants that money to be put into addressing issues of basic needs and resources instead of just programming for students. Expanding funding for the resource centers is critical for many students of color, especially in regard to health sustainability and retention with an emphasis on the immigrant community. Much like Kenji, she is also planning to work toward more inclusive councilors in order to make campus services more welcoming than they currently are. The Undocumented Student Services Center, Raza Resource Center, and Black Resource Center all share a single therapist — which relegates the needs of the students these centers represent. Her multifaceted commitment to the diverse student body at UC San Diego is more than enough for the UCSD Guardian Editorial Board to be happy supporting her campaign.
Campus-wide Senator – Kenji Asakura, EMPOWER
Having become an A.S. senator this past fall as a first year student of Eleanor Roosevelt College, Kenji Asakura has proven his interest in and commitment to student government. As a candidate on the EMPOWER slate, he plans to pursue working on the very same issues his colleagues are: fixing a long-standing lack of transparency in A.S. and improving both quality and access to the health services provided on campus.
Kenji believes that a lack of visibility for many of the services already offered by campus health programs, like health/assault resource centers and CAPS’ student wellness program, has led to a general underutilization by students and necessitates better promotion by UCSD. However, not all students who are aware of these services in the first place are comfortable in reaching out. In order to change that, he’d like for CAPS to hire more counselors who are also conscious of being culturally inclusive.
He also plans to push back student apathy with action by building a more open dialogue between student leaders and the student body through a strong network of campus representatives and officially publicized office hours. The utility of programs and events, especially towards finals, can’t be understated because he sees the value in face-to-face communication with the students candidates are beholden to. Kenji’s interest in further pushing public awareness of AS goes alongside boosting transparency with the work of AS and student senators by his goal of having student leaders write year-end summaries of all work being done in a concise format geared towards the public. Kenji’s duo of energy and commitment are exactly what’s needed not only on this campus, but from A.S..
Off-Campus Senator – Kelly Morris, EMPOWER
As a Fund the UC member and current A.S. Off-Campus senator, Thurgood Marshall College second year Kelly Morris is no stranger to logistical work and the issues that concern commuters. Through her experience in such organizations, she’s come to learn exactly what is feasible for campus projects and has led to many introductions with faculty and students that will help her conduct research informing projects for years to come.
Kelly spoke to the Guardian on the matter of constant construction on campus, especially with the current work on the Mid-Coast trolley project that has led to a significant loss in available parking spots vital to commuters. Besides working to make sure that the S spots students will lose access to aren’t instead replaced with A/B spots as a consequence of the construction of Sixth College in the Muir parking lot, she also wants to make sure that current transportation options to and from campus improve. Despite MTS efforts to improve their performance, she believes that shuttle services need more support — especially at a time of such heavy construction.
However, her focus goes farther than just transportation for off-campus students. She wants to make sure that off-campus students also feel supported on campus because many commuters have claimed that they come to campus for class and nothing more — missing out on the social aspect that can make a campus feel like more of a home. By having student leaders and boards plan events at times friendlier to commuters, she believes that the current state of apathy of campus can be chipped away at bit by bit. Collecting all pertinent information on existing resources for commuters and having a commuter rep on most, if not all, college councils is also a priority for her. Kelly also suggests that the campus begin investing in things like commuter lockers and supporting more affordable food options on/near campus because commuting students need to plan their day’s schedule with a specificity that non-commuters don’t. With an eye for logistics and a passion for people, Kelly has proven herself as an incredibly promising candidate for our campus.
Engineering Senator – Sim Bhatia, EMPOWER
Running with the EMPOWER slate and focusing on improving access to Maker-Spaces for engineering students, Sim Bhatia is a well-rounded and motivated candidate for the Engineering senator position. A Sixth College sophomore and Sixth College Senator this year after being judicial board member her freshman year, she has the kind of experience in A.S. that most young candidates do not possess. As an active member of the engineering community and one of the first 13 students to commit to UCSD’s new data science major, Sim is committed to easing engineering students’ path by expanding campus resources.
On the question of how to achieve that, Sim presents a few options. She wants to implement better communication between her and the students, floating the idea of making surveys a regular occurence. She also mentioned involving the engineering fraternities and trying to reach the different college councils to have better representation for the engineering community. If elected, she vows to work for better transparency, all in an effort to be more accessible to the community she will be serving.
Sim also believes in the message of her slate as a whole, especially in regard to student apathy toward the student government. She is also well aware that her running unopposed for the position might make her seem less legitimate. However, she believes that this situation puts all the more pressure on her to perform at a high level, and she has already begun taking the necessary steps in that direction. She reached out to both current and the past senators, learning alongside them and asking for advice and counsel.
All in all, Sim Bhatia is a qualified and determined candidate who will do an admirable job as next year’s A.S. Engineering Senator.
How to vote: Visit tritonlink.ucsd.edu
Illustration by Christina Carlson