The Race Is On

Utsav Gupta

Gunning for re-election isn’t traditionally on the agenda of an A.S. president. And it’s an especially bold move for Sixth College senior and current president Utsav Gupta, considering his largely unpopular Winter Quarter decision to freeze funding for all student publications, in response to hurtful comments from controversial humor newspaper the Koala.

“I looked at the candidates running for president this year, and honestly, I was a little distressed,” Gupta said. “None of them had cabinet-level experience, most were only in [the A.S. Council] for one year, and most didn’t do much while they were there.”

Gupta swept the vote last spring, even after being rejected by the formerly popular slate Student Voice! as its official presidential candidate. Since then, he has spent his fourth year as a bioengineering major balancing a hefty course load with an almost impossible dedication to the A.S. Council. Gupta said the position can be time-devouring — consuming anywhere from “30 hours on a good week to 80 hours on a bad week.”

As a result, he’s had to cut down the usual five to six classes he takes a quarter, forcing him to stay another year and allowing for a possible second term as president. Like most A.S. presidents before him, Gupta hasn’t been able to finish much of what he’s started — a classic turnover problem that could potentially be remedied by his re-election.

“He stuck to his promises,” Associate Vice President of Student Organizations Andrew Ang said. “He has a large staff: He created a committee to look into all his campaign promises. But I believe that they were started, and not fully completed, in the term he said they would be completed in.”

But Gupta said lofty goals shouldn’t be something candidates avoid.

“I think an advantage I’ve had is I’ve been able to specifically state what I want to do — I think it was something that differentiated me last year,” Gupta said. “My platforms have always been very ambitious and I think it was my largest criticism levied against me, but I think a lot of it can be achieved.”

Given another year, Gupta said could continue fighting the Sun God Festival back into an “uncaged” all-campus format and investigating the possibility of a Division-I football team at UCSD. He also created a network of local student leaders this year who could take further steps in educating regional politicians about UCSD’s economic benefits, and California voters about the importance of supporting higher education — a concrete approach to curbing the rise in student fees.

Gupta has also promised to keep Transportation and Parking Services from coercing the A.S. Council into a student fee referendum, fight for later hours at Geisel and continue looking into Greek/student-leadership housing.

According to Gupta, uncaging Sun God has been a gradual process that has met a lot of opposition. Though he’s brought back the Junkyard Derby to Library Walk, as well as daytime events to individual colleges, he said he was prevented from planting student-organization booths on Library Walk by the three other councilmembers most involved in planning the festival — in addition to Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Life Gary Ratcliff, who “waited until it was too late to change the direction of the booths.”

Though Gupta has been criticized by most fellow candidates for proposing to start a football team funded by student fees, he has remained firm in his belief that the student body should be able to vote on the matter.

The most glaringly unpopular period in Gupta’s presidency came in the weeks that followed Koala Editor in Chief Kris Gregorian’s Feb. 18 racial slur on Student-Run Television. Though SRTV’s contract had only just been renewed earlier that quarter, Gupta pulled the station’s plug instantly. Less than 24 hours later, he enacted a freeze on all media-organization funding.

The maneuver, according to Gupta, was under his jurisdiction. He cited Section II of the A.S. Constitution, which stipulates that the role of the council is to “create and execute programs which serve the collective interests of the undergraduate population.” Gupta said the media-org funding system was not serving the “collective interests” of the students.

Still, if he could go back, Gupta said he’d have done things a little differently.

“If I were to go back with the knowledge I have now, I probably wouldn’t have had such an extensive freeze on media-org funding,” he said. “I wouldn’t have let it go on for so long.”

According to presidential candidate and Sixth College Senator John Condello, the council’s loudest supporter of free speech, the media freeze was a well-intentioned but detrimental reflex.

“He’s a smart guy,” Condello said. “He doesn’t do anything without knowing months in advance. The only reactionary move that I’ve seen him take is the media freeze.”

