Matthew Arrollado has an album on Facebook entitled “the thrive meme,” with 105 photos of orange objects with captions like “this plate is THRIVing.”
It’s an unconventional advertising strategy, but THRIVE, a new progressive campus political party (or slate), is trying to make themselves notable to reach out to the student body. Arrollado is their candidate for Vice President of Campus Affairs and while the candidates may exude a playful air at times, they’re running a serious campaign.
THRIVE is running three executive candidates and ten candidates for 13 potential senator positions for Associated Students of UCSD (ASUCSD). They are not running a candidate for transfer senator or Arts and Humanities Senator.
Both slates this year are self-identified progressive slates, which makes standing out as a new slate an additional challenge, vibrant orange notwithstanding.
THRIVE has had stands on Library Walk, but they’ve also had various other events, including their “Coffee with a Candidate” series at the end of Winter Quarter, their “Chat with a Candidate” follow-up online over spring break, and their “Listen-In” event on April 5. They even had a Norwuz (or Persian New Year) celebration.
The Norwuz celebration in particular is notable for being an event that has nothing to do with conventional campus politics, which may be an appeal to students who have not previously engaged with AS. UCSD student Vida Sadeghi noted that she went to the event largely because she, like THRIVE’s presidential candidate Tara Vahdani, is Persian, and it was the only event celebrating Norwuz on campus.
Vahdani said that the name THRIVE was chosen based on conversations with the entire slate to encompass a general goal of addressing roadblocks to succeeding at UCSD.
“I think [the members of THRIVE] understand that this is a hard place to succeed sometimes and I think that they really just want to elevate the experience for other students,” Vahdani said. “Students have gotten here now and we really want our student leaders to help everyone thrive here.”
This sentiment is echoed by many members of the slate, who have personally struggled to find their place at UCSD.
“I fit into so many different communities at UCSD,” said Mónica Valdez, a candidate for Campus-wide Senator. “I am a Native American Hispanic woman in STEM who is out of state, so for me my biggest thing is finding a way to make students who don’t feel like they have a place here, have a place here.”
For Valdez, the problems of out-of-state students and Native American students are similar; she feels that students are unaware of the resources that exist for them.
“I would seek out the different communities that exist within UCSD, invite them to share why they feel alienated and work towards pushing them to a resource(s) that can make a difference to them,” Valdez said.
This idea of improving knowledge and access to resources arose frequently from THRIVE candidates.
Valdez and fellow Campus-wide Senator candidate Itsi T Sanchez Rea share a goal of expanding the existing resources for underrepresented students on campus, such as promoting resource centers and aiding the Student Legal Services Center.
Specifically, Sanchez Rea wants to address the appointment waiting time within the Student Legal Services Center by working with the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs to push for an increase of the budget for the center so they can hire more staff and provide space for them. She also wants to expand the definition of “family” within the center so it can provide services to more than just student’s immediate family members.
As a slate, THRIVE is also unified around the goal of improving outreach efforts.
“My freshman year, I didn’t even know there was a Biological Sciences Senator,” said Anika Balse, who is now running for that position. “I didn’t know that was a resource that biology students could go to and voice their opinion.” She hopes to provide more students with the opportunity to do so.
Campus-wide Senator candidates Kian Falah and Mohamed Al Elew noted the importance of continuing office hours and establishing regular online columns for senators to share and receive information with students, while Vahdani committed to continuing Senate Digest if she gets elected. Senate Digest is a video platform in partnership with Triton TV that allows A.S. to share meeting topics with constituents. She also proposed a possible podcast with similar goals.
“I think that having a podcast platform would really push people and challenge people to take a step back and ask, ‘Is what I’m expressing on this podcast that everyone has access to listen to my personal opinion, or have I actually had conversations with students that inform why I’m taking this stance on a particular issue?’” Vahdani said.
Along the same lines of input, Vahdani said she plans to engage in dialogue with communities at UCSD and take the concerns of her constituents to regular meetings with the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.
“It’s very powerful when you as the president can build a lasting relationship with this person,” Vahdani said. “But I think it’s another thing where I have relationships with people who have different lived experiences that can come with me to those meetings and put pressure in another way.”
One of the things THRIVE knows students care about is housing. Slate members intend to start a committee to push for the purchase of off-campus housing for UCSD students that would work with the upcoming trolley line. Vahdani said she would like to address housing in tandem with unpaid student labor.
“On campus housing is now a hot ticket item, so if you are working over 20 hours of the chair of a student [organization] and you want to live on campus I think we can maybe develop some type of a priority where those services to the university get rewarded [with priority on-campus housing],” Vahdani said.
This resonates personally with many members of THRIVE, who are active in various communities and student groups on campus. Although all three executive candidates have experience in student government, many senators have served as student leaders but have not previously worked on AS or the college councils.
“I think as a slate in general, it’s almost better that we don’t have experience in AS because we’ve accumulated these passions in the student orgs we’ve been involved in,” said Vaishnavi Paudel, candidate for Social Sciences Senator. “We have a niche idea of what it means to be a student idea and a diverse idea of what it means to be a student at UCSD and we’ll be better able to represent those ideas to AS and reach out to those student orgs that we’ve been so active in.”
This would be Hrishikesh Barokar’s first experience with student government; he’s been involved with groups like the Triton Engineering Student Council and Engineers for a Sustainable World, and he’s currently the president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He’s now running for Engineering Senator, and hopes to make use of his past knowledge.
“One thing that employers usually look for when recruiting university students is past experience,” Barokar said. “That can be either through internships or projects, but the UC system is not set up to provide enough of them.”
He wants to set up an online portal streamline applying to teams, and provide funding via AS. He also wants to create a “project acceleration space,” a physical space for teams to build things.
The academic senators generally are interested in addressing the DEI requirement to make the courses offered more meaningful to students’ majors. Nhi Nguyen, candidate for Physical Sciences Senator, said receiving student input, like in the form of surveys, would allow A.S. to push the DEI board for courses with specific connections to diversity and inclusion within students’ fields.
“Especially within the medical field, there is a lack of understanding of intersex and things like that,” Nguyen explained. “What if something like that is [a DEI] course so that students who are in premed and are going to go to medical school and take [a DEI] course and understand that this is a real thing and it’s not something that they can take just one seminar or talk and learn about it.”
“A big challenge is how to win over students who have never looked at their student government as someone who is working for them,” Vahdani admitted. But her strength, she claims, is in “perception-shifting,” and the slate displays a uniformly optimistic outlook.
“For us, we’ve been trying to keep our head up, keep a positive attitude moving forward, because we don’t have the traction that other organizations might,” Arrollado said. “But I think we all have a strong idea of where we want to take the university and the foundations we want to set moving forward.”
The 2017-18 AS elections are scheduled for April 10 through 14. Polling stations and online voting will close Friday at 4 p.m.
Tara Vahdani – President
Adán Chávez – Vice President of External Affairs
Matthew Alan Arrollado – Vice President of Campus Affairs
Anika Balse – Biological Sciences Senator
Hrishikesh Rajan Barokar – Engineering Senator
N/A – Arts and Humanities Senator
Nhi Nguyen – Physical Sciences Senator
Vaishnavi Paudel – Social Sciences Senator
Mohamed Al Elew
Itsi T Sanchez Rea
Note for transparency: Campus-wide Senator candidate Mohamed Al Elew is also a staff writer at The Triton. He is not involved in any of the coverage of the student elections.
Jaz Twersky is the Opinion Editor at The Triton. Natasha Vyhovsky contributed reporting to this story.