Of the five executive positions within Associated Students, the position of the Student Advocate General is probably the least well-known. But when it comes to serving students on an individual level, the Student Advocate General — the newest executive position — has the most to offer the average student.
Tasked with assisting students facing disciplinary action from the university and educating them on their rights, the Student Advocate General (S.A.G.) is meant to serve students from every corner of the university — not just those who are already familiar with Associated Students (A.S.) and the resources it offers — which is why the Daily Nexus is endorsing Melissa Perez for S.A.G.
The Office of the Student Advocate (OSA), which is led by the S.A.G., works as a “campus public defender,” according to its website. It’s made up of a handful of student caseworkers, who are assigned to students charged with committing disciplinary violations, such as violating a housing contract or academic dishonesty.
Perez’s opponent, current Off-Campus Senator Tyler Ferguson, has done a great deal of important work during his time on the Senate, including putting forward a bill to create two international student senator positions.
However, both through the Nexus’ interviews with the candidates as well as our previous knowledge of their work, we believe Ferguson would have been better suited for another year at the Senate table instead of the position of S.A.G.
During her interview with the Nexus, Perez demonstrated a strong understanding of the issues facing students and a drive to expand the visibility and accessibility of the OSA.
“I was a senator last year, my second year, and I became very familiar with the institution,” Perez said. “I have two friends who dropped out of UCSB because of financial reasons, or because they weren’t supported as a first-gen student.”
“I’ve come to know the university and its flaws, and I’ve lived personally the experiences of first-gen students and difficulties through their time at UCSB,” Perez added. “I know that I am capable of improving resources or helping students access the university in better ways.”
Perez served as a senator during the 2018-19 school year and declared candidacy for S.A.G. last spring, but later dropped out of the election.
“I was really drained last year, and I was going through some personal things, and I definitely was not ready to run a campaign for S.A.G., and I was not the person I needed to be in order to deliver the candidate I believed students deserve for the position,” Perez said.
“So I took a year off, I thought a lot about things, I grew, I healed and I’m back,” she said.
In the last year, Perez has worked as the co-fundraising chair for La Familia de Colores, which she described as a Latinx organization “for queer people of color to be able to have a family, a sense of belonging outside of university.”
Perez said that she has been working at various fast food places and businesses since she was 15, gathering experiences that she believes have contributed to her preparation for S.A.G.
“I learned to value a lot of jobs outside of academia, and my experiences outside of it have given me the ability to be able to respond more holistically to students’ issues,” she said.
If elected as the next S.A.G., Perez has a number of platform points that the Nexus believes will move the OSA forward and allow it to better serve students at UCSB.
Perez hopes to establish a division of caseworkers specifically dedicated to serving undocumented students, lower the GPA requirement for academic probation, set up online appointments for the OSA and eliminate the $60 College Alcohol and Substance Education (C.A.S.E.) fee.
Speaking specifically to her platform point of lowering the GPA requirement for academic probation, Perez noted that a lot of students tend to lose their financial aid if they are on academic probation, adding that it can often be for reasons out of their control.
“I think lowering the GPA [requirement] is going to help students’ well-being and security and retention at UCSB,” she said.
Hoping to build upon the work of former A.S. Senator Zion Solomon, who worked with Vice Chancellor for Students Affairs Margaret Klawunn to reduce the C.A.S.E. fee from $120 to $60, Perez wants to eliminate the fee altogether.
Additionally, Perez hopes to partner with pre-existing organizations, such as UCSB 4 COLA and the Isla Vista Tenants Union, and support the work they are doing on campus — particularly through funding from her office, as opposed to creating more branches within the office to do that work.
“One of my biggest things is definitely giving back to the community, so sort of uplifting the voices that already exist instead of hijacking organizations, funding movements, offering resources that I know the office has the capacity to,” she said.
One criticism Perez pointed out about the work of this year’s S.A.G., Andrew Nguyen, and another issue she hopes to tackle if elected, is the lack of visibility of the OSA.
“I think this current S.A.G. is doing a disservice to students by not being visible enough and [not] providing students the resources or the information,” she said. Perez hopes to utilize social media — TikTok included — to reach newer students and make them aware of the resources at their disposal, should they ever need them.
In comparison to her opponent, Ferguson, Perez did not accomplish as much during her senate term. But ultimately, Ferguson seemed like a candidate who was more focused on the internal aspects of A.S., whereas Perez seemed to focus on reaching outward and impacting more of the student body, which is key to serving as S.A.G.
When asked why she believed she was the best candidate for the position, Perez recounted a memory from her first year of helping her roommate appeal her academic probation and get her financial aid back.
“I think my experiences inside and outside the university allow me to bring a very unique perspective to this office,” Perez said. “I would hope to be able to provide a safer space for first-gen, low-income students of color to ask for help with the university.”
As someone who has advocated for herself and for those around her for the past few years, Perez is well-suited to advocate for all UCSB students as S.A.G.
Update: The Nexus has replaced the portraits done of each candidate with their self-submitted headshot. We heard concerns about the portraits not accurately reflecting what the candidates look like and will actively work to ensure that this will not happen in the future.