After the freeze added uproar from media-org leaders to a campus climate the Black Student Union had declared “toxic,” Gupta hosted a public forum to discuss alternative possibilities for funding student media. The forum drew over 100 attendees — including members of the A.S. Council, the BSU and student publications — and resulted in the creation of a committee to create a list of alternatives.

In the end, after the committee and the A.S. Council voted overwhelmingly against a non-content-neutral “government speech model” proposed by consistent Gupta ally and Vice President of Finance and Resources Peter Benesch, the media freeze was lifted by default — and all that was left was a campuswide bitterness against Gupta and Benesch.

“There should be some discretion involved in funding media organizations beyond a fixed set, if that makes sense,” Gupta said. “Which is why I was advocating for the hybrid [government speech model] approach.”

Still, Gupta’s decision damaged the confidence of many media-org members and their supporters, who criticized the president for not prioritizing First Amendment principles and failing to make decisions on behalf of the entire student body.

“I previously regarded him as someone who was good for the students essentially, willing to listen to everyone and sit down and be reasonable about the situation,” said Muir Quarterly Editor in Chief Nicole Teixeira. “But as the whole push for the change in the media guidelines continued and he led that charge, my opinion of him changed drastically.”

Gupta has maintained that his actions were largely misunderstood.

“I’m hoping I can work to rebuild some of that trust again,” Gupta said. “I didn’t do some sort of backhanded committee process to try and get specific legislation passed — everything was out in the open. I wanted media orgs to be part of the process. I’m hoping as the emotionality of the situation dies down, people will be able to see the specific realities of what happened versus what’s being presented or misrepresented.”

According to Benesch, much of Gupta’s day-to-day success as A.S. president is due to his knowledge of the bureaucracy within the council and the administration.

“Even if you ignore the fact that he was A.S. president for the last year, he literally has knowledge that no other candidate does — absolutely no other candidate,” Benesch said. “If you ask any other candidate, ‘How do you do X?’, they might give you an answer — but it’ll probably be BS. In all honesty, knowing how to do things is the most crucial thing to being a president in student government.”

— Edwin Gonzalez

Focus Editor

Brian McEuen

Brian McEuen

In two short years on the heated A.S. Council floor, Thurgood Marshall College sophomore Brian McEuen has almost never slipped out of line. His words are few and carefully chosen, avoiding the emotional charge that often divides his fellow councilmembers and drags meetings on.

In fact, McEuen’s place at the table might go unnoticed by a student unfamiliar with the council — if not for his stature. He’s a born politician, with kind eyes and a dashing jawline. (The spitting image of current Vice President of Finance and Resources Peter Benesch — also known for his serene, sometimes slippery presence on the council).

You’d think McEuen was born for this. But when he was first recruited to UCSD by the men’s volleyball coach, the high-school senior never expected to end up in student government. However, he was cut after three short weeks as a Triton, and McEuen was soon hot on the hunt for a new team.

That’s when he headed to the fourth floor of Price Center East. He served as an A.S. freshman senator his first year, and has since moved into the position of Marshall College senator and senate vice chair.

All this, while juggling a Lambda Chi Alpha membership, UCSD club volleyball and a brewing den of homemade beer back home. (He is currently in the process of brewing his second batch, a red oak amber.)

McEuen has also taken an extremely active role in presenting student concerns to administrators: He sits on the Campus Affairs Committee, the Advisory Committee on Sustainability and the Registration Fee Advisory Committee.

Still, the senator’s decision to run for the council’s most powerful position — especially on a brand-new slate — was somewhat unexpected, considering he’s only a college senator going into his junior year. (Sixth College junior and fellow presidential candidate John Condello, a close friend of McEuen, is taking a similarly premature leap toward the top spot.)

The Student Voice! slate, which carried McEuen into senatorship last year, was doomed to disintegrate after independent candidate and current A.S. President Utsav Gupta won by a landslide last spring, leaving SV! candidate Erin Brodwin with only a few hundred votes.

So, looking for a fresh (and hopefully more popular) pitch, McEuen talked with friend and Associate Vice President of Student Orgs Andrew Ang about creating the Tritons First slate. From there, they started recruiting running mates.

