By Llaura Garcia, Chief of Staff
California State Student Association
and Erik Fallis, CSU Public Affairs
The student leaders of the largest public university system in the nation gathered for an annual tradition. The current and former executives and board members of the California State Student Association (CSSA) met in Long Beach in July to mark a change in the voices that will now speak for more than 430,000 students.
We asked the six CSSA executives to explain what led them to get involved in student leadership, and what they hoped to achieve this year.
President: Chris Chavez has been involved with student government since his freshman year, and was elected by his CSU Long Beach peers as Vice President and then President of Associated Students, Inc. (ASI). Chavez has an inherent interest in government and advocacy, and underscores the importance of giving back to his community. Chavez is concerned that students are sometimes disengaged from the decisions that affect them.
“Ultimately, students live with decisions made in Long Beach and in Sacramento,” said Chavez. “If we want policymakers to be responsive, then we must show up. I want more students to become advocates for their future.”
Chair: Inspired by deaf parents, Bridgette Dussan learned early in life the power of being part of the conversation–regardless of the form it might take. She brought that lesson into her international studies, peer mentoring and student leadership at Sonoma State. Now going into her third year with CSSA, Dussan is committed to shaping a close network and facilitating the conversation among board members.
“We share the belief that a strong CSU is an incredible asset for California,” said Dussan. “My role is to empower student leaders on the board and throughout the system to carry that message to others.”
Vice President of Legislative Affairs: Greg Washington is fascinated by the law and by the decision-making process that affects him and his community. He understands the power of voting, and knows that when people fail to vote, their voice in the Capitol diminishes. Washington wants more CSU students to register and exercise the power of voting–30,000 more to be exact. That number is nearly equal to the entire student population of CSU Fullerton, where Washington is currently the chief governmental officer for ASI. As the new CSSA vice president of legislative affairs, Washington also takes on the role of monitoring and recommending positions on issues emanating from the legislature.
“We will bring the message to Sacramento that an investment in CSU students is an investment in California,” said Washington. “As CSSA continues to make clear, California’s future is ‘Made in the CSU’.”
Vice President of University Affairs: For many people playing with fire is a figurative term, Emily Switzer takes it literally as a fire spinner performing with groups in the bay area. When she is not spinning fire, Switzer may be found with her Model United Nations team or serving as vice president of finance for ASI at San Francisco State. The art and precision of this unique hobby, combined with her diplomatic personality and intense commitment to positive change, make Switzer an ideal representative of the students on issues of shared governance and academic policy.
“Student interests must always be represented by students when major decisions are made at the CSU, especially when these decisions have such a direct impact on our lives,” said Switzer. “As a representative, it is important to prove that we deserve a place at the table and to successfully convey the student point of view.”
Vice President of Finance: Mohammed Shahid Beig moved to the United States from India in 2007, and has made a profound difference at CSU East Bay ever since. He has served in several student leadership positions, including as ASI President. As a professional musician with a passion for travel, Beig understands the importance of making an impact wherever life takes him. Fitting his studies in Business Administration, Beig also understands the importance of maintaining a sound budget.
“While the state and the CSU wade through an economic crisis, our statewide student association also feels an obligation to be fiscally responsible,” said Beig. “CSSA has shortened its meeting calendar, implemented new sustainable operating practices, and engaged in fundraising programs to further support our advocacy agenda.”
Multicultural Caucus Speaker: Watching the drastic impact of continuous budget cuts to the CSU, Aissa Canchola felt compelled to get involved. Already an active community volunteer in several groups affiliated with CSU Fullerton, Canchola sought out opportunities to expand her ability to speak up for all students regardless of race, status, color or gender.
“It is easy for students of many diverse backgrounds to fall through the cracks caused by these budget cuts,” said Canchola. “It is so important that student leaders uphold the needs of these students both in good times and especially in bad times.”