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 – President, IVP and EVPLA – can be viewed at dailynexus.com.
After being elected in Spring Quarter 2018, Student Advocate General Grecia Martinez overhauled many aspects of the Office of the Student Advocate and made a lasting effect on the function and foundation of the office, despite a lack of transparency at times in her term.
Martinez said she walked into an “almost invisible” office when she began her term, as she believes her predecessor Jack Tannenbaum did little to expand the outreach of the office and make it available to students unaware of its services. She said the physical space within Associated Students (A.S.) Main in the Multi-Cultural Center was in poor condition and lacked the supplies needed to do casework effectively.
“Coming in and realizing all of these things … the person who assumes this position has to really care about students and want to do it,” Martinez said in an interview with the Nexus.
Instead of immediately beginning the projects she planned for her term, Martinez said she first “had to take a huge step back” and “really pick apart the foundations” in order to improve the general functioning of the office.
“When I settled into the position in the summer, that’s when I realized that this office needed to be number one, the foundation needed to be fixed.”
One fundamental part of this was rewriting A.S. Legal Code for the Office of the Student Advocate (OSA) in order to better reflect the needs of students. Martinez said she changed the former divisions of casework within the office from Academic, Housing, Code of Conduct and Public Interest to consolidate some categories and create new divisions, which are now Grievances, Conduct and Academic and Financial Aid.
Martinez said this new organization of divisions fostered a more streamlined approach to case handling, in addition to making the process more intuitive for students.
Rewriting Legal Code also included taking out the polling analyst project that was added the year before by Tannenbaum. Martinez said that the project’s execution did not reflect the initial vision or the needs of the student body.
“In terms of the execution and the survey questions and everything, there wasn’t really anything there,” Martinez said. “Those questions that they had spent the whole year working on, I didn’t see how they would it would directly benefit this office.”
During her term, Martinez also began a project to create a database of past cases that were previously filed physically. Now, the office files all cases online, and the next S.A.G. will be able to use that database to observe patterns in the data of the cases.
Martinez also helped to create a new logo for the OSA, which she said would help with outreach and better reflect the services of the office. She also noted that her office was more active on social media compared to her predecessor’s office.
Despite this, Martinez did not have updated office hours for Spring Quarter 2019 available on the website, which she said was due to ongoing construction of the website. Office hours for Spring Quarter were also not readily available on the S.A.G.’s Facebook page.
Martinez collaborated with other UC campuses’ OSAs throughout the year to inform some of her projects for her term as well.
“I’ve done a lot of close communication to the other campuses and seeing how their student advocate offices work and what works well for them and what doesn’t.”
In particular, conversations with UC San Diego inspired Martinez to create an online appointment system for the office, similar to the one she had seen at their campus. The project is still in progress, but Martinez said she hopes it will make the office more accessible and user-friendly to students.
Martinez also helped lift a project off the ground that had been floating in the office for some time: moving OSA office to the Pardall Center in Isla Vista. The idea was something Robin Unander, the attorney for A.S., introduced to Martinez, and now something that Martinez hopes to pass on to the new S.A.G.-elect, Andrew Nguyen.
The move aims to provide a more secure and confidential place for students to air their grievances, cases or concerns with OSA staff. Martinez’s case workers began holding office hours in the Pardall Center beginning in Spring Quarter 2019. The case workers from OSA literally worked alongside Undocumented Student Services and other legal services to create a more centralized space for students.
Martinez said this quarter has focused on the logistics of moving the office, but she hopes that the OSA will be operating its services from the Pardall Center and the current space in A.S. Main will be used for administrative tasks.
Martinez said a goal of hers for this year was to advocate for historically underrepresented and silenced students on campus. One way she addressed this was through her hiring decisions within the office. Martinez said she intentionally hired staff that came from different communities, clubs and cultural groups in order to better reach those people.
In turn, Martinez said the staff in OSA created a more welcoming place for students.
“The people who I hired in the office are definitely a lot more understanding of the students who come in and they know how to talk to them better.”
Martinez said her own background, as well as her work in various roles on campus, including as an A.S. senator in the 2017-2018 school year, helped her better understand students alongside her caseworkers.
“We just know what it feels like to need help and not know where to go,” Martinez said. “Because of our background and experiences, I feel like a lot of people are more willing to go to great lengths to make sure that student is helped, that a student gets what they need.”
Martinez said this aspect of her office is an improvement over Tannenbaum’s, citing that her office was more efficient in completing casework. Martinez said her office completed around 60 cases over the course of the year, but she noted that a lot of helping students involved giving guidance, talking things over and resolving problems that didn’t necessitate an officially documented case.
Martinez initiated significant projects during her term and followed through with a handful of the platform promises she made during her campaign. She had hoped to collaborate more with other groups on campus to specifically address student needs, but she said the conditions of the office that she inherited required more attention.
But Martinez at times failed to be completely transparent with the student body. Martinez withdrew from classes during Fall Quarter 2018, but never came forward about withdrawing until after the Nexus reported the withdrawal in Winter Quarter 2019. Concerns about Martinez’s eligibility for the position erupted soon after, but ultimately, A.S. Legal Code proved inconclusive on whether or not an A.S. executive could serve while not enrolled in classes.
Martinez said her decision to withdraw was a hard one to make and that she withdrew on the final day of the quarter –– something Martinez said proves she was still a student and able to serve her constituents.
“It’s not like I took a break from the quarter. It’s not like I was completely absent,” Martinez said. “I was still very much involved in everything and doing everything I had to do.”
She later explained in a message that she initially withdrew because she “had experienced ongoing incidents of interpersonal violence… I was involved in circumstances prompting the involvement of CARE and Title IX.”
“Working through the trauma and healing from the violence made focusing on academics nearly impossible.”
Now, at the end of her term, Martinez wants to pass on her remaining projects to her successor and some advice, as well.
“Have people who work in your office who care about students and that are represented in different communities.”
Martinez echoes some of her previous goals for her term in her advice to Nguyen, but also encourages Nguyen to embrace that some of the best work is the work that sets up others to be successful as well.
“I feel like our whole office has done a lot of work to make sure that this office is successful in the long run and so I would just encourage Nguyen to kind of do the same.”
Above all, Martinez said the next S.A.G. needs to be dedicated.
“Just make sure that you really care about the work that you’re doing.”
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of the May 16, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Updated [5/20, 9:53 a.m.]: This article was updated to include further statements from Martinez regarding her withdrawal from Fall Quarter 2018.