“We started picking people — what I think is the best of the best,” McEuen said. “Everyone on our slate has experience. They are not just random people who want to get involved.”

Even if he doesn’t win the presidential race this year, McEuen said he believes the Tritons First slate — his “biggest accomplishment” — will live on.

Indeed, McEuen runs the party like a machine: Every last campuswide senator recites the “Create! Empower! Restore!” catchphrase like it was mentally programmed, and it’s hard to traverse Library Walk without stumbling over a shiny Tritons First flier.

“I hope it’s not just a flash in the pan,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a lot more than that.”

Eleanor Roosevelt College Senior and fellow Lambda Chi Alpha member Dan Driver said McEuen is “a breath of fresh air.”

“Brian always has a smile on his face, and is a good person to look to when you need a calm and levelheaded point of view,” Driver said.

McEuen said this affinity toward creating togetherness is what sets him apart from current A.S. President Gupta, who is running for a second term.

“Utsav is a very smart person,” McEuen said. “I would bet my bottom dollar that he knows more about the rest of this campus than the rest of the student body. But he hasn’t really brought the council together at all, and that’s one of the main things I want to work on.”

McEuen said his ability to facilitate constructive conversation — something the current president has not proven to be his strong point — is one of the most important attributes of an executive in chief.

“The president might not have the best ideas, but he needs to be the best at getting people to come forward with those ideas,” he said.

Even independent candidate Condello recognized McEuen as one of the council’s most reliable mediators. Condello, who has a reputation for being confrontational during meetings, has expressed interest in appointing McEuen as his chief of staff, if elected, as a voice in his ear to keep him “in check.”

In response to McEuen’s candidacy, Gupta said he’s worried that McEuen has almost no track record of personal accomplishments on council.

“The main thing that worries me about [Brian] is that he hasn’t actually accomplished any projects over the two years that he’s been on A.S. — aside from the collaborative things like the A.S. referendum,” Gupta said. “But I can’t really tell you what he’s done throughout the year or what he stands for.”

Another one of McEuen’s main priorities, if elected, is to rein in A.S. spending.

“My biggest problem with the way A.S. is run, for the two years I’ve been on council, is that they waste money,” McEuen said. He said he will urge councilmembers to pay more attention to where their money’s going, and recruit more moneymaking events like concerts on campus and ultimately lower council dependence on student activity fees.

McEuen said he is also dissatisfied with the red tape involved in the process by which A.S. senators request A.S. funding for their individual projects.

“We have to beg council on our hands and knees,” McEuen said. “The way that the budget’s drafted — the way our system works right now — there are so many loops you have to jump through to get money. That shouldn’t be the case. It’s the students’ money, not A.S.’s money.”

Although he is a self-proclaimed Arizona Cardinals fan, McEuen’s stance on a potential UCSD football team aligns with his conservative views on spending (It’s a talking point that aligns almost identically with that of presidential candidate Wafa Ben Hassine, leader of Students First, the election’s only other large slate. )

“It’s a little bit of an insult to injury if we are asking our students to pay for a football team when students already have to leave the school because they can’t pay for an education,” McEuen said.

McEuen has called his exit from the UCSD volleyball team a “blessing in disguise.” Still, his intense involvement with the A.S. Council can sometimes become a strain alongside academics, he said.

“I wasn’t super involved in high school, so it’s hard for me to balance everything,” McEuen said. “It’s a challenge I still face.”

— Zoe Sophos

Staff Writer

John Condello/Guardian

John Condello

Last February, after A.S. president Utsav Gupta made a split-second decision to freeze funds for all student newspapers, one senator in particular took the spotlight. Sixth College sophomore John Condello became the posterboy for Gupta’s opposing army, aggressively vocal about the absolute preservation of free speech on campus — in this case, free speech in the form of access to content-neutral press funding.

Condello’s impassioned participation in the debate — which at times became very personal at public forums and meetings, as well as over the A.S. e-mail listserv — was a testament to his commitment against a shady, over-bureaucratic council.

