Hey there! My name is Tashie Williams-Powell. I am a Black, African American, single parent, older re-entry, differently abled student (physical/ mental health), body positive, non-denominational Christian, bisexual female, and an individual who is running for ASUC senate! These are the parts of me that shape my core values, which are rooted in faith, advocacy through representation, and a diverse community.
While I’m excited about my number one public University bragging rights, my path to Cal was not easily paved. I flunked high school, barely made it through continuation school, and put off college enrollment for 8 years until reality hit that I had no career goals and that I was going to be a single parent. I’m constantly crossing paths with individuals who have similar experiences, whether it be an older adult pursuing higher education, a single parent desperate to improve the quality of life for their offspring, or a student who pushes through their coursework despite personal struggles. I am a nontraditional student in so many ways and I understand the relentless courage, determination, and sacrifices that are made in order to survive and thrive!
Unfortunately, although we exist, there are still many areas of opportunity to improve how systems operate towards effectively communicating with and supporting the nontraditional student body. When I transferred to Cal as a Spring admit in 2017, I felt stuck and lost in an environment that I knew little about, and an environment that had less effective ways at making me feel secure. While there are centers for re-entry/ transfer students, student parents, and disable students, I was still struggling at the intersections of being a non-linear student and person of color. Coming to Cal at the height of fear post the United States Presidential Inauguration was a scary time for me. I did not feel like I had the support that I needed to succeed academically at the University and I felt discouraged about my future. Seeking a sense of belonging and community, I got involved with the Village Residents Association as their secretary and quickly began to notice ways that family housing residents also experienced the same feeling of disconnection that I felt as a nonlinear/ nontraditional transfer student; unrecognized, unrepresented, and ineffectively accommodated.
During the year that I have been at UC Berkeley, I have experienced so many setbacks. Just like my path to higher education, the road to keeping my good academic standing at Cal has been hard. I watched as my peers missed classes because they were afraid to come to campus during free speech week; deemed hate speech week. I watched as my peers’ testing needs slipped through the cracks without proper proctoring schedules for exams. I watched differently abled students get ostracized for requesting their accommodations as many times as they needed to access them. I watched as my peers bore the brunt of misinformation in regards to their financial aid and withdrawal processes. And I watched as students in family housing experienced power outage after power outage, dealt with mold, recurring theft, and inflated fees with little to no support from the University. I watched all of this despite experiencing many of the same issues, including limited child-friendly spaces and poor mediation and resolutions as a student employee. The level of discord and the amount of times that I have watched helplessly led me to stop watching and start doing, which is why I am a senate hopeful.
I’m all for transparency, so just as I stated earlier how I felt lost in an environment that I knew little about, that’s almost how I feel about this journey towards becoming an ASUC senator. Except the part about being “stuck” in an unfamiliar environment is replaced with the bravery in taking responsibility and action for something I am so passionate about: community advocacy! I may not know much about bureaucracy, politics and policy, but I know my experiences and I know that there needs to be someone on board willing to hold a place for nontraditional student representation. I have a lot going on as a single student parent, we all do (no matter our demographics), but I am committed to bringing about meaningful change for our underserved communities.
NON-TRADITIONAL STUDENT FINANCIAL AID ACCOMODATIONS
In realizing many of the intersectional failures of the University, I believe that there needs to be more cohesiveness between campus leaders and departments so that the Cal experience for nontraditional students is enjoyable, navigational, efficient and sufficient, especially at the level of financial aid. The stigmas against student parents, disabled (differently abled) students, older re-entry, and transfer students come out in ways that are oppressive and passive. Passive in observing that nontraditional students have many factors that impact their daily lives, yet are expected to accomplish and process things in the same way and amount of time as others who do not relate to the nontraditional student experience. As a single student parent, sometimes I am unable to give my professors advance notice of needed accommodations. However, I am entitled to those accommodations. The same should be said for campus policies that affect nonlinear students and their finances, because we should still be entitled to accessible resources and information about financial aid no matter what. However, when those systems of support are not efficient or effectively communicating and considering unique student struggles, students become misinformed, misguided (or not guided at all) and overwhelmingly stressed.
When a student’s unit count drops after financial aid packages are awarded, it becomes the responsibility and burden of the student to repay the University any overpayment of funds on their account. I plan to implement a lowered unit fluctuation that allows students to withdraw from courses and receive a grace period for repayment of fees and other related school costs. This grace period would be able to be used to postpone other outstanding balances, such as past dues charges and rent. But most importantly, this grace period would allow the student to utilize all other resources to cover costs instead of having the balance immediately reflect on their account.
