Executive ticket endorsement interview: Kyle Krueger and Akhila Kandaswamy

The California Aggie: Can you introduce yourself — your name, your year, your major and your pronouns?

Kyle Krueger: My name’s Kyle Krueger. I’m a second-year evolution, ecology and biodiversity major. He/his.

Akila Kandaswamy: My name is Akila Kandaswamy. I’m a second-year managerial economics major, and my pronouns are she/her/hers.

TCA: What slate are you running on and why?

KK: We’re running on the BASED slate. My reasoning for running for BASED is partly because of the values the slate is willing to speak about, not only to the basic needs and services that are essential, but also some issues like climate change and sexual assault awareness that are sometimes uncomfortable to talk about. I would say, more importantly, just the people on the slate. I’ve found great friends over this past year, and I’ve enjoyed spending time with them and talking to them and I believe there are great leaders on the slate. 

AK: Having connected directly with individuals on the slate, I’ve realized we fundamentally share a lot of the same values. Values are really important, and what we found our campaign off of — what we found our lives off of — and I feel like that’s really core to us as human beings. 

KK: And just to emphasize, we are running on a slate but we are here to work across the aisle to make sure everyone is included in any projects or decisions that we’re making. In discussion, we talked about things like people having enough food to eat from day to day and affordable housing. I think pretty much everybody agrees on those things and sometimes disagrees on how to solve them, but it doesn’t have to be partisan.

TCA: What is your history in ASUCD?

KK: I’m the current Chair of the Environmental Policy and Planning Commission [EPPC]. I’ve been in ASUCD for the past year and a half, I guess. I joined as a commissioner my first year. I tried out the carbon tax project that turned out to be not viable, but I was learning about the association at that time. And over time, [I] kind of grew into my role in the fair trade initiative now, and I represent the association and environmental issues and lead a team of 14 people divided into several different initiatives and projects.

AK: I am the current Sexual Assault Awareness Advocacy Committee Chair [SAAAC]. I’ve been involved in ASUCD for the past quarter and a half. I also serve directly as the assistant to the President, and so through that I’ve been able to see what it really takes to run the association and what the day-to-day responsibilities look like a big Executive office, which has been really great in preparing me to run for office, and beyond that just having a realistic expectation of what the Executive office really is — knowing exactly what I’m going into, knowing how I’m going to help you prioritize your day if you are elected, and just learning how to navigate the bureaucracy at the university. In my role as SAAAC chair, I’ve been able to begin putting together a conference for the month of April, which we’re hoping to have as a repeatable and annual conference, which is really awesome because I was pretty surprised actually to find out that UC Davis didn’t have a Sexual Assault Awareness conference, because a lot of universities like Berkeley and Stanford do. By speaking with representatives from these campuses, I was able to get insight into how impactful that conference has been for their survivor communities and for their communities as a whole. I’m really excited to implement that, and I will be working closely with CARE, who has put together a Sexual Assault Awareness month committee for the entire month of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness month. I’m really excited about all the kinds of stuff going on for that.

KK: I feel inspired to go into a little more detail on my mission. These are all projects I need to transfer over and kind of expand with with some of the abilities and resources I’d have with the Executive office, but currently I’m spearheading an environmental coalition to bring all the umbrella organizations across campus together under one body. I can meet once a month and coordinate efforts. One of the great issues I guess was the structural errors with EPPC was that it was just disconnected from things when I first took over as Chair, and and we’re doing double work or doing things that maybe other clubs are doing, and we’re not talking and and making sure that we’re all in coordination or talking on a frequent basis, as well as including admin in that conversation, I think is really, really important. And I’d love to spearhead the coalition and expand that to other issues as well. It kind of works out in the environmental area. We’ve got like five other projects. We’ve got an environmental career fair we’re currently working on that can get people involved to see companies that are going to help them begin their career and do something that they’re really passionate about. And I think that’s really important because right now the career fairs are stock, global oil, gas companies, especially for engineers. So we want to bring some diversity to that. I’m working with Camille Kirk in the same building right now and implementing different environmental surveys, typically an environmental literacy and environmental cultural assessment. And even though surveys, we’re hoping that it can be offered on a really frequent basis, kind of like a TAPS survey, and get a lot of responses. And that by doing that we can demonstrate to university where there’s gaps in educational knowledge, and demonstrate different clubs and organizations where there’s gaps in the environmental culture where we need to be focusing our efforts in terms of environmental education. We’ve got several others working — the CoHo, Picnic Day, and we’re coordinating with the Office of Sustainability to help them become more sustainable. We’re working with the Office of External Affairs right now — and they’re working on state policy and reforms — and affordable housing.

