By Jackie Bueno
This year, the Restorative Justice blog is highlighting candidates from both Student Action and CalSERVE, to find out what their platforms are and why they’re running for ASUC Executive positions and ASUC Senate. This week, we’re featuring Alex Wilfert, a junior at Cal and current Senator in the ASUC. Alex is running for President with Student Action (SA). The RJ Center wishes Alex nothing but the best of luck with his campaign!
To learn more about Alex’s campaign, see this link.
Here’s our interview:
Jackie: Tell me about where you grew up.
Alex: It’s funny cause a lot of people ask where I’m from, but it’s really a loaded question for me.
I had a pretty interesting childhood. I am the son of a Lebanese mother, German father. I was born in New Jersey, and I’m a triplet. I moved around a lot when I was young. I moved to the UK when I was three years old. We moved there because of my Dad’s work. Was there for 5 years, then we moved to Seattle, then back to the UK. In short, I grew up between the US and UK really.
But umm, largely raised by Mom. My Dad wasn’t around a lot because of his work, so I was raised by my Mom and Grandma. I was privileged in that, having 4 siblings, we supported each other. My Mom was the most amazing inspiration. She put her heart and soul into raising us.
Jackie: How would you describe your experience at Cal so far?
Alex: I mean it was definitely tough in the sense that it was very far. It was far away from home. I felt really disconnected from my family. Being here, not being able to see my Mom or my family, was definitely not easy for me at all. But I adapted by finding community here. I think it was a transition I became accustomed to since I moved around so much, so I kind of got the flow of things. It was like okay, you’ve done this before, so you can do this again.
Jackie: What was your experience as a senator this past year?
Alex: I think my time in Senate allowed for a lot of growth and development on a personal level in the sense that a lot of things I said I would commit to doing were things that ended up taking a different form. I came to Senate with the intention of giving my communities tangible change. And I was able to achieve that with all of the three platforms I was talking about. In that aspect, I realized that bureaucracy is real and the difficulties of navigating it are real. And even me, who has been in the ASUC for three years felt like I had a good grip of it, but at the same time, it’s never easy.
One, it takes a group effort, and that was something I really had to learn when I talk about growth. I really had to learn about collaborating. That was an interesting aspect that I definitely saw and became aware of in this term. More specifically, Free Speech Week really set the tone for what was happening on campus. And I really think that the campus climate this year really made a lot of the things I talk about in my platforms really different from the things I was advocating for in Senate. I was really struck by seeing what happened the year before in Senate, by how little the issues that came up in regards to "Free Speech" changed and the ASUC's response.
When Ann Coulter came to campus, we really saw the militarization on campus. People stopped and frisked. We saw the same buildings being closed in Lower Sproul and the MCC. We saw the lack of, in my opinion, the lack of understanding, I would say, when it came to students by administration.
I was there during the Milo protest. I saw a lot of people breaking those windows and saw them break into MLK. And for me this was something that couldn’t happen because students need to feel safe on this campus emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Again, we’re seeing our current Chancellor adopting similar techniques of how to address our campus climate which were disruptive and bad. So I made sure to take note of this and not adopt it, so in the future, this wouldn’t happen again. And so, I was really trying to elevate the voices of students that didn’t feel comfortable on campus.
I also passed a lot of policy to combat the issue. I put the ASUC President on the CERC committee, which is a risk management committee that makes decisions about event policy, campus climate, bringing in mutual aid since no student was on that committee.
Number one, we had to make sure that students voices were there to ensure the Chancellor knew things needed to change. I was proud of legislation that took a stance on student issues.
And the other aspect, is I wanted the ASUC to make students really feel like they’re supported. We knew that it would be really difficult for students to step on campus before and after the event, so we worked on creating study spaces. I worked with Senator Miller and Senator Estacio to create study spaces, which included opening some co-ops, sororities, and fraternities. Luckily, Milo didn’t come, so we didn’t have to worry about that.
So that was a large part of the work I did. People would tell me, “I don’t see you anymore.” And the thing about me is that I pour myself into the work I do. I really took this idea seriously that I was elected to support my fellow students, which is my number one priority. It definitely allowed me to see the propensity the ASUC has to help students.
Jackie: Why do you want to run for President?
Alex: I definitely think any student running for Senate should be commended because it’s not an easy process. It opens yourself up to a lot of difficult conversations, and you’re dedicating a semester of your time to try to get support from your fellow students and show them you can get work.
