UCSC student-body president talks next steps after removal of predecessor

UC Santa Cruz Student Union Assembly President Jimmy Gomez.
UC Santa Cruz Student Union Assembly President Jimmy Gomez.
(Via Jimmy Gomez)

UC Santa Cruz’s new Student Union Assembly president, Jimmy Gomez, says he’s taking steps to repair damage and restore trust in the student government months after former president Alfredo Gama Salmeron was recalled from the office by undergraduates.

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UC Santa Cruz’s new student-body president, Jimmy Gomez, says he’s taking steps to repair damage and restore trust in the student government months after former president Alfredo Gama Salmeron was recalled from the office by undergraduates.

Gomez stepped in as interim Student Union Assembly president on Oct. 26, after student government officers received enough undergraduate student signatures to remove Gama Salmeron; in early November, Gomez accepted the role permanently. He previously served as the SUA’s internal vice president, a vacant position the study body is now actively recruiting to fill.

A fourth-year triple major, Gomez is from Los Angeles. Majoring in biology, psychology and education, his ultimate goal is to become a doctor, either in internal medicine or pediatrics. But before graduating in the spring, he said his goal as president is to rebuild relationships with students, revamp the SUA’s constitution, represent students’ voices on campus and create opportunities for UCSC students in the broader Santa Cruz community.

To accomplish that, Gomez said he has spent the past few months connecting with campus groups to educate himself about their experiences and perspectives.

“It’s meeting students where they’re at,” he told Lookout on Tuesday night after an SUA meeting. Students tuned in virtually or sat in a classroom in the Bay Tree Building on campus to participate in the meeting, during which the assembly approved resolutions such as one that urged the university to hire graders to grade the previous quarter’s assignments and another that called for creating an on-campus dog park.

“I feel that is really how I do my student leadership,” Gomez said. “I don’t want to be intrusive or talk on behalf of students.”

His outreach included meeting with the American Indian Resource Center, whose members were upset about comments Gama Salmeron made on social media questioning the heritage of some Native American students. SUA officers called for the removal of Gama Salmeron in the wake of those comments, and also because they said he poorly managed his role and unconstitutionally removed the SUA parliamentarian, Amanda Pepe. Gama Salmeron later apologized for the comments.

Gomez said he hopes he, with fellow SUA officers, can help students stay engaged despite the distrust some might feel following Gama Salmeron’s actions and his removal. When Gomez came to UCSC, he never imagined being involved in student government, and he said he learned to understand its purpose over time.

Student Union Assembly President Jimmy Gomez.
Student Union Assembly President Jimmy Gomez.
(Via UC Santa Cruz)

“Student government isn’t just supposed to be just student government,” said Gomez. “Student government is supposed to be a powerful advocacy tool to increase student engagement and to increase student representation.”

As the new SUA president, he’ll lead the student-body government, alongside directors, interns and representatives from colleges and student groups. Gomez also manages an annual budget of about $623,000, which the SUA allocates to clubs, events and initiatives.

In the previous quarter, SUA officers said they weren’t able to allocate funding because Gama Salmeron refused to call meetings to pass a budget. Gama Salmeron previously told Lookout he wanted to reorganize the budget to prioritize students’ basic needs.

After removing Gama Salmeron, Gomez said the SUA was able to allocate more than $20,000 to student organizations in the previous quarter and plans to allocate an additional $29,000 to groups this quarter. He added that the SUA has $100,000 to use toward rent relief for students.

Since he took over as president, Gomez said, the SUA has also been part of a University of California systemwide conference. Last weekend, several SUA officers attended the UC Student Association Student of Color Conference at UC Davis, where students learned skills to make an impact in initiatives that are important to them.

He added that the conference inspired students to join an SUA committee, Lobby Corps, that teaches students the basics of political lobbying. About 30 students have signed up to be part of it.

“We’re having students from diverse backgrounds, from different racial and ethnic identities sign up — that is needed in federal and local politics to make change,” he said. “That’s one of the things that I’m really proud of.”

Gomez said he and fellow SUA officers are also working to revamp the organization’s constitution in an effort to improve the structure of the SUA and how it functions.

When Gama Salmeron was president, he and other officers disagreed over how to interpret the constitution. For example, Gomez argues that Gama Salmeron’s decision to remove Pepe as SUA parliamentarian showed that the constitution could be subject to personal, or unconstitutional, interpretations. Gomez said he hopes that he and other officers can propose a new draft students could vote on in the upcoming spring campuswide election that would help prevent that from happening.

“We’re trying to see what we can do in such a short period of time to make sure that the constitution is not something that ultimately is affected by bad faith,” said Gomez. “And I want to be very cautious when I use the word bad faith, because as much as everyone comes into the SUA wanting their own idea and vision of the student assembly or government, I think it’s important to also acknowledge the work that has been done years prior.”

He would like to see up to half of the document be completely new. Gomez said he’ll be working with the parliamentarian as well as the Office of the Dean of Students and student organizations on a new draft.

“The beauty in my eye about the constitution this year is that we have the opportunity to restructure it completely,” he said. “We have the opportunity to support students who come from historically underrepresented backgrounds and to make sure that every student that has voting rights in the assembly represents the vibrant and diverse identities that our student community holds on this campus.”


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