“My whole rule is just to take the bullshit out of A.S. and reconnect with the students, rather than this extension of high-school ASB and being the patsy for the administration,” Condello said.

The Sixth College senator argued that Gupta’s move to re-evaluate media funding guidelines was a thinly veiled attempt to defund controversial humor newspaper the Koala, which was contributing to racial tensions on campus.

“[It was] about shutting down the Koala,” Condello said. “Just be honest about it — if you’re going to fuck someone over, just tell them you’re going to fuck them over.”

Though Condello — who became close friends with Koala members during the controversy — acknowledged that the publication’s content is often extremely offensive, he maintained that its purpose on campus is to ensure the right to express ideas freely.

“I agree with none of the content of the Koala,” Condello said. “What I do agree with [is] some of the ideas behind it, which is the idea behind any media organization, and that’s to broaden people’s horizon.”

Gupta appointed Condello to a committee composed mainly of student-media representatives, tasked with examining alternatives to open funding of all publications. At the pinnacle of the controversy — a March 10 A.S. Council meeting at which councilmembers were to vote on the committee’s findings — Vice President of Finance and Resources Peter Benesch showed up with a PowerPoint unfamiliar to the rest of the committee. It detailed a “government speech model,” which would allow the council to fund only the student press that reflected its own values. Condello had fire in his eyes.

“We should talk about why this is bad legislation,” Condello said at the meeting. “It is sketchy as hell — we agreed that there was going to be no PowerPoints.” [There is] a lot of backstabbing through the whole thing.”

Stacy Sluys, editor in chief of Sixth College newspaper the Sixth Sense — formerly staffed by Gupta and Condello — said she sees Condello’s passion as an attribute. However, Sixth College President Brian Ng said the senator’s emotional investment in issues can sometimes alienate other councilmembers.

“I think his passion — as much as it is his strength — can often sometimes be his weakness,” Ng said. “He can sometimes be too impassioned in debates.”

Condello agreed that his debating style can be overly aggressive, but said that when it comes to collaboration, he remains level-headed.

“I’m OK with that as long you can work with people after,” Condello said. “Everybody makes mistakes.”

If elected, Condello said he hopes to make the A.S. Council more transparent by talking to students individually.

“Drink a coke with me, let’s get some pizza together and let’s talk about what you need to see changed,” Condello said. “Let’s work together and get it done. I don’t want to continue the self-imposed isolation that A.S. garnered over quite some time.”

According to Ng, Condello has proven his ability to make student government more accessible while working on the college level this year.

“He can definitely, and will, listen to a lot of students,” Ng said. “And that’s probably one of his greatest strengths: He has a charisma about him that a lot of people find very approachable. He understands students’ needs without the baggage that comes with being a part of student government for several years. I feel like sometimes folks can be very involved in student government but then often lose sight of what students’ values are.”

Condello said he is equally invested in standing up to UCSD administrators, who are often antagonistic toward student interests.

“I don’t think that they’re some kind of ultimate evil,” Condello said. “I just think that what they see as the right thing to do is often very disparate from what the student sees as the right thing to do.”

Last quarter, Condello was one of several councilmembers who faced probable impeachment due to 5.5 absences from council meetings, which are held every Wednesday night at 6 p.m. According to Gupta, that fact, along with his lack of experience, indicate that Condello isn’t prepared for the job.

“I think he made a lot of things personal against me, but I still really like him,” said Gupta. “Again, though, I’m worried about the experience issue: One year as senator, and he honestly hasn’t shown up to college meetings. He’s only started speaking up in the last bit of the year where elections are starting up.”

According to Condello, he collected a large amount of absences because of a class conflict. He added that he missed several more meetings because he was hospitalized due to a knee injury and respiratory distress from mono.

Last Friday, Condello did not attend the noontime A.S. presidential debate in Price Center Plaza. According to Condello, he didn’t attend the debate due to a migraine, a problem he’s had since he was a child.

As students vote on TritonLink this week, Condello said he plans to dive headfirst into his campaign, which was delayed by his recent recovery period from mono.

