On Thursday, March 1, ASUCR hosted a town hall meeting with UC Regent Vice Chair John A. Perez moderated by UC Regent Emeritus and UCR alumna Marcela Ramirez. Perez engaged with UCR students in attendance that afternoon by discussing various student issues and concerns, from tuition increases and specific source funding to lack of representation for the Muslim and African-American student population.

Ramirez opened by asking about the Regents’ upcoming vote in May on increased tuition costs for out-of-state and international students. “I don’t think we’ve exhausted all of our alternatives,” Perez said, “but we will continue to get other people to agree with me on that. I’m not going to own on their bad policy.” He shared with the audience that he was strongly opposed to the vote and worked hard to convince others about the decision they were making and how the fee increase will affect students.

Perez continued by expressing how important it is to increase efforts and speak with regents on behalf of their concerns, especially those who are ambivalent about the decisions they are planning to make. He emphasized further, sharing that, as a regent, “I had a vote, (thus) everyone has a voice. So first thing is, don’t give up the tool you have… The students (from UC Berkeley) were effective at convincing the regents that they have done all of the steps necessary to have them go at the last resort and vote.”

As the conversation transitioned to speaking about UC-wide concerns, David, a third-year public policy student, inquired about socioeconomic disparities, especially with students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds preventing students from being successful. Perez referred to UC Santa Barbara’s financial aid program which he believed should be the model for other UC campuses to follow in terms of financial aid distribution.

This package promised admitted students four years of covered financial aid for their tuition, including total cost of attendance and other necessities that aren’t covered explicitly by their tuition, such as a laptop or a bike for traveling around a large campus. In addition to that, UC Santa Barbara includes two summer sessions to ensure students can complete their courses on time before graduation as well as a quarter studying abroad.

“One of the things I’ve been fighting for is, when we’re talking about affordability, we’re no longer talking about just tuition, we talk about total cost of attendance … Because when we look at total cost of attendance, we still see students who are food insecure or housing insecure. How much of that (financial disparity) is a gap because we don’t have the right formula to capture the increased cost (of attendance), and how much of that is external forces that aren’t within our control, that are existing in students’ lives?” Perez mentioned further, “Can we look at different ways of distributing our financial aid to smooth it out, to meet costs throughout the year with these major distributions? Are we doing a good enough job at evaluating housing and food costs are in the real world?”

Second-year ASUCR CHASS senator Mariam Alkhalili brought up her concerns about the lack of representation and inclusion of Muslim students on campus, suggesting that Middle Eastern and Muslim students experience “Islamophobia and discrimination … on campus due to the fact that students don’t have faculty members or staff that we can turn to.” She inquired about a proposition to collect disaggregated data that would allow students and faculty members to be classified as Middle Eastern, as she and other Middle Eastern students are controversially categorized as white. She also proposed an Arab and Muslim task force at a UCOP level to address the concerns throughout all of the 10 UC campuses statewide. Perez suggested a systemwide inquiry with President Napolitano and the chair board, including himself, to follow up and discuss further about implementing the task force and data disaggregation.

Later, a student asked Perez about proposing more effective regional transportation that would be convenient for commuter students at UCR. Perez warned about how the effects of implementing a faster transportation system within a dense community such as light-rail in Los Angeles, has been known to create gentrification. According to an article from the LA Times, homes and residential complexes that are adjacent to these transportation systems are more likely to displace low-income families away from using public transport — the very same population that are most likely using this type of transport. In spite of how useful an improved public transportation system may be for Riverside, Perez says that problem can’t be mitigated by the regents, but rather by the city.

After the questions and open forum concluded, Perez closed by reconvening with the audience members directly and providing follow-up information to address their concerns.