Five current undergraduate senators — Alain Perez ’23, Gabby Crooks ’23, Michaela Phan ’23, Emily Nichols ’23 and Sarah Saboorian ’22 — hope to serve once again in the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Undergraduate Senate. Last year, they ran on a range of campaign promises, including commitments to support marginalized communities, improve mental health resources and combat sexual assault on campus.
Although candidates generally run on wide-ranging platforms, suggesting policies across a spectrum of campus issue areas, most senators find themselves only able to accomplish a much smaller number of initiatives, if at all. Faced with an unprecedented virtual academic year, each senator said that they attempted to adapt their advocacy approach to meet their goals in this new setting, which some described as an admittedly challenging feat. Throughout a year marked by economic precarity and a national reckoning over race, some senators who are first-generation and low-income (FLI) or Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) also described facing unique challenges during the pandemic.
“Overall, I am proud of what I was able to accomplish and get done with others,” Nichols said. “As a first-generation and low-income Black student, I experienced a lot this year, but I also became a better leader, advocate, and individual.”
These challenges, as well as the virtual environment, impacted many senators’ abilities to deliver on their initial campaign promises. However, they also took initiative in many areas to support Stanford students during a difficult year.
Supporting sexual assault survivors
While Stanford has reviewed its sexual misconduct resources over the past year and made changes, including merging various offices under a single Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Education Title IX (SHARE) office, campus advocates say that current procedures continue to hurt survivors.
Co-directors of ASSU sexual violence prevention Julia Paris ’21, Maia Brockbank ’21 and Krithika Iyer ’21 said that they have not partnered with the Senate on their work to change University procedures and are unaware of work senators have done in the last year to support survivors.
Saboorian, who centered her campaign around supporting survivors, said that her and the other senators’ support of the Abolish Stanford Greek organization helped accomplish this goal, even though Saboorian did not fulfill her original promises to diversify Stanford’s Confidential Support Team (CST), institute mandatory consent training in Greek life and expand the Callisto pilot, a sexual assault reporting software.
“While I had planned to continue pushing for the implementation of mandated consent and bystander intervention training, this changed substantially as we were presented with a resolution to de-house IFC and ISC sororities by Abolish Stanford Greek,” said Saboorian, who described the resolution as addressing “the root of the issue I was working on, which was high rates of sexual violence occurring in fraternities.”
Phan, Perez and Nichols similarly advocated for changes to sexual misconduct practices at Stanford to better support survivors on their 2020 platforms. While all three senators proposed policy reform, Perez advocated for office hours in community centers, and Nichols said she would institute a coaching program for Title IX staff to better support survivors as well as another program to provide long-term funding for survivors’ mental health resources. Neither Perez nor Nichols accomplished these goals.
Improving mental health resources
Four out of the five senators (all but Crooks) highlighted expanding mental health resources in their 2020 campaigns. Perez called for wellness coaching in community centers, and Phan said she would increase publicity for mental health resources, while Nichols promised to advocate for increased and diversified Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) counselors and Saboorian ran on increasing CAPS funding.
Wellness coaching is not currently available in community centers, and CAPS has not undergone major reforms. The shift to remote learning, however, has spurred a new set of concerns about student access to mental health resources, changing some of the senators’ focuses.
According to Perez, ASSU efforts to support student mental health have centered around supporting the TREAT Act, which would overturn a national law prohibiting therapists from treating patients across state lines. Perez explained that currently, some Stanford students who “have previously established relationships with therapists or with mental health counselors and have gone back home or gone anywhere else across the globe can’t receive the help that they were getting before.”
Perez said that the University has told the ASSU that Stanford’s legal team is working to support the TREAT act.
In her 2020 platform, Phan said that she would work on mental health and sexual violence resource graphics to “educate students about all the resources available to them” and “publicize the less-well-known resources for mental health.” To this end, she says she has helped publicize sexual violence resource graphics with Nichols and other senators, and says she has partnered with Vaden and the Office of the Vice Provost to create another set of mental health and wellbeing graphics, which she expects to finish by the end of spring quarter.