“It’s going to be a Blitzkrieg kind of campaign for [this] week,” Condello said. “[It’s] going to be a firestorm of me advertising.”

If elected, Condello said that, though his brutal honesty may make some uncomfortable, protecting his ideals and the interests of students will come first.

“Ultimately, I care more about the right thing than about making people like me happy,” Condello said. “That’s why I can never be a professional politician — because I’d piss [off] too many people.”

— Regina Ip

Senior Staff Writer

Wafa Ben Hassine

Wafa Ben Hassine

Revelle College junior and A.S. Campuswide Senator Wafa Ben Hassine is always flying into A.S. Council meetings from somewhere else — from the Revelle College Council, the Student Affirmative Action Committee, the Muslim Student Association, KSDT Radio, the Sustainability Resource Center or UCSD Commute Solutions.

Ben Hassine said she considers this hyper-involvement in student life to have lent her an edge over the other presidential candidates: a “wholesome appreciation of what UCSD has to offer.”

But in the eyes of some fellow councilmembers, Ben Hassine’s heap of interests — and the packed schedule they create — compromises her ability to fufill the responsibilities of a seat on the A.S. Council.

According to Associate Vice President of Student Organizations Andrew Ang, Ben Hassine was part of the Student Organization Funding Advisory Board, which Ang chairs, from the end of last spring to early Fall Quarter — but eventually stepped down after she continually missed meetings.

“As a campuswide senator, she represents a huge community on this campus — and by being part of those committees, maybe she thinks she’s representing them in those committees,” Ang said. “I think that’s very noble and that’s very honest of her to do, but if she can’t follow through with them, then how is she going to represent the entire student body?”

However, A.S. Transfer Senator Adam Powers disagrees with Ang’s argument.

“I think if it’s a valid criticism, it’s a valid criticism of all of us,” Powers said. “I don’t think there’s a single student leader running who is not completely overburdened with commitments. I think that the mark of a good candidate: how well you function under that pressure that all of us have. And from what I’ve seen, she’s been able to pay attention to all of her commitments and do well by them.”

Powers worked with Ben Hassine on the California Democracy Act Coalition, which petitioned to allow state legislators to pass the budget with a simple majority. Although the statewide ballot initiative failed, the UCSD chapter — founded by Ben Hassine — recruited over 30 volunteers and gathering hundreds of signatures.

Ben Hassine said she will drop all other commitments if she is voted into the presidency.

“I made a decision that if I get elected as president, I’m not doing anything else. And if I don’t [get elected], I’m going to focus on just one org.”

According to Ben Hassine, her biggest priority as president would be to institutionalize student activism.

“I feel like activism, the word, [is taken] to mean somebody holding a pole or flier or something — but that’s not what it means to me,” she said. “It just means doing something with a purpose.”

For the candidates on Students First — the slate Ben Hassine created this year — this “purpose” is achieving access and affordability at UCSD.

“Usually, it’s always this fringe group of people that are protesting, that are talking to legislators,” Ben Hassine said. “Every person has a different role, and I feel like students need to utilize that unique role to collectively work for a more affordable education.”

Ben Hassine also considers campus sustainability a number one priority, evidenced by her work with One Earth One Justice — which brought Fair Trade on campus and made steps toward taking the UCSD Bookstore sweatshop-free by convincing administrators to discontinue the sale of Russell sportswear.

Along with the habit of spreading herself too thin, councilmembers have said Ben Hassine has a tendency to represent and advocate for specific groups and issues — a potential detriment to representing the student body as a whole.

“Being opinionated is her hardest shortfall,” Vice President of Student Life Ricsie Hernandez said. “She doesn’t take time to talk to other people about their views. Being opinionated about one thing is completely detrimental to the whole student population.”

Hernandez appointed Ben Hassine to the Housing and Dining Committee, and said she performed well there (Ben Hassine was the only committee member to vote against the recent hike in housing and dining fees). However, Hernandez said she doubts the senator’s ability to adapt to the much broader role and reach of A.S. president.

“I think there are better choices for president who have good attendance records and are open to all ideas, and could represent the entire student population instead of focusing on specific groups,” Hernandez said.

