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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Senator term review: Samantha Chiang

ARIEL ROBBINS / AGGIE FILE

Senator Samantha Chiang was elected in the spring of 2016 as the top-vote getter in the ASUCD election. Now, she has been elected to serve as a senator for a second term and was recently elected as the Senate Pro-Tempore.

Chiang received an endorsement from The California Aggie both times she ran for Senate. For her second term, this paper endorsed her for her ability to achieve her platforms. In an interview with The Aggie, Chiang explained that her two key platforms were mental health and getting academic accommodations for students with mental health disorders during her first term.

“In a sense I did accomplish all of my platforms and you could also say the more specific tenants I didn’t,” Chiang said. “What I managed to accomplish was — my overarching thing was mental health — so I was able to create a mental health conference. Now I am working on the [mental health] awareness month.”

Chiang did admit to not fulfilling a project that she did campaign on, however.

“All the broader things, like the themes, got accomplished in one shape or another, but some of the more specific things weren’t able to be accomplished per se, but they weren’t really my platforms, they weren’t how I sold myself during elections,” Chiang said. “[…] One of the ones that I did not accomplish, I wouldn’t call it a platform but a small project I wanted to work on, was creating a letter [of] recommendation request system via Oasis or Canvas. Then I found out later on through talking to students that no one voted for me because of that and that no one was interested in this project at all.”

While touching on the academic accommodations aspect of her platform during the interview, Chiang focused heavily on her work on mental health awareness. The crux of her work during her first term was the establishment of a one day mental health conference at UC Davis. Commending her event as a success, she is working on expanding it.

“I’m working on the mental health initiative which is to encompass the conference and a mental health awareness month where we work with multiple different [organizations] to put on different events,” Chiang said. “Because our conference went so well, Student Affairs is actually currently helping us to make a proposal to get an annual income of $20,000 so we never have to worry about our finances concerning the mental health initiative again.”

One of the stumbling blocks Chiang encountered during her term was the bureaucracy of the UC Davis Division of the Academic Senate (AS).

“One of my other parts of the platform, I guess you could say, was getting professors to work more with mental health and I am still working on that because it’s just an ongoing process,” Chiang said. “I am currently working with the UC Office of the President as well as our Academic Senate, which is extremely difficult to work with.”

In evaluating Chiang’s work, former ASUCD President Alex Lee corroborated Chiang’s experiences with the AS.

“When I was engaging with the Academic Senate, some of her projects and things were kind of in the periphery but I don’t think it made any more progress than I ever got because of the Faculty Senate,” Lee said. “Same challenges, but I think the effort has been there, not sure just what results have been there yet.”

Lee also noted what he saw as a lack of effort toward institutionalizing Chiang’s mental health conference.

“The only thing I’ve yet to see is her institutionalizing it,” Lee said. “I know she wants it to do it for 2018, though, and she’s doing it still through the senator office. I don’t know how she’s going to institutionalize it to outlast her […] I think that has yet to be decided upon from her.”

This push toward institutionalization is clearly visible in Chiang’s current work in securing annual funding for the conference.

One of the greatest struggles that Chiang faced during her first term as senator was learning how to navigate ASUCD and its inner workings.

“One of the biggest challenges was coming in and trying to navigate the institutional knowledge of the association because we don’t have a lot of documents to pass down,” Chiang said. “It’s really difficult for new senators to figure out what they are supposed to be doing, outside of just attending meetings and making office hours.”

Apart from challenges, Chiang discussed some of the things that made her a strong senator, especially compared to her colleagues.

“I think as a senator, one of my greatest strengths was my ability to navigate a system that wasn’t built for me,” Chiang said. “I think that, yes, it took twice as much effort, but eventually I was able to get my voice on the table heard. And I do think that as a senator I was one of the people that was able to accomplish the most. I was able to found a conference that will institutionally live on. It wasn’t just a one-off kind of thing.”

Lee, when asked to give Chiang a letter grade for her term, gave her a B. He justified this grade with what he saw as some of her strengths and weaknesses.

“Definitely very, very strong-willed and sometimes stubborn about things,” Lee said. […] Overall, she produced a lot, which I think a lot of students are impressed by, and that works to her advantage a lot of times.”

Chiang has served as an adoptive senator for five units during her term: Cal Aggie Camp (which is no longer a part of ASUCD as it moved to Campus Recreations and Unions), Creative Media, the Experimental College, Entertainment Council (EC) and The Office of Advocacy and Student Representation (OASR).

“Sam is the epitome of what an adopted senator should be,” said Georgia Savage, the director of OASR, via email. “She is extremely involved in our unit and has been the ideal liaison and advocate for OASR to senate. Sam is an extremely hard worker and her efforts to be inclusive and intersectional in her approach to mental health, which is a priority of this office, is unparalleled.”

Chiang resigned as adoptive senator for EC early on in Myers’s term. However, EC Director Rachel Myers declined comment for the interview. The unit directors for Cal Aggie Camp, Creative Media and the Experimental College did not respond for comment.
Written by: Kenton Goldsby — campus@theaggie.org

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