Mid-Year Check-In with SUA Officers

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Fall quarter was rocky for the Student Union Assembly (SUA). Officers mismanaged the budget to fund Sage the Gemini’s campus concert and that information resulted in student ethnic organizations demonstrating to demand transparency. The internal vice president also quit due to personal reasons and needed to be replaced. 

But with the quarter behind them, SUA’s six officers are working to make a representative and productive space to affect change. 

SUA is the student governing body at UC Santa Cruz and official voice of students on campus. The assembly is led by six elected officers who use its almost $500,000 of annual funds to implement initiatives to improve student lives.

Many of the officers urged Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to hire more therapists of color to make their services more accessible to a diverse student body. CAPS did hire Jackie Rabouin, a new African American specialized, licensed psychotherapist, this quarter, though many officers emphasized CAPS is still lacking.

Here’s what the individual officers have been working on this year, and what they hope to accomplish before the end of their terms in June.

Ayo Banjo, President

Banjo ran on a platform of making SUA an empowering space for students and organizers. To do so, he’s implemented committees in the assembly to focus on specific goals, including housing protections.

“That’s a great way for us to redistribute power and delegate it in a way that assembly members also feel empowered in their own roles,” Banjo said, “and know that they’re not just there to represent their college or their organization, but they’re also here for a greater  good.”

Before his term commenced, Banjo said he would implement a group to hold Title IX accountable and help students feel safe reporting to Title IX. He also wanted to establish $50 linked to each student’s ID as a cushion for potential emergencies. Only students with meal plans automatically receive flexi dollars. 

Banjo did not mention Title IX in his most recent interview with City on a Hill Press, and said since Colleges, Housing and Educational services was already working to implement flexi acceptance in establishments off campus, he would instead use his time to work on other goals.

Citlalli Aquino, newly appointed Internal Vice President (IVP)

Aquino was a housing activist organizing for rent control this fall before her peers encouraged her to apply for the vacant IVP position so she could use SUA’s resources in her activism. She began the position in December with a focus on housing justice.

“Learning more about [the position], I thought, I could work with [administration] and in general use the influence to continue doing what I was already doing,” Aquino said, “but hopefully I would be stronger because I would have resources attached to this position.”

Before being able to act on her goals, she had to catch up with bureaucratic and organizational knowledge other officers familiarized themselves with before fall.

She wants to spread information on the public-private partnership in Student Housing West and hopes to get some form of just cause evictions passed by the City Council, though she doubts that will be accomplished in her term. She also wants to replace Bay Tree Bookstore plastic bags with paper ones and put some form of protections in place for houseless students living in their cars on campus.

Davon Thomas, External Vice President (EVP)

Thomas started in SUA as chief of staff to last year’s EVP and ran to increase Black and queer representation in SUA. 

“I’ve always believed the core of the External Affairs Office was to empower student leaders to engage with their community, which is why that became my platform,” Thomas said in an email. 

Thomas’ main goals for the year were to engage more students in educational and local policy and expand on-campus mental health resources. So far, Thomas has focused on involving students in decision-making processes by bringing students to Sacramento and the Worker Student Solidarity Coalition to UC Regents meetings. He’s also created positions in his office for racial justice, undocumented issues, voting and financial reform and advocacy.

Before the end of the year, he hopes to appoint students to local commissions and boards or create a framework for students to be appointed next year. 

Lauren Woo, Vice President of Academic Affairs

Woo was also chief of their office’s staff last year. They ran on the platform of making scantrons and textbooks free for all students and securing a Disability Resource Center (DRC) accommodated testing space. They have been working toward these goals throughout the year.

Last year as chief of staff for academic affairs, Woo worked with their predecessor to secure funding for scantrons fall quarter and has since secured funding from the Dean of Students for scantrons for the rest of the year. They are now working to secure institutional funding for free scantrons indefinitely by meeting with the Dean of Students to discuss possible funding sources.

“If you’re already paying tuition, you should not have to pay out of tuition fees to succeed in your classes,” Woo  said.

Woo also believes textbooks should be free and is exploring avenues to reduce the financial burden, like asking professors to switch to free open access textbooks and creating a textbook lending library where students can exchange textbooks.

To address their goal of securing a Disability Resource Center (DRC) accommodated testing space, Woo met with the DRC director Rick Gubash. He encouraged them to pursue a proactive route. They are now researching how testing can become accessible to all students instead of working within a testing system that excludes some people. 

Enrique Yarce-Martinez, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion

Yarce-Martinez ran on a platform that would increase support and resources for undocumented students, push the UC to divest from Israel and fund and create cultural events that celebrate diversity on campus. 

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion is working on a proposal to pay SUA representatives outside of officers and interns so they can put more time and energy into SUA. Yarce-Martinez also met with the Hillel director to discuss the boycott, divest, sanction (BDS) strategy of discontinuing Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. They have also planned workshops on self-defense and bystander intervention. Yarce-Martinez also hopes to heal people of colors’ relationship to land through a workshop in conjunction with the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.

“We need to heal our relationship with the land,” Yarce-Martinez said. “That has really been a big focus for me now and really spreading that message, getting more [people of color] finding that passion for the land and healing.”

Isabella Bullock, Vice President of Student Life (VPSL)

 Bullock started last year as campuswide programs coordinator for her office. She ran for vice president with the goal of ensuring SUA’s food pantry operation and funding, create a large scale concert and increase mental health support on campus. 

Bullock’s controversial concert had an attendance of 2,500 students but resulted in SUA’s misuse of $10,000 of funds sparking outrage among ethnic organizations on campus. The officers have done their best to resolve the issue and improve communication between them since the concert. 

“Hopefully people will see that like I’ve done also a good amount of work beyond just the concert,” Bullock said. “There’s a lot more other things I’ve accomplished this year behind the scenes.”

Bullock extended SUA’s contract with the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) by three years to keep the pantry in that space. She is now working to make sure SUA’s food pantry has funding through this year and into next, though allocations in state funding to food pantries and administration support have complicated her efforts.

Bullock also entered UCSC into a ZipCar competition, which SUA is now a finalist for. If it wins the competition, the assembly will receive $5,000 for the pantry, $5,000 in scholarship funds for the school and $3,000 in ZipCar driving credit for pantry food pickups. 

Bullock also organized cooking workshops to teach students how to use the food they get from the pantry, and focused resources in her office toward wellness in the forms of workshops and a mental health week.

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Shinae Lee is Arts and Culture Editor for City on a Hill Press. She has reported for every desk at City on a Hill in her two years on the paper, but has focused most of her time until now as a campus reporter and editor. She describes her favorite reporting subject as, “in-depth stories about things that really matter to people.” Though she focuses much of her time on the newspaper, she is also a Feminist Studies major, vice president of the Korean American Student Association, print coordinator for Student Media and occasional babysitter. In her scarce and precious free time she can be found organizing her life artistically in her bullet journal, watching The Great British Baking Show or traveling on a budget.