The University of California Board of Regents appointed UC Merced graduate student Josiah Beharry as the 2024-25 student regent this July. Beharry, who will be the first student regent from UC Merced, spoke with the Nexus about the significance of his appointment.
The student regent is a voting member of the UC Board of Regents, serving a one-year term and participating in all deliberations. The 2023-24 Student Regent is UCLA graduate student Merhawi Tesfai, and Beharry will serve as student-regent designate for this year before officially entering the role next year — participating in all deliberations, but without a vote.
Beharry graduated with a bachelor’s degree in critical race and ethnic studies and a minor in writing from UC Merced, and is currently a doctoral student in interdisciplinary humanities at the institution. He said he was inspired to apply for the student regent position to represent the Central Valley and advocate for students.
“I really felt that there was a voice that needed to come from UC Merced and needed to be represented in this long lineage of voices that had already been heard,” Beharry said.
As a first-generation student and DACA recipient, and the first Student Regent to publicly hold that status, Beharry is championing the Opportunity for All campaign that advocates for undocumented students to be hired at UC campuses.
A working group for the campaign was created in May after Regents’ approval, and Beharry said he has been meeting with students and student leaders to gauge their needs and bring their perspectives to the table. He said the Regents’ goal is to implement a plan by November for students to work on campus.
“We’re working with legal teams right now, having meetings about understanding how it affects students and what students need from this…but also [discussing] other services that undocumented students need in terms of mental health, housing, health care and other resources,” Beharry said.
Beharry has just entered the Regent-designate position and attended two Regents meetings so far, but said he’s beginning conversations on issues he is passionate about such as mental health resources, public transportation, affordable housing, restorative justice practices and more.
“Having those conversations already within the month or so is pivotal for me because this starts the initial stages of the work that I’m going to be doing for the next two years,” Beharry said.
At UC Merced, Beharry helped develop the Gateway Scholars program to provide high school students with college-readiness advising, and said a “passion project” of his is to create a K-12 school to college pipeline.
“You see a lot of kids [and] especially kids of color ending up in the prison system and I want them to end up in college because, like [for] myself, college was the great equalizer,” Beharry said. “It was a place that I was able to grow but also the place where I was able to gain equity and gain capital in this world and that’s what we want for our kids.”
Speaking to mental health resources specifically, Beharry said he wants to see higher staffing and better training for Counseling and Psychological Services (C.A.P.S.) across UC campuses. Having taken off a semester during his undergraduate education himself for mental health reasons, he emphasized the need for access to such resources.
“It’s a three layer thing. It’s training our staff more, it’s more funding for our C.A.P.S. and mental health services on campus and it’s also reaching out to our students to see what they need,” Beharry said.
Student outreach will be key during Beharry’s term, he said, as he is already speaking with student government representatives across UC campuses, and said he strives to serve as a voice for all students.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about me, it’s about all the communities and the people who are behind me and who I’ve come in with,” Beharry said. “When I sit at that table, it’s not Josiah sitting at the table, it’s all of [the students] speaking up and having [their] voices heard and having an opinion on the issues that directly impact [them].”