TCA: How would you make sure to incorporate the ASUCD units that already work from an environmental standpoint, like Campus Center for the Environment [CCE] and Gardens?

KK: CCE and EPPC have written the environmental coalition outline they’re going to be presenting soon. I think that it’s possible that the coalition house underneath CCE, and I think we’re still figuring out how the coordination would work, at least in partnership with EPPC and the legislative advisory body on, but it is important to us that we make sure we delegate tasks and that we’re not doing double work with EPPC and CCE. In Gardens, we’ve been bringing that conversation in as well, and I think that there’s a lot of intersection between what we’re working on and what the Gardens want to accomplish, particularly in sustainable agriculture. Agriculture is certainly an area where we see outside impacts on the environment, so certainly we would bring them into the coalition. The whole point of coalition is to make sure the efforts of one commission doesn’t conflict with another or do the same work, but instead build off of each other.

TCA: What is your understanding of the Basic Needs and Services Referendum?

KK: We are in support of the referendum, very strongly. I think it’s one of the reasons that I really wanted to run — I became interested in the association from a kind of environmental standpoint, and I’ve been involved in environmental activism for a long time. But over the course of time, these existential issues like climate change are becoming really, really important and what happens to future generations is really, really important. Realizing that we have such a large percentage of students who are food insecure, can’t put food on the table, and there’s literally people who don’t have a roof over their head when they sleep. We, as an association, have this power to actually run some of these services directly, and it’s amazing. Not every university has this. We see the Berkeley Pantry is open one day a week and is run by administration. And so the ability to have this autonomy, and provide these basic needs is something we need to rapidly expand, not contract. The referendum will ensure that we can expand that. When we expand that, we need to do it the right way, that we’re making basic needs the emphasis of what we’re doing and that we’re making sure that we’re fighting through insecurity. I actually met with Ryan from The Pantry just last week and talked about, hypothetically, if the Basic Needs and Services Referendum passes, what would his unit need the most? I think he told me not to go into too much detail but sounds like food storage and some other things. There’s a lot that The Pantry needs right now, for instance, and the referendum will help them to expand and will help with shorter wait times and increasing the amount they can offer to make sure that students don’t go hungry. 

AK: I second that. This isn’t a surface level thing. This is something impacting students wages, how people can feed themselves — that’s not something that should be taken lightly. It’s not something that shouldn’t be voted on for external reasons. It’s something that everyone should be voting yes on.

TCA: What, specifically, have you done to ensure the passage of the Basic Needs and Services Referendum?

KK: I have sat on the task force for the referendum. It’s been, honestly, so far one meeting. Most of my work has just been making sure that every time I talk to a group of students that I’m talking about the referendum, anytime we make posts, we’re also posting about the referendum and making sure that’s separate from us and from our campaign. In a sense, it’s tied to it because we want to ensure that the funds from the referendum are spent responsibly in a way that is really conducive to basic needs and services. But also, at the same time, we want to say, ‘Hey, look, even if you hated me and hated my speech and you don’t want to vote for us, please vote for this referendum.’ That is separate and that’s not a partisan issue.

AK: I’ve been working with the current Executive office, sitting in on meetings, to figure out how we can spread the word and how we can really market and advertise truly how impactful this referendum is. That’s been the biggest role I’ve had, along with advocating for the referendum almost every moment I have — whether that be in a club, speaking in meetings, almost every single day for the past month I’ve talked to someone about it.

TCA: Can you speak generally about your platforms?

KK: We’re going to bring our experiences in our respective positions, and kind of expand upon the current issues that we’re currently doing. I think I talked some detail already about what we’re doing on the environmental side. I think that spearheading this coalition structure is going to be important because it’s something that can be replicated in other areas, like affordable housing and other issues.

