Janine Ybanez/HIGHLANDER
Janine Ybanez/HIGHLANDER

Over 400 UC students, including 64 Highlanders, attended the 12th Annual Student Lobby Conference from April 4-6 to advocate on and raise awareness about issues of higher education, such as reforming sexual assault policies and instituting affirmative action in a university’s admissions process.

Students lobbied at the state capitol on topics such as an additional 5 percent increase in the state budget to offset the underfunded UC system (estimated at a $124 million deficit). This was suggested along a slew of bills including SB 967, which would refine and standardize how sexual harassment charges are handled, and SB 1017, an oil severance bill that would tax oil companies on extraction and give 50 percent of the revenue directly to higher education.

The conference also held workshops and seminars, ranging from rape culture and sexual assault on college campuses to gender in popular media. ASUCR local affairs liaison Breana Ross hosted a workshop called “Blurred Lines: Defining Sexual Assault,” which was meant to inform and get rid of misconceptions about sexual assault. Ross said any piece of legislation that is geared toward protecting victims of sexual assault will provide them with more confidence to seek assistance for themselves. Although SB 967 is gender-neutral, it is heavily geared toward women, especially since nine out of 10 sexual assaults are assaults on females. Women make up 51.8 percent of the student population at UC Riverside.

The workshop also consisted of a discussion and self-defense portion, where students developed campus action plans, discussed how sexual assault affects their campus and learned how to defend themselves. Alongside these workshops, students also prepped to develop lobbying skillsets and were briefed on proposed bills.

Another major bill proposed was SB 1210, which was drafted by state Senator Ricardo Lara, seeks to create a loan program that will allow university campuses to administer federal loans to undocumented students that they don’t have access to.

A demonstration dubbed a “die-in” occurred the morning of the last day of the conference, which was concurrent with the lobbying of state representatives. Each student who participated had prepared a gravestone stating their name and their accumulated debt. UCSA president and ASUCR Vice President of External Affairs Kareem Aref, ASUC external affairs vice president and UC Student Association board chair Safeena Mecklai, state Senators Ricardo Lara and Kevin De Leon, assemblyman Das Williams and three students spoke in a press conference after the demonstration.

First-year linguistics major Johnson Pham, one of the students to speak at the press conference, said of his experience: “I spoke out on my views about SCA 5 and how I come from a background where affirmative action has helped the community find opportunity and grow,” he said. “I felt as if there was an imperative for me to speak about this, especially as an Asian-Pacific Islander.”

Aref commented on the overall temperature of this year’s conference, saying, “A lot of people seemed very supportive — the idea of funding higher education for the most part seems to be good … we’re really showing these representatives that these are your students, these are your constituents and you need to serve them.”

He was optimistic that Gov. Jerry Brown will be supportive of student-supported legislation. Students seeking to be part of the student lobby at UCR are encouraged to join the Highlander Action Committee or the Lobby Corps, which are both committees within the ASUCR external affairs office.