UCSD College Democrats President Victor Lin — who worked with Ben Hassine on the CDAC — disagreed.

“She’s an all-campus senator,” Lin said. “And take a look at her work on the [CDAC] — that affects all students. … It’s good to see someone so passionate about non-trivial things. It’s refreshing.”

Ben Hassine stressed that her broad focus on access, affordability and sustainability does not mean she will ignore the more lighthearted aspects of student life.

“I want to personally assure everyone that I love to party and that I really, really do support student life on this campus, and I do think it is the one answer to healing UCSD after all that happened with the protests and whatnot — bringing everyone together regardless of race or ethnicity,” Ben Hassine said. “Even if maybe I focus on the budget cuts too much or whatever, I feel that it’s well-placed because it’s about time students are aware of these issues, and it’s about time they also spend their money sustainably.”

Ben Hassine has been especially vocal about her opposition to pursuing a football team — one of current A.S. President Utsav Gupta’s key campaign promises.

“I understand football is cool, but it costs $1.5 million just to get it started,” Ben Hassine said. “Do you know what we could do with $1.5 million for our students other than just a football team? It’s not responsible to propose that right now.”

Ben Hassine defended her view of UCSD students as “global citizens.”

“I always hear things like, ‘Oh, you have an external edge,’ or, ‘You focus so much on the VP of External Affairs,’ or, ‘You care too much about people outside of UCSD, so you can’t work for UCSD students,’” Ben Hassine said. “But I feel like, as A.S. president, I would need to work for students at UCSD but not negatively affect the world around us. We can’t be completely ignorant of the outside world. We can’t. It’s completely irresponsible. We have such privilege to be here.”

— Aprille Muscara

Staff Writer

Ryan Brenner

Ryan Brenner

Last year, Muir College senior August Ryan Brenner held a Seder for his friends — complete with matza and karpas — to “raise cultural awareness” as his friend Doug Rosen put it. Brenner isn’t Jewish. The point of the party was just to bring people together.

Brenner, a San Mateo native who goes by Ryan, started his college career at UC Santa Cruz but transferred to UCSD because it was better for his chemical engineering major. Now in his second year at UCSD, this Village resident has taken a new interest in campus politics — albeit in the most lighthearted sense possible.

According to Brenner, most of the other candidates for A.S. president are far more qualified, and he doesn’t have much chance of winning.

“I talked to my friend in class and he said, ‘You should run for president,’” Brenner said. “I woke up the next day, had a research meeting, got out at 9 a.m., picked up a candidate packet, got 150 signatures and turned in the packet by 11 a.m.”

Brenner’s only political experience to date is an office aide position he held during his senior year of high school. But he abused those privileges, and — as punishment for getting students out of class with office passes — Brenner was forced to read the school announcements. He was then kicked out of that position a week before graduation, after he badmouthed a certain teacher over the loudspeaker.

If elected, Brenner said his top priorities will be allowing students to start organizations at any time of the year and improving UCSD’s parking nightmare.

According to Brenner, faculty ‘A’ spots should be moved across campus and more ‘B’ spots should be changed to ‘S’ spots to benefit students. He’s also angered by the fact that campus employees have to buy their own parking permits.

“They’re employed by the campus and spend 500 of their hard-earned dollars every year to work here,” Brenner said. “If I could do something about changing that, I would. I’d find out about it from a qualified person — if I’m somehow able to win.”

A firm advocate of free speech, Brenner said he doesn’t agree with current A.S. President Utsav Gupta’s Winter Quarter decision to freeze the funds of student media organizations in response to the actions of humor newspaper the Koala. Though he said he finds much of the content published in the Koala to be vulgar, Brenner made it clear that the students involved have the right to say whatever they want.

“What’s the harm? If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it,” Brenner said. “If you don’t like what it says, start a newspaper and write anti-Koala stuff.”

According to Brenner, both his biggest challenge and accomplishment at UCSD is waking up in the morning. A typical week for Brenner includes going to “80 percent” of his classes, hanging out with friends and doing his homework.

