AS Elections 2016-17: Students Determined

NewsStudent Government

From left to right, Students Determined candidates Natasha H Morgan-Witts, Selena Friedman, Freddy Arriola, Ronald Huang, Brenda B. Alvarez, Miguel Tapia, Sné Lochan, and Aseel Sherif Ali. Photo courtesy of Students Determined.

Written by:

How can this research institution benefit the local community?

That’s the question Students Determined, a progressive campus political party, wants to ask the campus community and if elected, address. This year, in the third iteration of the slate, they are running two executive candidates and twelve of a potential thirteen candidates for AS Senate.

Students Determined Presidential candidate Lesly Figueroa centers much of the slate’s platform on the idea of a “rooted university.” She and External Vice Presidential Candidate Refilwe Gqajela believe that whether this means outreach to local high schools, conversations with members of labor unions, or establishing affordable housing in the local area, they should be all be done with the local community in mind.

“The idea for our slate and progressive values is being really holistic in saying we want a student-centered university and we also want students to be cognizant of where we are and the effects we have on local communities,” said Gqajela.

Figueroa said that this year’s iteration of the Students Determined slate aims to serve as a continuation of their predecessors’ policies, but they will be focusing more explicitly on basic needs security, transportation, access/retention, and critical evaluation of any UCOP investments.

Students Determined Executive Candidates Lesly Figueroa and Refilwe Gqajela. Photo courtesy of Students Determined.

Students Determined Executive Candidates Lesly Figueroa and Refilwe Gqajela. Photo courtesy of Students Determined.

“We’re definitely going to have fresh initiatives, but we definitely want to build on the work student leaders on this campus are already doing,” said Gqajela. She made clear that this isn’t limited to the work done by the Associated Students, but work done by the various student leaders involved on the Students Determined slate, many of whom do not have student government experience.

“Students have recently been less apathetic and started saying, ‘How can I get more involved?’ It’s important to make sure that the generations after me are entering this University with better retention efforts I had,” said Figueroa.  

Miguel Tapia, a candidate for campus-wide senator, strongly identifies with Figueroa’s understanding of access and retention efforts. Tapia has been involved with student government and activism since first arriving at UCSD, serving in roles such as the Chairperson of Education and Awareness for the UConsent campaign and currently, as Chief of Staff for the Office of External Affairs. They plan to work with Gqajela to restructure the Associated Students in order to amplify the concerns and say of orgs comprised under the Student Affirmative Action Committee umbrella (BSU, MeChA, KP, etc).

What seems to be central to the Students Determined platform is consistency around serving the local community and increasing diversity among the student body: what could be summed up as access and retention. Not only do they maintain a consistency of this platform in their executive roles, but their candidates for senate positions aim to do the same — even those from seemingly opposite fields like social sciences and biological sciences.

Freddy Arriola, the current Chair of MEChA, is running for Social Sciences senator. Arriola has been heavily involved with working with campus administration in developing sanctuary policies for the university, and planning for UCSD to become a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). His platform focuses on increasing cultural competency workshops for students who want to enter areas such as medicine or public health. He also plans to increase the visibility and accessibility of internships in the social sciences by hosting a Social Sciences career fair and mixers throughout the year.

Counter to the assumption that a senator from the social sciences does completely different work than a senator from the biological sciences, the Students Determined candidate for the Biological Sciences Senator, Brenda Alvarez, aims to focus on access and retention work, in addition to her platform that is more specific to the academic department.

From left to right, Students Determined candidates Freddy Arriola. Natasha H Morgan-Witts, Brenda B. Alvarez, and Freddy Arriola. Photo courtesy of Students Determined.

From left to right, Students Determined candidates Freddy Arriola. Natasha H Morgan-Witts, Brenda B. Alvarez, and Freddy Arriola. Photo courtesy of Students Determined.

Alvarez, a third year student majoring in Human Biology, aims to draw from experience both as a pre-med student and working as a Campus Diversity Engagement Coordinator at SPACES. She aims to collaborate with organizations focused on biological sciences and the career center in order to better cater to student needs and increase students’ awareness of other majors in the biological sciences, like Ecology and Marine Biology.

