Isuru Karunatillaka /The Highlander

Over the past fifty years, the UC Student Association has represented students across the University of California to the Board of Regents, the UC Office of the President, the Governor and state elected officials and has even made power moves as a leading force of federal advocacy in Washington, D.C. alongside the United States Student Association. Today, the UC Student Association is the official voice for over 280,000 students across ten campuses and works alongside the UC Graduate Professional Council to empower undergraduate and graduate student issues through university policy reform, government relations through lobbying and campus action through student activism.

With passionate leaders from unique and diverse backgrounds coming together to organize and advocate, there have been massive strides made through strategic campaigns and initiatives like Fund the UC, which has time and time again halted potential tuition hikes proposed at the regents year after year, or Racial Justice Now working to highlight the need for transformative divestment from the prison industrial complex while bringing together Black students and allies statewide to push for affirmative action and support UCSA with securing much-needed recruitment and retention program funding to empower UC’s diversity.

As a systemwide leader and higher education advocate, it has been my distinct privilege to meet such incredible student leaders from across the state and organize with them to secure critical resources for students through legislation, policy and funding. I have witnessed over three years of UCSA growing increasingly powerful in ambition through its means of pushing to successfully secure a $15 million budget line item on basic needs, lobbying for several bills to support student-parents, reforming police standards, expanding access to financial aid, investing in the Cal Grant and providing several opportunities to advance student opportunities, such as traveling to the California State Capitol to meet with legislators.

The challenges presented by a global pandemic have been limitless. Coupled with rising racial inequity that knows no boundaries and has deepened already troubling existing disparities, as well as blatant police violence against Black and brown communities, our students of color have consistently been targets of institutional oppression and forces of injustice. Our communities have also been exacerbated by the absolute overhaul of our college experiences through remote distance learning, lacking academic responses to support and accommodate student needs and extended uncertainty for a future on campus that cannot be a return to normal, but rather an uphill fight for a much better environment for those most impacted by COVID-19, especially through securing resources for our underserved students.

This is why I am calling on my peers, administrators and systemwide representatives to support the efforts of student-leaders across the UC to reinvigorate the capacity of our advocacy at the systemwide level. The UC Student Association, alongside the UC Graduate and Professional Council, have pursued the interests of the broad student body of UC students. Along with our counterparts at the California State Student Association and the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, we have consistently made significant headway in the fight to make higher education more affordable and accessible to all students across California’s public higher education. It’s up to the regents and our constituents, students across the UC, to recognize how massive student-voices in advocacy spaces have impacted their university system and educational experience.

When it came to proposals to increase tuition costs in 2012 and 2015, and even as recently as 2019, systemwide student leaders on the UCSA Board of Directors used their campus networks to mobilize petitions, public comment and protests in solidarity with student organizations to demand an affordable UC education. As basic needs grew more pressing for our most marginalized communities, UC student leaders invested time into basic needs advocacy, empowering students with disabilities and partnering with undocumented students to expand the role that the university and state have in funding programs, financial aid and policy reform.

The investments that our role in systemwide advocacy has had on ensuring the accessibility, affordability and quality of a UC education continues to break boundaries for the capacity of organizations like UCSA. I have the highest of hopes that after 50 years of fighting for the critical interests of students across the UC system and securing substantial victories in all kinds of issue areas, there must be a spark to invest in student advocacy that can and will change the game for UC students and our critical interests over the next 50 years and beyond.