For instance, any amount of the individual’s student parent grant funds can be expedited to cover rental balances and unpaid fees. Additionally nontraditional students could have access to a simplified system that expedites cost of attendance adjustment forms based on needs expressed during enrollment and in their FAFSA applications if applicable. My hope is that the grace period and lowered unit fluctuation will reduce the stress associated with figuring out student schedules and filling financial gaps.
MANDATED SUPPORTIVE SERVICES TRAINING
My hope is to implement mandated cross training and orientation for campus leaders so that departments remain knowledgeable and transparent in effectively communicating with students who have mental health, physical health, and disability support needs. If it’s intersectional for us as differently abled and nontraditional students, the system should also be aware and ready to support us at those intersections. I will aim to create three systematic changes in regards to disability support; those being 1) improved student-counselor interactions through Counseling and Psychological Services, 2) medical withdrawal/ leave of absence support and 3) health coach support geared towards destigmatizing mental health and improving quality of life.
In improving the student-counselor relationship and interactions through CPS, I will seek to implement new systems of communication that require counselors to contact a student if a scheduled appointment is missed. It is unfair that students are charged a fee for missing an appointment, but are rarely reached out to in order to see how they are doing mentally/ emotionally or physically despite them missing their appointment. This change would show students that counselors actually care about their well-being above the no-show fee associated with missed appointments.
Mandatory training for department employees holds the University accountable for providing accessible information and accommodations for differently abled students who rely on the aid of properly trained liaisons who are aware of drop deadlines, the medical withdrawal process, as well as the fiscal disadvantages in addition to the readmission process should a student take a leave of absence. Additionally, all information provided to the student should be concluded with a signed information consent form to assure that students are receiving correct information and understand the risks and benefits associated with leave of absences after consulting with University Health Services/ Tang, EOP, DSP, etc.
Direct services, such as health coaching, is available through University Health Services that hold nutrition workshops and sexual health education, however, it is important to offer the same services in a capacity that helps improve the quality of life for students who face struggles that affect their mental health. I would like to implement health coaching workshops and sessions that focus on things such as combating imposter syndrome, stress management, and inlcuding coping skills that lead to better grounding. Additionally there could be health coaching that assist students in the readmission process after coming back from a leave of absence or medical withdrawal.
SECURE AND LIVABLE FAMILY HOUSING
When I moved to University Village, I was immensely thankful for the friendships I formed with fellow Village residents. However, the support that I received as a Village resident was limited to just that. It seemed as if The Village operated separately from the University itself. It seemed as if the families living in The Village were all that we had, and that was not a good feeling when we came here with the idea that Cal would be there to provide secure affordable housing.
This year I helped the Village Residents Association establish board member committees to focus on recurring resident concerns and experiences. Some of the unfortunate issues that residents experience are theft and burglary. While that is out of the control of the University, there should still be a sense of security. Residence halls recently received camera systems, yet family housing is left unsecure while bikes, vehicles, mail, and other personal property becomes damaged and stolen. Understandably, the logistics of family housing security is significantly different from residence halls, but there are far more things that the University has neglected to provide for Village families, and that families are forced to provide for themselves. Personally, I believe that if the University can provide funding to renovate the Memorial Stadium Fitness Center after the tile flooring failed to meet health and safety standards due to the adhesive being defective, then I believe the University can also provide funding to improve unfit family student housing.
Many residents are dealing with the following:
-Mold inside of their units that lead to severe cases of hospitalization
-Old carpeting that is beyond the 5 year suggested replacement, and nearing 15 years
-Carpet cleaning fees despite the need to replace carpets
-Charges to their account for basic items and repairs
-Extended wait time on unit repairs
While these are a few of the things that residents are experiencing, they all contribute to an insecure family housing experience.
My intent is to begin an ongoing dialogue with the Village Residents Association, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee for Work and Family, along with my CalServe team to open up important dialogue around the family housing experience while advocating for less financial and emotional strain on Village Residents and demanding healthier, happier, safer living environments for student families in The Village. Village security goes beyond UCPD, it’s about truly supporting and offering the best to our family housing community which includes many young children.
Village families should not have to come out of pocket to replace food due to consistent power outages that last for more than 24 hours. Residents should not have to provide their own security cameras because of recurring theft. Residents should not have to deal with their loved ones in the hospital and suffering because of a below standard living environment that leaves them susceptible to the harms of mold. Residents should not have to incur additional stresses over things that are required by any landlord, like a functioning and fully livable home. And most importantly, Village residents and student families should not have to demand that the University be held accountable for providing truly affordable housing. Because while family housing is marketed as a significantly cheaper living option for student families, residents are being exploited by having to shell out $20-$30 per lock out of their unit and fees to borrow a carpet cleaner to clean the old carpet in their unit. It’s time that the University start taking more accountability for student families.