AK: Like I mentioned, as SAAAC Chair, I’ve seen the prevalence of sexual assault on this campus and on campuses across the nation. I’ve heard the firsthand experience of survivors on this campus, their challenges with the recording process, their challenges with being heard and being seen and being acknowledged and having your needs met, which is, again, a fundamental issue. It’s not something that’s superficial to me, it’s something that impacts how people view themselves, how people persist, how people live and go about their day-to-day lives. I’ve seen firsthand how big of an issue it is, and how the current university standards and regulations are really not moving. Along with that, I’ve seen the intersectionality of individuals identities and how that comes into play with individuals with LGBTQIA+ disproportionately impacted by sexual assault and sexual violence. And again, those things are not being addressed at all. Along with that, I’ve learned how to navigate through the bureaucracy of the university, which I think will be really helpful, again, in knowing what we’re getting ourselves into with this campaign, and then also knowing how we can find solutions to meet individuals needs that are realistic. We’re hoping to work with different organizations, like sororities and fraternities, to collaborate and help decrease sexual assault and sexual violence in those areas and on campus. Stanford and Berkeley both have a sober safety patrol officer. They have them at every single one of their parties, and I know a couple of fraternities on campus are implementing this. I’m not really looking to enforce or regulate these things, instead we’re really looking to genuinely work with them. I do know that there are currently workshops that are mandatory for those organizations. But the biggest problem is that they aren’t really effective, because it’s seen as something that’s been forced upon them rather than something that they want to do, and I think changing that will really be effective in making an impact and changing the culture. And, like I mentioned, I’m working on the conference. We’re going to have panels of survivors along with students and faculty and members, and community and members of the state as a whole. Along with that we’re looking to have members who work on the SJA board on to come and talk about their experiences with the reporting processes and the problems that they’ve seen, along with successes. We saw how the MHI [Mental Health Initiative] conference created amazing spaces for individuals, so they had certain areas for community members who needed a moment a way, whether that was play-doh or lavender-scented spray, yoga rooms, etc., and we want to do something like that too.

KK: Well, I realize we’re about halfway through the platform, but I mentioned all the projects we’re doing and I think especially with the coalition we will be able to expand that within the Executive branch and be able to more quickly get people on board and then replicate it. But one area that I think people were surprised to see under the environmental area of the platform was affordable housing. I think people don’t generally think of that. They think of it maybe as a separate issue. But it’s really really strongly intersected, I think, with the goals that we have. I’m on the fairly marginal side, you find that when there’s less affordable housing, there’s a less centralized campus and people are also driving from further away, increasing transportation emissions. On the very human side, we literally have people sleeping in their cars because the vacancy rate is ridiculously low. I think people run for housing all the time, like every other Senator, or affordable housing, and I think the issue is that we keep running on it and advocating at a local level, just talking to people, but then nothing really happens because the reason that affordable housing such a big issue because of these huge structural issues across the state of California in terms law. EPPC has partnered with and has been working with the Office of External Affairs and [Adam] Hatefi to reform the California Environmental Quality Act in a way that is both conducive to environmental sustainability that also ensures that individuals can’t abuse the California Environmental Quality Act to basically stop affordable housing projects.

AK: I just want to add on briefly, we’ll also be working with the LGBTQIA center and the Women’s Resource and Research Center, along with a variety of organizations from underrepresented minorities. We do realize that a lot of these issues actually disproportionately impact underrepresented minorities far heavier, which is something that’s completely unacceptable. We really want to make sure that we’re addressing the needs of all these different communities and not just addressing the needs of the majority.

KK: Basic needs and services is the third part of our platform. I met with The Pantry, we’re talking about how to best expand it. We’re very much interested in supporting the Mental Health Initiative and other resources as well that are just really fundamental rights that you should have as a student you deserve to have food, physical and mental health in all areas. The last point is something I’m really passionate about — I’m sad we’re running out of time — but it’s organizational. We’ve seen, unfortunately, elected officials show up during election period and then have all these grand plans for what they’re going to accomplish, then they disappear. We want to keep our platform attentive to the needs of different communities and continually reach out to them once we’re in office. One of the areas I want to see reform in is increasing the number of outreach hours that senators have and then enforcing them, as well as making sure people are constantly visiting different clubs or communities, making sure everybody gets seen at least once a quarter, a couple times if possible. We’re not just framing our platform points, getting them down and saying, ‘I got my platform done. And that was what I want to accomplish,’ but that we’re rapidly adapting our platforms and adapting based on these frequent meetings with campus communities and what they need. I want to build out a research department within the Executive branch and build out surveys and other research methods that can help us to better pinpoint issues in the student body and solve them accordingly.

AK: Theses surveys will also pertain to sexual assault. I’ve been working with people on different campuses, and I’ve learned that they’ve implemented programs such as this one to increase the statistical data they have on sexual assault, because as you all may know, there is a significant issue of underreporting sexual assault issues. Getting raw data from the communities will be really impactful.

KK: One of the other things that we’re interested in is making sure that when we’re doing a structural reform, or when we’re looking at our business practices, that we’re not treating this as as partisan politics. We’re trying to set up the association for success in the next 10 years. Currently there’s a 10-year plan, and we’d love to work within the framework of that plan, but then also build upon it and ensure that we’re dealing with structural errors of rapid turnover and inexperience, and that we’re directly addressing them with solutions like human resource managers, historians and thorough training.