It was definitely a really rough Senate campaign for me because I had mental health issues. It’s something I really thought that I can’t do again but wanted to make sure everything during my Senate term was done.
But then as I participated in conversations about free speech week, but also just started working with the communities I represent and administration, I knew we still had a lot of work to do. And I know I would have regretted it if I had walked away knowing I could do more to help students feel like they have the best experience they could have.
On the other hand, I think students really need to believe in the ASUC again. For way too many people, the ASUC is an ivory tower that people don’t feel engaged with. I think we see a lot of communities or students that really don’t care about the ASUC, but hope that their student representatives support them. So I think that was something for me that informed my personal platforms. I really fleshed out and talked a lot about this idea that the ASUC really needs to engage with students again. To make sure the student body really feels supported by the ASUC. You know, we talk about how the federal government’s really out of touch and we shouldn’t replicate that here.
Similar to that, my other platforms focus on the issues that affect students as a whole. Things such as access to basic necessities, addressing campus climate and campus safety. We’re seeing friends getting their laptops stolen on campus. Students don't feel safe walking home at 2 A.M. This should not be the case.
And then, basic needs, that’s something we’ve kind of taken an executive slate as Student Action about and are really focused on addressing. I’m someone who was affected by the CNP policy and had to stand at 8 A.M. in the financial aid lines in the beginning of California Hall. That’s just totally unacceptable. Students on this campus should feel like they have the basic services provided to them and feel like administration is putting their priorities over a budget.
And then my friend was asking, why can’t you find an apartment for $800 a month which in itiself is also extremely expensive? We don’t have affordable or accessible housing and that was something I tried to work on this year in Senate. But you know, enough is enough for the amount of students who are homeless and can’t afford to pay these exorbitant rents. I think there needs to be more responsibility taken by Administration. I think now, the new Chancellor, is guaranteeing housing. But what does that mean? Discussions have been made to build on People’s Park, Oxford tract and even Edwards Stadium. The Chancellor would have to build on every proposed site she discussed, which has a lot of implications, that I don’t think she’s talking about.
We need to make sure she’s held accountable, but also figuring out ways to reduce costs for housing.
Jackie: What is your leadership philosophy?
Alex: I think my leadership philosophy is that I like to lead by example but always seeking to elevate and support the team. I want the people around me to feel empowered to work. I don’t think leadership is something that finds success in its individuality but in its community. And for me, how I approached it in Senate and how I would approach it as President is that I’m one individual out of many to support our student body in the work they’re trying to do.
Jackie: You mentioned that you come from a privileged background and are a cisgender male. How will you make sure if elected to represented voices and identities that differ from yours?
Alex: First and foremost, acknowledging my privilege. I think these conversations need to be had in terms of acknowledging my experiences and my identity knowing I am privileged in a variety of ways is the first step. And the second step, is learning and listening. I think that’s something I wanted to intentionally acknowledge through my platforms but also knowing how I’m going about this elections cycle is trying to learn and listen about every student’s experience on campus. I can understand their experiences and be an ally in any way I can.
I think that’s an extremely important aspect, especially when you’re in a position where you have to represent all 40,000 voices on campus, where all our experiences and views differ. We really need to be mindful of that and uplift the narratives of marginalized students to support communities on this campus. And that’s something that can always be improved. I'm glad Senate allowed me to interface with so many students this year and understanding different needs and views and perspectives.
My favorite part about the ASUC and campaigning, quote on quote (laughs), is that even though it’s stressful, I can really listen to people and understand what their Berkeley experience has been which is satisfying.
Jackie: How do you think RJ can help organizations on campus such as the ASUC resolve issues it faces?
Alex: My Teta or Grandma always taught me to be compassionate and kind, which is something I always try to embody. What I love about RJ is that these are hard conversations, but these are hard conversations that can turn into positive change. I think having these kinds of dialogue and making sure students feel supported is important and the RJC does this through community building or supporting survivors as some examples. For example, in the Greek community, supporting survivors and having community building coupled with a GASA workshop. What if there was a restorative justice discussion about SVSH? I think this would really help bring the community together. And I think you can see on a wider level, with students, that we can all do a better job empathizing with one another. I think the Restorative Justice Center can help us with that.
Lastly, I think publicizing the work that y’all do. Y’all do some incredible work. I read a bunch of your articles, like the Black History Month.
The ASUC should be elevating your work, helping the RJC with work that supports student communities and allows people to support one another.
Jackie Bueno is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Sociology. For further inquiries or if you would like to be featured, please contact her at email@example.com.