Central to the platform of the slate, Alvarez also aims to work with the Biological Sciences Mxntorship & Diversity Committee to make sure it follows through on its commitment to diversity and mentorship for underserved students in biological sciences, including high school students in the San Diego community.

Both Figueroa and Gqajela believe that UCSD is a city in itself, referencing both the campus’s commercial areas and residential areas. But they also think that we also need to consider the impact of our actions on the local San Diego community as a whole.

“One thing that Berkeley has is what was meant to be affordable housing off campus… those folks are able to afford housing in that area,” said Gqajela. The Students Determined platform aims to tackle housing insecurity by looking to other campus models. Both Executive Board candidates expressed an interest in working with Housing*Dining*Hospitality (HDH) to create off campus housing solutions for students. However, they also believe it is important to work toward options for community members in the greater San Diego area that need affordable housing.

photo (4)

Students Determined candidates for Off-Campus Senator Leony Mijares and Kat Avendano. Photo courtesy of Students Determined.

Katya Avenado, candidate for Off Campus Senator, aims to work with Resident Assistants directly to help students find housing off campus and prepare for the transition from on-campus housing to off-campus housing. She also said she plans to work with the University Centers Advisory Board to provide healthier and cheaper food options for commuters, as well as, installing refrigerated lockers for those who are on campus all day and need to store their food.

With regard to transportation, Figueroa was blunt about her thoughts.

“The reality is that parking is going to get worse. That’s the reality,” said Figueroa. “But we do have to think about how are we going to mitigate that. We need to think about alternative transportation,” she said, advocating for bike sharing programs and more frequent bus routes. Leony Mijares, another candidate running for Off Campus Senator, is specifically focused on working with MTS to re-route local busses to more active student bus stops in the La Jolla area.

As the voting period approaches, Students Determined are attempting to resolve an outstanding issue with the election’s system and clarify their stance on what it means “to be progressive.”

The primary representative for the Students Determined slate is Figueroa, however the ASUCSD elections manager, Janani Natarajan, currently identifies both Figueroa and Gqajela as independent candidates and if this distinction holds, they will appear this way during the voting period.

“I’m still waiting for a response to where are we at, where are we going. I have not been contacted,” said Figueroa, who has filed a grievance with Natarajan about this distinction. ”We’re just trying to move forward.”

Ultimately, Students Determined aims to be a coalition slate of many students who might not normally have gotten involved with student government, like current MeChA Chair Freddy Arriola and current BSU Chair Refilwe Gqaejla. Although initially Gqaejla didn’t see student government as a platform for her work, she now sees it as a way to empower the UCSD community.

“Folks are here to fight for themselves. People free themselves. People push and mobilize and have agency to do things for themselves instead of people doing things for them,” said Gqaejla.  

Although both slates identify as progressive, Figueroa believes there is a significant difference between “true progressivism” and “fake progressivism.”

“Looking at our slate… it’s a true community slate,” Figueroa said. “When I talk about true progressiveness, I’m talking about empowerment. We are a coalition. We are a team.”

The 2017-18 AS elections are scheduled for April 10 through 14. Polling stations and online voting will close Friday at 4 p.m.


Executive Board:

Lesly Figueroa – President

Refilwe Gqaejla – Vice President of External Affairs

N/A – Vice President of Campus Affairs


Academic Senators:

Brenda B. Alvarez – Biological Sciences Senator

Colin Feeney – Engineering Senator

N/A – Arts and Humanities Senator

Natasha H Morgan-Witts – Physical Sciences Senator

Freddy Arriola – Social Sciences Senator


Campus-wide Senators:

Aseel Sherif Ali

Sné Lochan

Selena Friedman

Miguel Angel Tapia

Ronald Huang


Transfer Senator:

Kristiana M Cuevas


Off-campus Senator:

Leony Cristy Hermosilla Mijares

Kat Avendano


Gabe Schneider is the editor-in-chief of The Triton.