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ASUCI Presidential Candidates Face Off In Debate

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Update 4/15/2021: This article has been updated to include relevant information regarding past ASUCI slates and elections.

The ASUCI Presidential Debate was held over Zoom on April 9 in anticipation of the upcoming ASUCI elections, for which official voting began on April 12 at 9:00 a.m. and will end on April 16 at 5:00 p.m.

Candidates Devan Aziz, Michelle Wei and Melanie Ramirez-Guevara were asked questions fielded from ASUCI Leadership, the Elections Commission and UCI students by Elections Commissioner Randy Yan, with the opportunity to add 30 second rebuttals to their opponents’ answers. In recognition of the particular difficulties of online learning during a pandemic, questions asked were focused on addressing concerns about returning to campus, identifying issues of student inequality and improving ASUCI’s transparency and accessibility.

Previously, ASUCI’s senate has been surrounded by controversy, which eventually led to the recalling of six senators in Winter 2020. In following years, the recalled senators were known to have re-run for different positions under the Fund the Clubs and Friends of Peter slates. According to research done by the New University, this year’s presidential candidates do not seem to be associated with either slate.

Aziz is an urban studies major running independently whose slogan is, “Fair Share, Earth Care, People Care.” Proposing policies under a platform of sustainable, ethical solutions and financial literacy, Aziz’s plans include digital art auctions of NFTs, a carbon-neutrality pledge by 2030 and agroecology-informed landscaping of the Irvine campus.

“Building career paths for students is important,” said Aziz. “We need to expose them to more cutting-edge technologies, I would love to see more implementation in different fields of blockchain technology and how cryptocurrency can affect different sectors of the economy.”

Wei, running under the “Anteater Alliance” slate, is a third-year social science and public policy and educational sciences double major. Wei said that she aims to become “a voice and advocate and friend for all marginalized communities.” As an intern with the Center for Racial Justice in Education, Wei wants to focus on expanding student representation. Wei outlined plans for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to clarify leadership communication, employ therapists cognizant of undocumented students’ struggles and open affinity spaces for minorities to dismantle white supremacy culture on campus.

“I would hope to work with the administration to begin and sustain this program where students and faculty are paid to come up with ways to improve the material conditions of UCI,” Wei said. “It’s important to note that typically people are asked to do this work without being paid and it’s their reality, and if we are asking them to do it, how are we going to support them?”

Ramirez-Guevara is a first-generation college student and third-year political science major who advocates for a unified student body, saying that, “students carry a lot of power, [as] we’re the ones who make up the university.” Ramirez-Guevara said there is a need for guaranteed and affordable housing, affordable parking and lower tuition rates. Ramirez-Guevara also noted the need for personal support for UCI students, citing her experience advocating for destigmatizing mental health support and reaching out to students directly in addressing campus climate and ASUCI transparency concerns.

“We’re all one, we’re all united, we’re all UCI …  we’re all students who all deserve the same representation and the same level of integrity and respect by your fellow peers, your faculty and everyone else around you,” Ramirez-Guevara said.

One point of contention within the debate was each candidate’s perspective on necessary actions concerning UCI’s campus police. Wei proposed that “something, with the support from all the UCs, that could be potentially done is actually defunding police departments on the campus and being able to redistribute those funds to other resources on campus.”

Her proposal did not go uncontested, with both Aziz and Ramirez-Guevara submitting rebuttals with their own arguments.

“I think, you know, abolishing the police completely is a little too much because, again, we must remember that we are students and the only weapons we have in case there’s an emergency are basically our notebooks and maybe water bottles,” Ramirez-Guevara said. “I think that instead, we should communicate with police to create committees and commissions where we can speak with them and instead focus on having free food for all students, just like prisons do, but instead for students who are the future of this country, the future of California.”

Aziz spoke with personal experience, having reached out to UCI’s Public Safety’s Community Engagement Officer Benny Green previously. “I know the relationship with police is very dicey for now,” he said. “I would like to get them involved with, potentially, my Equality Commission where they could help teach some unconscious bias training and empathy training that they go through themselves.”

“I think it would help further [as] the students understand what kind of rigorous training they go through, as well as dissolve some biases that students have themselves,” Aziz said.

All candidates agreed upon a need for ASUCI to be led by a president who values transparency and collaboration in governance, and who uplifts student voices and UCI above all else.
ASUCI Elections have been open since 9 a.m. on April 12 and will conclude at 5 p.m. on April 16. Students are able to access the elections webpage to vote online.

Emma Cho is an Intern for the Spring 2021 Quarter. She can be reached at emmasc1@uci.edu