The Nexus has compiled profiles of our current Associated Students elected officials to reflect on their past year in office. As they look 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, EVPSA and EVPLA — can be viewed at dailynexus.com.
While navigating a completely remote school year, Student Advocate General Sarah Danielzadeh employed creative approaches to reach out to the student population and address their needs.
The Student Advocate General (S.A.G.) holds a nonpartisan role at UCSB and advocates for students in legal action and disciplinary matters, but because of the privacy around individual students’ disputes with the university, many students are less aware of what goes on in the office compared to the work of other Associated Students (A.S.) executives.
Danielzadeh, a fourth-year English major, entered the position in October 2020 after a special election following former S.A.G. Melissa Perez’s resignation. Danielzadeh acknowledged that her biggest weakness when entering the position was the late start but credited the office’s staff — who were hired during Perez’s term — for helping her through the transition.
“It was definitely a bit of a struggle to get caught up with the work and to also just make the office what I wanted it to be, and to have our team work collaboratively, but the whole office was already there,” Danielzadeh said. “Everyone was [already] employed so they made the transition for me really easy and helped me a lot through that process.”
Danielzadeh said Perez communicated the ongoing projects she wanted the office to continue and the responsibilities of the S.A.G. during the transition period. Once sworn in, Danielzadeh continued Perez’s project of transferring all casework to an online database — a project originally started by the 2018-19 S.A.G. Grecia Martinez.
In addition to the late start, Danielzadeh also faced the challenge of operating the Office of the Student Advocate (OSA) completely digitally, which presented outreach and accessibility issues. The OSA has suffered from a lack of visibility in the past, and Danielzadeh and her staff had to take extra steps to broaden the reach of the office during the pandemic, including revamping the OSA website to give users easier access to scheduling virtual casework meeting appointments and navigating other various features.
However, Danielzadeh said her office’s most important form of outreach was through contacting students directly. Rather than waiting for students to approach the office themselves, as the OSA has done before, Danielzadeh and her staff proactively reached out to students when they saw concerns voiced online.
“Every time we saw a post on social media — whether it be about racial profiling in Isla Vista or someone posting an email they felt was unfair from a professor — we reached out to them and let them know, ‘Hi, we’re part of this office, and you can come to us and we can take on a case for you and help you in any way we can,’” Danielzadeh said.
Further outreach included giving virtual presentations to university departments, multicultural organizations and Greek organizations to educate them on the purpose of the office. Danielzadeh said this proactive approach greatly increased the number of cases the office received and she considered it one of the office’s biggest successes during her term. Despite her accomplishments, Danielzadeh said there is always room for improvement in the office’s methods of outreach.
“I am still searching for ways to get our resources to new students who are struggling by themselves and don’t know that we are a resource that’s very accessible for them,” Danielzadeh said.
One of Danielzadeh’s campaigning platform points was helping students through the various difficulties brought on by COVID-19. According to Danielzadeh, one issue that arose due to pandemic-specific environments was false accusations of academic dishonesty. With online testing, many students were accused of cheating because of technological issues such as having another tab open while taking the test.
“[There were] small technology things you have to worry about that weren’t ever an issue when you’re taking a test in person in the classroom,” Danielzadeh said. “It was definitely unchartered territory, but we did a pretty good job working with the Office of Student Conduct and professors individually to resolve these issues.”
Danielzadeh noted, however, that she considered the numerous cases of racial profiling by Isla Vista law enforcement the most prevalent concern that the OSA received.
“Because we were seeing so many of those cases, we realized that this [isn’t] a case-by-case situation; it’s a larger issue that needs to be addressed,” Danielzadeh said.
In response to those cases regarding police interactions in I.V. and racial profiling, Danielzadeh and her office opened up a survey to assess students’ experiences with the UC Police Department, I.V. Foot Patrol and Santa Barbara Police Department, with plans to present the data to university administration and improve policing in I.V. The project will be continued by incoming S.A.G. Geovany Lucero, a fourth-year feminist studies major and OSA internal deputy chief of staff who helped create the survey.
Danielzadeh said she placed an emphasis on advocacy during her term, and that the survey was one example of trying to address broader issues on a larger level. She said that especially due to the office’s remote nature, publicizing student issues and figuring out ways to address them as a whole became a priority, in addition to handling individual student cases.
“Because such a big focus of our office was towards police relations, I think I’ve realized how exhausting advocacy can be, but also how rewarding it can be, because this is an issue that I’ve realized that is not going to be solved unless there is a lot of noise from the student body,” Danielzadeh said.
She added that her largest frustration was communicating with administrators about students’ issues. As the only legal advocacy group run completely by students, Danielzadeh said she felt that the OSA consistently prioritized students’ needs and advocacy above all else.
“It was really disheartening to learn that, as students, we are some of the people that care the most on campus about these issues. It was really difficult [going to] administrators saying, ‘Hey, your students that are paying a lot of money to attend this school are going through something unimaginable in their own backyard,’” Danielzadeh said.
Danielzadeh said she is confident in passing along the position to Lucero, who worked closely with Danielzadeh in the OSA.
“I think because we’ve been in such close communication this whole year and we’ve gone over everything together in terms of the cases we’ve taken on and the projects we’re working on together, they are very well briefed on what they’re getting themselves into,” she said. “I’m really excited for them to take on the office, and even next year I’ll continue to be a source of support for them if they need anything.”
Danielzadeh praised Lucero and the rest of the office for their work throughout the term, adding that the strain on her from the position was lessened due to their support.
“Having the strength of the office and having a team that cares about the same types of situations and cares about making students’ lives easier in a period of terrible hardship really kept me going,” Danielzadeh said.
Danielzadeh noted that, ultimately, the role requires a great deal of empathy on behalf of other students and that it is one of the most important traits to have when holding the position.
“I think it’s important that whatever students are going through, they feel that they have someone who has their back, and someone who says, ‘Even if this isn’t something we can fix within a matter of a couple of days or a week, it’s something that I’ll be holding your hand through,” Danielzadeh said.