“He’s really everywhere on campus, having a good time, and bringing people together,” said Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Douglas Rosen, who is Brenner’s friend of four years.

Brenner’s strategy for victory is simple: make people smile. And as a ballsy conversationalist who likes outdoor adventures and collecting interesting facts (about everything from cider to Passover), every once in a while he succeeds.

“Ryan is a positive experience every time,” Rosen said. “He always makes everyone his friend. No one is upset meeting Ryan Brenner; he transcends his college. He makes six colleges one university.”

At UCSD, Brenner participates in the Tae Kwon Do Club and is a member of the Slavic Student Union.

After graduation, though, Brenner said he doesn’t want a lab job. Instead, he’s aiming to be James Bond or conduct research on aliens.

“I’m pretty 100-percent confident that aliens exist somewhere in the universe,” Brenner said. “Whether they’re here on this planet is a very small possibility.”

Brenner says he’s “pretty 100 percent confident” that aliens exits and that through more advanced, futuristic technology, it might be possible to find other life forms similar to humans, or that aliens may be so super advanced that they’ve already tracked down humans.

“Did you know that all the previous presidents when asked about when will you release your UFO files, their response is that UFO files don’t exist,” said Brenner. “When they asked Barack Obama’s press secretary, the response was there are certain circumstances preventing the release.”

But if he becomes A.S. President, he just might have to put that off until later.

— Serena Lee

Staff Writer

Tan Dhillon

Tan Dhillon

Marshall College junior Tan Dhillon is quick to describe himself as “the Indian guy who isn’t Utsav.” And with a collection of campaign promises aimed at rewiring how student government works at UCSD, he apparently aims to make this distinction very clear.

Both Dhillon and Utsav Gupta — the current A.S. president now making a bid for a second term — have a year of experience as executives. As chair of the Thurgood Marshall College Student Council, however, Dhillon finds himself at the head of a considerably smaller governing body. While TMCSC’s budget is $90,000 a year, the A.S. President oversees roughly $3 million in student fees.

But the frightening prospect of campuswide governance hasn’t slowed Dhillon down at all. In his independent run for the council’s top position, he has worked to define himself from his pack of opponents — several of them seasoned A.S. insiders — by preaching empowerment, administrative accountability and unity. He’s even taking a few well-aimed shots at Gupta — an easy target, but an effective one nonetheless.

“Utsav hasn’t been working on unifying the council,” Dhillon said. “There’s a lot of division that hasn’t been addressed.”

Dhillon’s vision takes him far beyond the confines of the council’s internal harmony as ell. As president, he pledges to combat the unfortunate nature of “campus monopolies” such as dining-dollar requirements, which Dhillon said lock students into paying dramatically inflated prices for food on campus. He said wants to end the abuse and play the empowerment card by overhauling dining package options and changing all dining dollars to Triton Cash — a move that would allow students greater spending flexibility and more eateries to choose from.

Though the promise is enticing, Dhillon has yet to work out the details with Housing, Dining and Hospitality Services. Given that the department could lose a substantial chunk of income by adopting the plan, Dhillon would face a rough battle if elected.

“I do understand there is a strong opposition,” he said. “But what is the university here for? The university is here for the students. HDH is not functioning in the students’ best interest, and that needs to be changed.”

Dhillon’s quest to stand up for the little guy — or, the student body — will take him to even greater heights. After spending a significant amount of time working with residential security officers during his time as a resident advisor, Dhillon is markedly disillusioned with how officers treat students.

“RSOs prey on the fact that students don’t know their rights, and just barge in,” he said. “They’re overly aggressive, and it’s unacceptable.”

To combat the perceived abuse, Dhillon said he aims to create a campuswide awareness campaign to educate students about their on-campus rights from day one, and one to provide feedback on RSOs. If they can write us up, we should be able to write them up, according to Dhillon. If he’s elected, RSOs may soon find themselves subject to review by the students they are paid to keep an eye on.

