When she’s not helping her residents, leading campus tours during Triton Day, volunteering at the Triton Food Pantry, or fulfilling any number of responsibilities, junior Tara Vahdani is campaigning for THRIVE, a slate she founded this year for Associated Students of UCSD (AS). THRIVE is a self-described “equity-minded, progressive” slate, and Vahdani is its Presidential candidate.
Vahdani, a political science major with a minor in education studies, has a history of work in student government at UCSD. She worked this year as the Chief of Staff to the AS President, and she has previously served as the AS Senator for Marshall College and the At-Large Rep for Marshall Student Council. She also interned at the Women’s Center for the 2016-17 school year, and currently works as an RA in Revelle College.
Vahdani said addressing the student worker population will be her top priority if she is elected. Specifically, her first step would be to initiate a student-at-work survey to track the experiences of student workers to better improve their experience on campus.
“Right now we don’t have data and data is often what drives decisions at our university,” Vahdani said. She describes hearing about workers getting injured and employers failing to accommodate them as motivation for this initiative.
Vahdani also plans to assess the possible implementation of a student worker’s union on campus. She considers it important for the AS president to focus on this, because working conditions will likely affect every student at some point.
“Blink, which is the website that staff use on campus, is not very friendly to student workers,” Vahdani said. “You can read policies and kind of guestimate what your rights are. But if we had a student worker’s unions similar to the one just started at Berkeley, I think it would give students a lot more agency to voice concerns.”
Along the same lines, Vahdani wants to help students who put in work on campus outside of paid positions, addressing the issue of uncompensated labor in tandem with the housing crisis by potentially giving priority housing spots to those students.
“I personally know people who are the president or chairs of their student orgs, literally work 20 hours a week and also have another job on top of that,” Vahdani said. “So I want to start looking at ways to reward their labor.” She thinks those students should have on-campus housing options if they wanted, or priority parking with B spots, similar to what AS members have now.
Her other plans for housing include the implementation of a committee to push for university purchase of off-campus housing, as well as working to create a waitlist for on-campus housing with HDH.
Vahdani is up against several other candidates for President. The other slate, Students Determined, is running Lesly Figueroa, who’s also a progressive candidate. There are also two independent candidates, Gus Guerrero and Dennis Yeh.
“I think it’s awesome, frankly, that folks are running on progressive ideas,” Vahdani said. “I’m for it.”
But Vahdani brings to the table three years of experience in student government at UCSD, which she feels is a crucial factor in the ability to being an effective leader. She noted that her experience working with college councils have informed her policy proposals.
“When we were brainstorming our platforms, people were bringing up bike-sharing options,” Vahdani said. “I thought I wanted to work on bike-sharing last year as a senator too.”
She explained that through the process of trying to implement a bike-sharing program, and working with other councils to do so, she came to terms with the practical difficulties of such a proposal. The campus is hilly, most students don’t bike, and it is technically not allowed for students to ride bikes in certain prominent areas such as Ridge Walk.
“I wanted to say, make sure you understand the technicalities of putting a policy into place,” Vahdani said. She thinks her experience will allow her to balance the ideals THRIVE wants to promote with the reality of working in a bureaucratic institution.
“I just know that, unless you’ve gone through that process, you can’t really know what it’s like,” Vahdani said. “My fear is that there’s a huge learning curve, even to be president. I’ve been working in the office of the president and I think I pretty much understand what’s going on but there’s still going to be a learning curve. But if you’ve never been in a position like this before? You’ll be shook.”
Vahdani noted an issue with previous AS was the tendency to announce things rather than work with students to get their feedback and represent their views. To address communication between AS and the student body.
“My hope is that Senate Digest will be continued,” Vahdani said. “I’m the person who runs it, so it definitely will if I get elected.”
Senate Digest is a video platform with Triton TV that discusses AS meeting topics. Since many issues are tabled for a week after discussion, hearing what motions are being discussed at any given time allows people to hear about issues before they’re voted on, giving students time to be involved in the process.
Additionally, Vahdani hopes to implement a podcast and a partnership with KSDT with the similar goals. This would be a platform for senators to share their opinions on issues of the day, but Vahdani also hopes to be able to highlight ongoing projects.
“Projects are different from a program where it happens one day and then it’s over and done, the learning is over,” Vahdani said. Since projects can take place over a quarter or two or even a year, Vahdani hopes that the podcast “will give the space for like, the EVP of local affairs to come and talk about what’s new in their office, ways to get involved, and how students can learn more.”
And while part of the goal is the dissemination of information, Vahdani also would like to spur students to get more engaged with AS. She believes that dialogue will be important, and She intends to create an advisory council where student leaders would meet, to discuss pertinent issues on campus, such as food or housing insecurity.
“I envision it being monthly gatherings where I invite folks who lead various organizations and we have conversations about various topics,” Vahdani said. “They can then go back to their orgs, whether it’s a Greek org or a community org, and share what we’ve been talking about.” The initiative was inspired by a similar gathering hosted by the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. Vahdani hopes this will allow different groups to work together more fluidly.
Vahdani hopes to promote that same spirit of collaboration within AS as well. While she’s running with THRIVE, after elections are over, she’s confident that she could work with any student who was elected.
“I ran for Marshall senator and my running partner was not the one who won, someone from the other slate did,” Vahdani said. “But at the end of the day, no one puts themselves through this process if they don’t really care about the work that they’re doing. Like, it would be so much easier if I could go home and watch Netflix.” But the work student government does is too important to Vahdani, and she sees being able to work with people are part of the job.
“Something I really respect about myself is my ability to hold on to my strong values without making other people feel like they can’t talk to me,” Vahdani said.
She identifies her biggest challenge as getting all students to see their government as working for them, a perception she aims to change if she is elected. Vahdani says that as a Marshall senator, she made it her goal to advocate for a different groups of students every Wednesday, and she plans to continue to listen to student voices in and out of her other communities on campus and have conversations about her intentions. She hopes this will allow students to see student government as a vessel for meaningful change.
The 2017-18 AS elections are scheduled for April 10 through 14. Polling stations and online voting will close Friday at 4 p.m.
Jaz Twersky is the Opinion Editor at The Triton. Natasha Vyhovsky is a staff writer for The Triton.