AS Endorsements: Tara Vahdani for President

Photo courtesy of THRIVE.

Editor’s Note: In light of a published inappropriate photo former Presidential Candidate Tara Vahdani sent to friends, we are pulling our endorsement. You can read Vahdani’s statement in full below. 

I am withdrawing my candidacy for AS President. After having spoken with the rest of THRIVE last night, we have collectively decided that it is no longer appropriate for me to continue as its presidential candidate.

I am truly sorry and although I recognize that my apology does little for the community impacted, I do want to reiterate that I am honestly disappointed in myself for ever thinking that it would be appropriate to send such a photo. I am sorry for the hurt and anger many students feel right now, especially the Black students on our campus, to see a presidential candidate for AS acting in such a way. It is unacceptable, and not what I want to see from any ASUCSD president, hence my withdrawal. I will never be able to understand what it is like to be a Black student on our campus or what it’s like to face systemic racism and anti-blackness on a day-to-day basis. I acknowledge that my actions have added another layer to that, and for that I am sorry.

To the best of my recollection, the snapchat was sent roughly two years ago to a close friend right after I had applied a charcoal face mask. We communicated on this platform daily, and often the nature of our snapchats was to critique systems of oppression through humor. In retrospect, I viewed this as our way of mutually coping with serious social issues.

At this moment in time, however, I understand that it wasn’t appropriate for someone with my privilege to provide this kind of commentary. Since my first year, I have genuinely tried to deepen my understanding of social justice, and I recognize now especially that there is a lot more growing for me to do. Since the photo was taken, the depth of the systemic injustices that Black people face has been brought to my attention, and I can better understand how my actions can have an impact on the lived experiences of Black students on this campus

I began participating in this campaign roughly 5 months ago because I thought that there was a lot that I could contribute to UC San Diego. At this moment in time, my contributions as President would not be meaningful (even to me) because it would be further hurting an important and underrepresented community on our campus.

Sending the snapchat was a mistake that I made before I truly got to know anyone who is currently on THRIVE. It has become clear to me that my actions do not reflect them or their work, and I take full responsibility.

The AS Elections Manager has been notified of my intentions, and I will make every effort to remove my campaigning materials today.

Four candidates are running this year for AS president and this Editorial Board has unanimously decided to recommend Tara Vahdani for the role. Her extensive managerial experience and her willingness to listen to the student body, then implement tangible policy changes, make her uniquely qualified.

While serving as Chief of Staff to AS President Daniel Juarez, Vahdani was instrumental in working with Juarez to maintain public office hours for students to interact with the President. She was also critical in establishing the AS fellowship program, which we believe is an important step in creating new pathways to student government. Although we do not believe the fellowship is the sole conduit in which students should gain experience for office, it is crucial that students have more outlets to get involved and learn the ropes of what is often a very necessarily complex system of governance.

Vahdani, unlike Figueroa, also has elected office experience, having served as the Marshall College Senator. We believe this to be a crucial factor for only one of the executive candidates: the role of AS president, as they will be mentoring and managing a diverse group of elected students. Vahdani’s experience informs her ability to make decisions grounded in a solid understanding of what’s possible. With that said, we fully expect Vahdani to heed the voices of Students Determined and prioritize access and retention, as well as UCSA’s reiGNITE campaign, should she be elected. We expect her to use her extensive management skills to maintain an orderly, but diverse Associated Students.

While both THRIVE and Students Determined aim to move the campus in a progressive direction, Vahdani frames that idealism around making concrete long-term plans for initiatives that will impact the campus. She put forward specific ideas to address issues of student labor, including starting a student-at-work survey to gather data for the administration and creating a labor union for all student workers which would allow them to advocate for themselves. She also suggested a method to partially reward uncompensated labor, by providing student leaders with access to on-campus housing even after the expiration of their housing guarantee and premium parking spots.

Vahdani has a communicated a clear plan emphasizing transparency, with specifics including the continuation of Senate Digest and the creation of a podcast platform. In contrast, while Figueroa has also indicated that she would prefer for AS to be more transparent, she has presented fewer concrete policy proposals. We also find Figueroa’s handling of student press to be somewhat dismissive, when early on in her campaign, she publicly referred to coverage of her campaign as “biased and unfair,” though our reporting was factual. While this is not a disqualifying factor by itself, it is concerning.

While Students Determined candidate Lesly Figueroa has significant and extensive experience working on basic needs security and sustainability, we find Vahdani’s commitment to transparency, broad swaths of experience in advocacy work, and electoral experience, to be necessary components for the job. Both Vahdani and Figueroa hold a variety of other leadership roles on campus, including serving as RAs, and their work on campus is crucial to retaining students and mentoring future student leaders. But ultimately, it is Vahdani who has convinced this Editorial Board of her capability to get the job done, and done with transparency in mind.

Independent candidate Gus Guerrero has a decent understanding of the campus and his platform is commendable, but lacking. As an independent candidate, Guerrero would need to work exceptionally hard to solidify his ideas and unify his platform with the other elected executive candidates and senators.

He brings experience as the current president of Muir College Council, as well as a desire to unite campus and work for transfer students, commuters and undocumented students alike. However, where he presents interest in general improvements, Vahdani outlines clear policy plans to address many prevalent issues on campus and specific ways she plans to initiate improvements in things like housing and communication with the student body. Guerrero presents a desire to improve transportation and renovate main student spaces on campus, but lacks strong methods to achieving his plans.

Independent candidate Dennis Yeh’s desire for budget reform, transparency, and student input is praise-worthy, but his concept of what in particular is worthy of funding is disappointing. In both the on-campus debate and in our in-person interview, Yeh did not propose specific leadership roles or line items of the budget to cut, despite advocating for reductions. Principled decisions about what is important should guide funding priorities. Yeh’s focus on fun, rather than on basics, like all students having enough food and a place to live, is a concerning take on a campus that should be accessible to low-income students. Additionally, his belief that the concerns of “underrepresented minorities” are being emphasized too much by student representatives is a deeply troubling assertion for someone who is supposed to represent the entire student body.

Yeh has minimal experience with student government; he was involved with Judicial Board and his primary leadership position on campus has been with his fraternity. His platform is missing many details on how he plans to work with other senators, executives, and associate vice presidents, considering he wants to remove many of their positions or pull their already-small stipend. To suggest that students, who are sometimes working multiple jobs, should be paid less for their work is ill-informed, and stands in stark contrast to both Figueroa’s call for an accessible student government and Vahdani’s plan to form a student union that would allow students to advocate for fair pay and better working conditions.

Vote Tara Vahdani for President.

To read all of the Editorial Board’s endorsements, click here.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Triton Editorial Board. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.