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Tensions escalate between ASUCI and UCSA

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ASUCI Senate considered legislation in December to withdraw UCI from the University of California Student Association (UCSA), citing expensive fees and UCSA’s mishandling of the Students of Color Conference as the primary reasons for leaving.

The resolution to withdraw UCI from UCSA was proposed by ASUCI External Vice President Taylor Chanes and Student Services Vice President Jackson Chirigotis. The legislation was presented to the ASUCI Senate on Dec. 1, 2016, and was discussed but not voted on; a final decision on whether or not to remain in UCSA will be determined this week.

UCSA is a coalition of more than 240,000 UC students from all 10 UC campuses. The organization’s primary goal is “to advocate on behalf of current and future students for the accessibility, affordability and quality of the University of California system,” according to their mission statement. UCSA sends a student delegate to UC Regents meetings to represent student concerns, and organizes three annual UC-wide conferences, including the Students of Color Conference (SoCC), which was hosted at UC Irvine in Nov. 2016.

UCI has withdrawn from UCSA previously, in Feb. 2014, and rejoined in Sep. 2015 after negotiating a reduced membership fee. An impetus for UCI leaving the association in 2014 was UCSA’s cost to students, which the current legislation cites as a reason for withdrawing again. According to the legislation, UCI is projected to pay $16,416.39 in student fees to UCSA, not including costs of UCSA’s annual conferences.

However, immediately prompting the current proposal to withdraw is UCSA’s alleged mishandling of the 2016 Students of Color Conference, hosted at UCI from Nov. 18-20, 2016. Among other incidents, according to the legislation, “during the Students of Color Conference, following much controversy, delegation leaders from some campuses decided on behalf of entire delegations to leave the conference early, and [left] delegates who did not want to leave to find their own way home.” Additionally, the legislation accuses UCSA of “a constant lack of acknowledgement of the pain and labor that the [SoCC] organizers were experiencing at the time, and lack of intentional support from [UCSA] board representatives and staff during and following the conference.”

At the Dec. 1 Senate meeting, when the legislation was presented, External Vice President Chanes, the author, argued that a lack of support from UCSA during SoCC demonstrates that “the association is not representing [UCI students].” However, several members of the public advocated against UCI leaving the UCSA, claiming that the association provides valuable resources to UCI students and that the proposal to leave UCSA is merely a retaliation for their alleged  mishandling of SoCC.

“The legislation to withdraw from UCSA is being used as a way to blame UCSA for SoCC,” said former ASUCI Chief of Staff Khajika Soyoltulga, on behalf of herself and another former ASUCI Chief of Staff, Esther Kim. “UCSA is being used as a scapegoat. The troubles of SoCC cannot be wholly blamed on UCSA, but also on the office of the External Vice President,” which helped organize SoCC, and whose leader, Taylor Chanes, authored the resolution to leave UCSA.

Caroline Nguyen, former ASUCI Mental Health Commissioner, also argued in favor of UCI staying in UCSA.

“Last year, I was able to take many students to UCSA board meetings and they really enjoyed it and felt empowered by it,” said Nguyen. “Many students were highly influenced by UCSA, even prompting a change of career courses. I believe this is possible for many other people.”

Nguyen argued that UCSA has been instrumental in advocating for mental health services at UCI by negotiating with administration on behalf of students and publishing an influential report last year “grading” the mental health services of each UC campus.

Additionally, Nguyen said, UCSA is not to blame for the shortcomings of 2016’s SoCC hosted at UCI, as it is the External Vice President’s responsibility to handle conference logistics.

“Historically, SoCC has been the responsibility of the hosting campus. The grievances, I think, are not relevant to UCSA,” said Nguyen. “The grievances are valid, but they are not UCSA’s fault, and even if they were, they do not negate all the good things provided by UCSA and all the good that has come out of UCI’s membership.”

ASUCI Internal Student Advocate General Siddharth Baranwal also argued against leaving UCSA. He maintained that during the incoming Trump administration, which could be hostile to minority UC students, systemwide solidarity through UCSA will be crucial.

“Opting out of UCSA is illogical. These campaigns for our students are crucial and concern all our students and all college students in California,” said Baranwal. “It’s not just about the 240,000 UC students but about all the students in the nation. Of course we are concerned with the UCs, but we need to comprehend us leaving this organization in the current situation and Trump era; it is very touchy. Due to the feeling [caused by] the new President-elect, UC campaigns will need a collective effort, rather than a single effort as just ASUCI. I am in high support that we should be united right now so we can work on these issues together.”

ASUCI Senate is scheduled to further discuss the resolution during meetings week one of winter quarter 2017, on Jan. 10 and 12.