Nichols, who ran on a campaign promise to create a pilot program funding long-term student mental health support off campus, emphasized her current effort to start a mental health and wellness fund for undergraduates to receive funding for self-care and wellness events. At Monday’s senate meeting, she proposed using ASSU discretionary funds allocated to the Undergraduate Senate to establish a mental health and wellness fund for students. The Undergraduate Senate has $3,295 left over in discretionary funds and can choose what to do with the funds.
Supporting First Generation and/or Low Income (FLI) students
All five senators named supporting the FLI community on campus as a major goal in their 2020 platforms. Phan, Nichols and Saboorian all hoped to abolish course fees during their senate tenure, while Perez called for the establishment and expansion of an FLI community center. Despite these efforts, there are still course fees, and there is no FLI community center.
With most students taking classes online, however, the needs of the FLI community and the Senate’s capabilities to help meet them have changed dramatically over the past year, according to Perez.
“What I came into the senate thinking about how we can best advance and advocate for the FLI experience was really different from what I’ve been doing,” said Perez, who is himself a member of the FLI community.
Co-president for the First-generation and/or Low Income Partnership (FLIP) Ayush Pandit ’22 commended the Undergraduate Senate for their efforts to ensure students with special circumstance housing were not forced to move dorms as juniors and seniors returned for spring quarter. Crooks, Phan and Perez all pointed to their work on a resolution, which Perez authored, in support of this effort.
For other senators who are not a part of the FLI community, like Crooks, advocating for this community means centering the voices of FLI students. She described her approach as “really stepping back and letting senators who identify as FLI and letting students who identify as FLI really inform me on what needed to change and how I, as an ally, could really be of the best service.”
Promoting racial justice
During their 2020 campaigns, all of the senators now running for re-election emphasized the need to promote racial justice on campus. Their ideas included increasing faculty diversity, departmentalizing African & African American Studies (AAAS) and addressing racial violence. Though most of the senators’ 2020 platforms focused on racial violence affecting the Black community, their efforts have also extended to combating recent anti-Asian violence.
While AAAS has not yet been departmentalized, Nichols said that she is proud of the progress that has made over the past year: In February, the University Framework Task Force recommended AAAS departmentalization, marking a major win for Black student advocates, including the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA), Black Student Union (BSU) and the Black Studies Collective.
“It has been over a 60-year fight, and it was beautiful to be a part of and see it through,” Nichols, who serves as the AAAS departmentalization liaison, said. “We still have a lot of work to do in regards to implementation, and the fight is far from over, but it’s a huge milestone that everyone is proud of.”
According to Nichols, her work around racial justice has also included helping to establish the Black Community Council and the Community Police Oversight Board and working on legislation to promote more resources for religious, ethnic and cultural communities and organizations on campus.
Crooks also hoped to promote racial justice on campus and set forward a plan to modify the Engaging Diversity WAYS curriculum to better address racism. Crooks did not make changes to the WAYS requirement during her tenure. She said she did work on an undergraduate senate resolution condemning anti-Black racism in May.
All five senators also contributed to a June resolution condemning police violence. In the process of constructing this resolution, Perez said he spearheaded and facilitated a discussion between the Senate and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ Student Association about the Association’s success advocating for changes to campus police contracts.
“That was a really great conversation because it was able to promote intercollegiate dialogue and learn, once we make demands, how to follow them up,” said Perez.
Phan and Nichols also helped author a resolution, which the other three senators sponsored, condemning anti-Asian violence.
When asked about the Senate’s work to support Asian students, Jasmine Nguyen ’23, the co-executive director of the nonprofit Diversify Our Narrative and student advocate for Asian communities, highlighted the work that Nichols, Crooks and Phan have done to establish the Forward Collective, a space for FLI students. Nguyen said that the collective, though not geared specifically towards Asian students, ended up benefiting many students who identify as Southeast Asian as well as FLI.
Though Nguyen appreciates the impact of the Forward Collective and admires the work that the senators have done to promote racial justice more broadly, she said that she would like to see more fundraising efforts, spaces for people to voice concerns and collaborative efforts with Asian student groups.
“I know that a couple of the candidates did do a great job in terms of racial justice efforts overall, but I haven’t seen anything specific to the Asian American community, at least not that they’ve extended outreach towards the community for,” Nguyen said.
The five senators have all advanced beyond primary voting and will conclude their campaigns during the ASSU elections at the end of April.
This article has been updated to include additional context surrounding the challenges senators faced during the pandemic.