This push for student rights is hardly a campaign tactic. Throughout his term as TMCSC Chair, Dhillon has actively pursued new avenues for students to voice their opinions on campus matters. When he learned that Marshall’s main administrative committees — the executive committee, the curriculum committee and the DOC committee — held no student positions, Dhillon wrote letters to the Marshall administration demanding that students be represented on the committees. He also insisted that representatives not be selected by administrators.

Like many candidates, Dhillon has also jumped in line with supporters of a plan to extend Geisel Library’s operating hours. But if that doesn’t work, he has a backup plan: convert Price Center East into a versatile, always-open study space by adding more power outlets to accommodate laptops.

But not everyone agrees that Dhillon’s experience and approach to leadership are what the university needs.

“I think Tan’s a nice guy,” said presidential candidate and Sixth College Senator John Condello. “But I think he demonstrated last night [at the ERC debates] in one of his quotes that he’s not able to lead when he said, ‘Sometimes I think a leader needs to take a backseat role and know when to follow.’ I think that’d be great if he was running for a senator position.”

Gupta echoed Condello’s concerns.

“He has experience being a college council chair, but there’s no relation between being a college council chair and A.S. President.”

However, Dhillon said students can rely on his drive and selflessness. His passion for student life at UCSD, according to Dhillon, is directly influenced by the lessons he took away from his upbringing. After two of Dhillon’s family members passed away from heart failure, he said he realized how much he wanted to help people.

“It’s not about the prestige — it’s about helping people, having a direct interaction and seeing a change,” he said. “People always say you have to aim high to reach high, and I want to do both.”

— Ayelet Bitton

Senior Staff Writer

Joseph Virgilio

Joseph Virgilio

Almost every year, the A.S. presidential election has its maverick. Either he’s a Koala affiliate advocating more beer and partying, or a highly uninformed sacrificial lamb looking to bitch about the system.

But Joe Virgilio falls somewhere in between. The Muir College senior believes the answer to accomplishing anything and everything is to get rid of all these goddamn committees and “just do it” — though he’s often clueless to what that something is. (He’s also been cited lurking around the Koala office once or twice.)

Accordingly, it’s often hard to tell if Virgilio’s joking. At the A.S. presidential debate in Price Center Plaza on Friday, he addressed the audience awkwardly, with squinty eyes and trailing anti-slogans. When asked about how he might go about improving student life, he struggled with a couple incomplete thoughts and eventually concluded: “The students tell you what they want, and then you just do it.” When the conversation entered the land of acronyms, he grabbed the microphone to say he was “sort of at a loss of what everybody’s talking about.”

Though Virgilio has never been to an A.S. Council meeting, he maintains that he hates it regardless. Too many committees. Too much talking. Too many people. Not enough action.

He’s especially not a fan of A.S. President Utsav Gupta, who is currently running for re-election. Virgilio claimed Gupta has not done anything during his presidency this year.

“I voted for him last year, you know, and it [seemed] like this guy would actually do things, and he didn’t — I mean, not that I [noticed],” Virgilio said in an interview. “Utsav just seems like a rich kid. He’s kind of smug. I don’t like him.”

Gupta, who was stifling laughter throughout the debate on Friday, did say later that Virgilio provides a valuable dialogue about the perspective of the average student.

Among Virgilio’s goals are keeping the library open, giving shuttles more funding, giving the co-ops more money, building a giant radio tower atop of KSDT radio and installing more benches around campus.

“I want to see more benches. There’s a lot of walking and there’s no benches anywhere,” Virgilio said. “This really upsets me, actually. It might be my priority number one.”

The benches, Virgilio said, would allow him to avoid more public seating areas. Needless to say, he isn’t much of a people person. Ever since he transferred to UCSD in Winter 2009, Virgilio said he’s had trouble adjusting. He’s uncomfortable around large crowds, and on-campus organizations aren’t really his thing.

“I had really bad anxiety, and I know a lot of other students that have anxiety when they come here as transfer students,” he said. “It’s like, crippling, almost; there are so many people and it’s just like, you don’t want to go to class, you don’t want to go to school even. I’ve overcome that.”

— Connie Qian

Staff Writer

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