In the last candidate forum before elections next week, Jorge Villela and Kristian Whittaker took part in a debate for the position of Student Advocate General, discussing topics such as the Conduct Board proposed by the Associate Dean of Students.
As a position without party affiliation, the role of the Student Advocate General is to promote justice and impartiality within UCSB by giving students the tools and information necessary to navigate the legal process at UCSB. The Student Advocate General assists students who are charged with violating the University Code of Student Conduct, and students charged of such misconduct are expected to undergo.
When asked their opinion on the new Conduct Board that aims to judge and potentially punish student groups, both candidates said students should have active involvement in this legal process.
Third-year history of public policy major Villela said he would make sure to keep a constant presence at the Conduct Board meetings, despite some logistical obstacles to this goal.
“As far as Conduct Boards, I feel that it is still my space to go and represent these students, so no matter what, I’m still going to be there,” Villela said. “Even though I’m not allowed to say anything, I’m still allowed to ask for time-outs.”
Whittaker argued that the idea of a conduct board was unfair to students, and said he would fight to gain a greater student voice in this matter.
“I feel that it’s personally attacking the students on an underhanded level,” Whittaker said. “I have found that most student conduct cases are mistakes — mistakes that most students overlook or just simply forgot … I feel like the Student Advocate General needs a push for an actual say — to actually represent the students in these cases with an actual voice.”
In regards to past student advocacy efforts, Whittaker said his time on the A.S. Senate and his involvement in creating a group project seeking student input are two experiences that directly qualify him for the position. Whittaker said he plans to change the usual procedures for the position, making a greater effort to assist student defendants.
“Myself and the four other on-campus legislative council members have definitely felt that our constituents … were not directly represented. However, it was our fault … we were not going to these residence halls as we should have been,” Whittaker said. “Thus we created our group project … we did not wait for them to come to us — we went to them.”
On the other hand, Villela mentioned his role in starting Educational Opportunity Program Step Up[[ok]], which raised over $20,000 for the Educational Opportunity Program. Introducing the new program required a sense of initiative that Villela said he would bring to the role of Student Advocate General.
“EOP, as many of you know, are for first-generation students … EOP got hit hard, just as a lot of things on this campus got hit hard, and what happened was — I was a part of a two-week program, and what they were going to do was to cut it down to five days,” Villela said. “So what I did, during my first year along with 10 other people, was to create this program called Step Up.”
Since the Student Advocate General must regularly resolve student conflicts on a large scale, candidates were also questioned on their ability to come to an effective and fair decision.
Villela said his time as a Resident Assistant has given him first-hand experience in dealing with a variety of personal conflicts between students, and Villela said he plans to provide students undergoing the university judicial process with a “safe, confidential space.”
“As a Resident Assistant, I deal with conflicts all the time. We had a very conservative [student], and then we had a student that was a part of the LGBT community, and then a student that was not supportive of that…it was a space for me…to figure out how to best work with each other,” Villela said.
Whittaker, on the other hand, cited a personal experience when he had had to deal with his own roommate’s misconceptions about his queer identity.
“In mid-winter, I got a new roommate and I hadn’t met this person before, so they came in and I guess the roommate didn’t know that I was a queer person … I guess that he didn’t feel too comfortable with me and my sexuality,” Whittaker said. “To be honest, a lot of his complications with me were misconceptions about the queer community … so it definitely just came through education, definitely letting him know a lot of the things he believed about queer people were false.”
When asked how they would maintain truthfulness and accountability within the Office of the Student Advocate General, Villela said that he would be sure to remain nonpartisan and create a Facebook page for the office to reach out to students. Whittaker said he would create an ‘advocacy agenda’ by the fifth week of Fall 2013, which would expand analytical research in the office.
In their final statements, both candidates stressed their commitment to the student body. Whittaker said he wants to push for more clarified definitions of policies for students, whereas Villela said he would ensure that the Office of Student Advocacy is a safe place for any student who needs it.