The Daily Nexus endorses unopposed candidate and third-year communication and sociology double major Monica Mekhlouf as the next External Vice President for Statewide Affairs.

Mekhlouf’s experience in the External Vice President for Statewide Affairs (EVPSA) Office, serving as the Basic Needs Director for the last two years and the External Head of Staff this past year, has equipped them with the knowledge and skills necessary to lead the office. 

Mekhlouf’s experience in the EVPSA office has equipped them with the knowledge and skills necessary to lead the office. Maddy Fangio / Daily Nexus

The EVPSA’s main role is to advocate to the UC Board of Regents on behalf of students, act as a liaison for statewide and federal representatives and build connections across the UC campuses.

Mekhlouf is running on the platform of expanding basic needs services, addressing housing issues and supporting marginalized communities including students with disabilities, Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) students and low-income students on both an on-campus and statewide level.

“I think that because of my ability to be in such direct contact with these different communities, it empowers me to be a lot more urgent and a lot more conscious of the ways that I’m showing up on the statewide stage,” she said.

They expressed a desire to continue the legacy of the EVPSA office in advocating for marginalized voices through lobbying at the UC-wide level, an endeavor the Nexus finds core to the role in its statewide advocacy. 

“I’m also empowered by the fact that this position has historically been held by many students with disabilities, minority students, Queer students, and I want to continue that legacy,” Mekhlouf continued.

As the Gender and Sexual Equity Outreach Coordinator for the Associated Students (A.S.) Commission on Disability Equity (C.O.D.E.) and through her identity as a student with disabilities, Mekhlouf has the needs of students with disabilities at the heart of her campaign. The Nexus believes Mekhlouf’s personal experiences will inform their tenure with the empathy and understanding the position calls for. 

“As a disabled student myself, I’m often only catered to on a case-by-case basis, or depending on whether my professor wants to be nice to me, and that’s not really what I would consider equitable education,” they said. 

She touched on their goal of creating safeguards within courses such as allowing students to change their grading option and letting them drop classes without penalty to offer students accommodations, thereby creating a more equitable and positive learning environment. Furthermore, in their goal to erase social discrimination and stigma surrounding disability, Mekhlouf plans to champion bills for professors to get training on how to support disabled students.

Through C.O.D.E., she has also worked to create community spaces for students with disabilities to discuss intersectionality, culture and the concerns of disabled students weekly. They’ve also worked with the Mauna Kea Protectors, Students for Justice in Palestine and the statewide Opportunity for All campaign. These existing relationships with grassroots organizing on campus would inform their approach with the EVPSA office. 

“It was just really an opportunity to speak with people and talk directly, not even just on an advocacy level,” Mekhlouf said. “I think that it’s important that I get to speak to different communities whose struggles that maybe I don’t understand or face every day but can relate to.” 

Mekhlouf also discussed her work with the Disability Cultural Center (DCC) task force to implement a DCC, which would widen doors for students with wheelchairs and ensure air conditioning units to cater to immunocompromised students.

She added that these resources would be beneficial to not only students with disabilities but also low-income students working multiple jobs, students with undiagnosed disabilities and students faced with other impairments to their education. The Nexus found Mekhlouf’s inclusion of multiple marginalized communities as a positive indication of their understanding of the UC Santa Barbara student body and its needs, sparking confidence in their ability to successfully lobby for students at the UC level.

One of Mekhlouf’s main platform points is to push for affordable housing policies. As the Rapid Rehousing Pilot Project Coordinator and Cooper Housing Navigator, Mekhlouf demonstrated existing connections with constituents in regard to this systemic issue, directly hearing their housing needs through working on student cases.

She spoke to specific projects like housewarming kit distribution through the use of $10k in one-time basic needs funding as well as the security deposit grant program. Furthermore, they spoke about personal experiences with housing insecurity.

“This came because I was a student myself who was struggling to afford things like trash bags and detergent. And, I thought to myself, why aren’t we utilizing the funding that we receive on a statewide level on our campus?”

Mekhlouf expressed a strong desire to hold the University accountable for the Long Range Development Plan — “a comprehensive plan that guides physical development such as the location of buildings, open space, circulation, and other land uses,” according to the UC Office of the President. However, she did not detail the steps toward working with administration to accomplish this endeavor.

“My office wants to play a role in passing legislation that would make [adding affordable housing] more doable and also hold the university accountable in the process of doing so,” Mekhlouf said.

The Nexus believes that while this idea is well-intended, based on Mekhlouf’s interview, it would require specific, tangible steps toward its achievement.

Through their experience organizing student conferences and lobby days, Mekhlouf has shown her ability to maintain key statewide connections, represent student concerns and needs to the UC Regents and collaborate with other UC campuses. They are also dedicated to bringing underrepresented students to the table by giving them opportunities to participate in these conferences.

“It’s really just about bringing the kinds of students who don’t historically participate in things like legislative advocacy, to these larger stages to show the ways that they are fully capable and fully wanted, needed and sought out in these spaces to do the kinds of work that they’ve been neglected as candidates for in the past years.”

However, while Mekhlouf expressed an understanding of the EVPSA’s role as an advocate to the UC Regents, she did not list any specific methods to getting through to statewide administration beyond lobbying days and conventions. 

Having a thorough understanding of administration is crucial to a position such as EVPSA and the Nexus hopes Mekhlouf will acquaint themselves more intimately with tactics to negotiate with the UC Regents in order to foster effective change.

Additionally, a key role of the EVPSA office is to “keep students informed on national and statewide issues that are affecting them,” according to the EVPSA website. Mekhlouf did not demonstrate clear steps toward building trust with the greater student body, including a lack of discussion on outreach methods.

In terms of balancing statewide affairs with their responsibility to their goals on campus and within her office, Mekhlouf said they would stray away from current EVPSA Vero Caveroegusquiza’s trend of consistently keeping one foot outside of UCSB’s campus.

“Their presence was very much outside of this campus. I think that’s because they took on such a large role at the statewide stage,” she said. “And working with other campuses so closely, sometimes it meant that our office was not able to achieve all the goals we wanted to achieve at our own campus.”

Mekhlouf explained their plan to advocate to the University to put out statements of support and allocate funding to SWANA communities.  

“I want to combat the continued harassment, intimidation and silencing of SWANA and Arab-American students,” she said. “Not only at this campus but statewide by providing safe spaces for people and enforcing more globally informed policies that speak on the kinds of Islamophobia and xenophobia that Arabs have been experiencing, given the current global crisis in Palestine and the Middle East at large.”

Although Mekhlouf lacked specificity and creativity in terms of their broader plans as EVPSA, she has demonstrated through her experiences working with students on campus that they have the empathy and expertise to stand at the helm of the office.

Furthermore, the Nexus anticipates a seamless turnover in the EVPSA office, as Mekhlouf works under the current EVPSA and has worked closely with other executive offices and A.S. entities.