The Nexus has compiled profiles of our current elected officials to reflect on their past year in office. Looking back on their campaign platforms, we asked our elected officials to tell us about their successes and shortfalls throughout their terms in office. The term in reviews for the other executives – EVPLA, IVP and S.A.G. – can be viewed at dailynexus.com.
Associated Students (A.S.) President Brooke Kopel faced the challenge of leading one of the more divisive UC Santa Barbara student governments in recent memory – but despite having a Senate that began the year in a partisan protest and an A.S. administration that was lacking an executive, Kopel said she has “developed a love for this university” that she “never thought was possible.”
“[I] expected it to be just as time-consuming as it was,” Kopel, a fourth-year political science major, said in an interview with the Nexus.
“There’s so much you want to do and you fear of letting people down, and that was the one thing I didn’t want to do was let people down… [but] at the end of the day, [I am] another 22-year-old student on this campus.”
As with any presidency, she admitted there have been “bumps along the road” during this past year.
Kopel ran on an extensive platform –– campaigning against UC tuition hikes, creating a natural disaster relief fund, raising awareness of the resources available for sexual assault survivors, reinstating free night and weekend parking and committing the university to 100% renewable energy –– and while her goals are commendable, she ultimately only worked toward a little more than half the platforms points she promised.
But her advocacy for all students, combined with her work on other projects on campus and help with the vacant External Vice President for Statewide Affairs (EVPSA) office, saw her fulfill lofty goals.
Platforms & Projects:
As referenced above, Kopel ran on five main platform points for her campaign during the Spring Quarter 2018 elections.
Of those, she made strides towards three of them – preventing tuition hikes, creating a natural disaster relief fund and raising awareness of the resources available for survivors of sexual assault – in addition to working on securing the bike shop a permanent space on campus and creating a continuing projects coordinator position within her office.
“I’ve made it such a huge priority of mine to do my best and check off at least something in each of those platforms… I only have a year to do these things and I do what I think is best,” she said.
Kopel also noted one of the more difficult hurdles she faced was dealing with how the presidential office was perceived. Going in, she believed “people just knew what this office does… but in reality, I found out that besides going to Senate meetings and talking to various orgs, they had no idea what this office was.”
She said her “biggest success” was kickstarting a plan to get the bike shop a permanent location on campus, a task she has been working on throughout the school year. Approximately $3 million is budgeted for the project so far, she said, noting that the bike shop is something that the majority of campus utilizes.
Because the project is still in its early stages – Kopel presented the shop’s plans at Wednesday night’s Senate meeting – it will ultimately be up to President-elect Alison Sir to see the project through its entirety.
In regards to the tuition hike, Kopel said she was “blessed” that the UC Regents listened to the students on lobby trips in that they decided not to raise in-state tuition for the 2018-2019 school year.
She noted that she herself has gone on two different lobby trips over the past year, one to DC and another to the student lobby conference in Sacramento, lobbying for Pell Grant and Cal Grant expansion.
Kopel also praised the work the EVPSA office has done without an actual EVPSA , highlighting its efforts with Coffee and Calls and on the several lobby trips throughout the year.
She referenced the latest out-of-state resident tuition hike that was on the UC Regents’s table, noting that her office, in conjunction with the EVPSA office, “mobilized to get people out [there and] make it definitely aware that [the tuition hike] was happening.”
She also met with UC President Janet Napolitano once a quarter, along with all of the other UC undergraduate student presidents, and said she was proud that during every single meeting, they “addressed tuition hikes and basic needs and college affordability.”
“We’ve talked about that every single time and made it aware to the [UC] president that the council of presidents won’t stand for anything less than making college more and more affordable.”
In regards to the natural disaster relief fund, Kopel said she found it difficult to “navigate the administration” and what routes to take when looking for sources of money.
She explained that during this past year, she rediscovered an A.S. Excellence Fund that had been created by 2013-2014 A.S. President Jonathan Abboud during his time as president. The fund, made up entirely by alumni donations, was meant to be used for “bettering the academic experience of students.”
The vague description means the fund can be put toward a large variety of uses, Kopel said.
Currently, the fund has approximately $2,000 in it and has not yet been used. Kopel is currently working on getting more money into the fund so it can help students facing financial crisis from natural disasters in the future.
“I’m really hoping that by the end of the quarter, we’ll be able to reach that $10,000 mark at the fund, and that at that point it will become an endowment and can start generating its funds,” she said. “Even if I don’t reach that $10,000 goal [by the end of the quarter]… Alison will be able to pick it up really easily next year.”
In regards to helping sexual assault suvivors, Kopel referenced her work with Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA), stating that she did “a lot of work with them” in Fall Quarter 2018 by helping with the Asks they put together.
Aside from tangible projects, Kopel said she believed her role throughout the past year on this campus was to be visible, to help connect marginalized communities and those advocating on campus “with the people that they really need to get their efforts seen [by].”
“When it comes to supporting communities and specifically the survivor community, there’s already so much work that’s going on that I don’t want to co-op or take credit for or change [what they’re doing] because they’re so strong.”