AK: This isn’t just like a resume builder for us or something to do in our free time. This is something that we fundamentally want to do and feel the need to do as members of the Davis community. This is how we’re going to create change and make members of the community feel safe and feel acknowledged.

TCA: Some of your platform sounds like work you’re currently working on, or an expansion of that work. Why do you feel you need to be President and Vice President to accomplish your entire platform, rather than continuing on in your current positions or as Senators?

KK: I think that the President and Vice President set a precedent for which issues are going to be focused on, what’s going to be important, and I’ve certainly felt a lot of support from the environmental commission within the administration, but that’s not guaranteed. Making sure that support for our efforts, for instance, with the environment and sexual assault awareness are brought to the highest level possible is important because again, that’s certainly not guaranteed. Now, I see what you’re saying, all these different conditions and units are in many ways, self sustaining, and ultimately they’re the ones who are the most impressive in association and part of what we’re doing is just making sure that we’re being good listeners to all these different projects and different different people who are running different initiatives and that we’re not imposing our own ideas on the areas.

AK: Creating fundamental change in community and large-scale change is the biggest difference between what we’re currently doing. While we are creating change, we are able to work across a variety of issues, we’re able to work on sexual assault, whereas advocacy and we’re able to work on environmental protection, sustainability. I guess creating widespread changes is the biggest reason. We’re also looking to work with individuals from a variety of backgrounds and others. While we are able to do that in our current roles, we really want every single individual in the association to carry on that same record, and we carry on that the same set of values. That is going to create long-term change. It’s going to take the fiscal partisan politics idea out of ASUCD, in which there really should be no role of polarization or partisan politics. A couple examples of how I’ve been able to create this change on a lower-scale level. I’m also the grant writer for the environmental club. Last year we hosted [a] panel for the Davis College Republicans, where we talked to them about their opinions on climate change and climate solutions. This year, we are doing a follow up between the Young Democratic Socialists of America and the Davis College Republicans not this Wednesday, but next. I’m really, really excited about the panel; it was the main reason I chose to join the board because, again, we really don’t think that environmental sustainability and climate change should be a partisan issue at all. And the biggest thing we learned from last year is that if people talked about problems and issues on this campus, they would realize that they have a lot more in common. That can be hugely impactful when we’re talking about resolving these huge, fundamental issues that impact our lives, right, because when we come together we’re able to be so much more productive and accomplish so much more for communities. We really want to have the power to spread that message throughout the community and to reach as many individuals from as many different backgrounds as we can. I’m also Managing Editor for Davis Political View, so through that I’ve been able to see what it’s like to be a part of the only nonpartisan magazine on campus. That’s really been awesome because I’ve been exposed to a variety of opinions — we have people from all sides. I’ve learned how much people have in common when they come together and just talk openly and have open discourse. We just want to bring those ideas into existence.

TCA: Are there any final comments or thoughts you have that you haven’t had a chance to talk about?

KK: In terms of my past experiences, I’ve worked in environmental activism for a while but I also did cancer research and, and I’ve worked with the Director of the Institute at UC Irvine. For a while, I thought I was going to be a scientist. I wasn’t expecting to go into politics. I think what frustrates me is that we look at cancer research, and when you’re doing cancer research, you’re looking at, ‘Does this treatment stop cancer from growing or not?’ That’s not partisan, and it can’t be, because people’s lives are literally on the line. You have to look at that objectively. But then we get to these bigger issues, and we get to the things that are affecting the community like food insecurity and housing and the environment, and suddenly somehow we throw in this this partisan aspect in this and personal vendettas and silly things that stop us from accomplishing stuff. We can step-by-step identify the solutions in the same way that you would with cancer research, and that’s what I plan to do, is to look at things objectively and solve problems with the same process.
AK: The last thing I wanted to touch on is that I know I’ve only been in ASUCD for the last quarter and a half, but during that time, I definitely gained so much insight into the Davis communities on campus as a whole and have learned the needs of individuals. Along with that, in my experiences outside of the campus, I’ve served on boards for a variety of clubs. I’ve seen how these issues that we’re talking about today impact large scale communities. With the countless lawsuits the attorney general has filed against the administration — I’ve seen the power that actions taken by a small group of people can have on large communities, whether that’s a recent lawsuit that I just worked on supporting a transgender individual and making sure they had access to the right bathroom in Virginia, or whether that’s working with the Affordable Care Act or working on environmental efficiency standards, I’ve really seen these issues in the real world. I’ve seen their impact there and how to navigate all these issues and how to find solutions. I really want to bring that knowledge and that experience to our Davis community and I genuinely want to help.