Kopel said that as the first woman president in four years – with James Villarreal in 2015-2016, Austin Hechler in 2016-2017 and Hieu Le in 2017-2018 – she felt it was a “responsibility of mine” to do whatever she could to “be supportive and [be] there for survivors and for women.”
She noted that she was proud of helping set up the Hate and Bias On Campus town hall.
She further denounced Betsy DeVos’s proposed Title IX changes, stating there has to be “ample protections in place for survivors on UC campuses.”
One of Kopel’s other platform points, one she referenced during her candidate forum, was “uniting the campus.” In that, Kopel said “uniting the campus,” for her, means “standing up for people who are unseen by this campus or underrepresented, or never heard enough.”
“I’ve written letters for, spoke up for, gone to meeting with, spoken on a system wide level to the [UC] president [for underrepresented communities],” she said.
“[I’ve gone] out to strikes, whether it be for AFSCMEor the Pan Asian Network, using my platform to uplift those voices that aren’t heard enough is a way to show as many people on campus as possible that these communities are in need, that these communities need support more than they’re getting.”
She praised the 69th Senate’s success in terms of the bills and resolutions passed; according to Kopel, this year’s Senate put out a “record number” of resolutions and bills, particularly in putting out resolutions that support “various communities” on campus.
“I think Senate has definitely made it one of their priorities to make sure that they’re standing up for these students… I think there’s a few shining stars in Senate that have made work their priorities, but there’s a lot of others that kind of have been hidden under the brush.”
But she noted the contentious situation that this year’s Senate brought: “Not only does it feel kind of tense and the air is really thick in there, but you can visually see a divide. You can tell who’s been elected by Campus United and you can tell who’s been elected from the Isla Vista Party.”
Kopel attributed that fault and toxicity to both parties.
“Partisanship and toxicity and harmful words and attacks get in the way of work we’re supposed to be doing.”
Kopel was also tasked during her presidency with filling four vacant Judicial Council seats – an unprecedented situation in recent UCSB student government history, and one that caused “uproar” within the Senate as Kopel presented her chosen appointments.
“I was heavily affiliated with Campus United [at the time] and the Senate was split [on Judicial Council appointments], 50-50,” Kopel said, referencing the Judicial Council cases on the table at the time regarding her former party.
“I think at first [the process] was hostile, but I think I did a very good job in being level-headed and open-minded and very open to their suggestions.”
Kopel also noted that this past election season was more “hostile” than her year’s election had been, stating it was “really disheartening for me,” referencing, in her words, the “anti-Black” and “transphobic” comments made toward former A.S. presidential candidate Zion Solomon on a UCSB Reddit thread.
“I know elections get really tense. I’ve been through two of them myself and I know people want to win, they want to help this campus, they want to represent students, but that should never come at the expense of someone else’s safety… It’s one thing to critique a platform and it’s another thing to hate on someone’s identity.”
In reference to the “hostile” nature of elections, Kopel said she has “mixed feelings” about the presence of political parties on campus. While she believes the parties provide platforms for people who “might not have the means otherwise to run for positions,” ultimately, “the negatives outweigh the positives.”
“Our campus is just a little microcosm of what our federal system looks like –– even though, by no means, is CU or IVP Democrat or Republican –– just having that split from having two parties lends itself to toxicity,” she said.
“It lends itself to a divide that might not necessarily have to be there if everyone had to run independent or if there was some sort of system where there had to be more than two parties involved.”
She also touched lightly on her departure from Campus United during Fall Quarter 2018, stating that while she did as much as she could to communicate that departure with the student body, it was ultimately hard to address her departure because parties “aren’t really supposed to be present throughout the course of the year,” as stated in A.S. Legal Code.
What Comes Next?
Kopel will be attending law school at the University of Southern California after she graduates with UCSB’s class of 2019. She hopes to become an immigration lawyer.
She said her time in the Office of the Student Advocate (OSA), working as a caseworker during her second year at UCSB, was where she “found [her] voice for advocacy.”
“I was able, as a caseworker, to see the impact I was able to have just on a small scale, but also on such a big scale on individual’s lives… my passion for advocacy has only grown since then.”
But it was the presidential office in particular that “showed me that advocacy doesn’t necessarily mean having some huge movement accomplished. For me to be a successful advocate it doesn’t mean that I step into the game and get all the demands put through,” emphasizing that, to her, advocacy means “being visible and knowing that people are there for you.”
In regards to her successor, Sir, Kopel said she hoped to make Sir’s transition into office easier that her own: “The transition was really scary for me. I felt really alone at first… a big priority of mine this year was to try and bridge the gap of transitions that we face every year.”
But aside from the transition, Kopel’s advice for Sir is: “You have the utmost privilege of serving in this office, of meeting administration and cultivating relations with people you had no idea existed, communities you had no idea existed. Take advantage of literally every email that comes your way, every opportunity that comes your way, get to know this campus in and out.”
“Treat every day like it’s your first, because it’s never too late to start something new.”
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of the May 16, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.