The AS Review: What motivates you to seek out this position?
Aaron David Garcia: I guess some of the factors I would say is just my experience within the AS and being involved for the last three years. I’ve always been involved as a student leader since high school, so, I’ve always been the ASB president. Two years ago I was the VP for Activities. This year as the Productions Director I get to be in that niche of how people like to be entertained here on campus, so I’ve always been passionate about representing student voices and student interests and I think it’s a marginalized voice, still, a lot of the time, so being able to be in a position like this and enable students I think is one of the motivating factors to run for AS President. I’ve built a lot of good relationships with administrators so, I think, whereas somebody’s kind of building those things, I already have those things in place and I can really grow from there, so I can butt heads with the administrators but also be cordial and be friendly afterwards.
ASR: What groups of students might easily be overlooked by the AS Board, and what will you do to ensure that you represent them in your work?
Garcia: See, I think that’s a fundamental problem with the AS, that I do plan to address, but I don’t have all the answers, but we represent the students and, to a certain degree, you have to step in and be those leaders and say, “This is what the students want,” using our rationale, but we don’t really know what all the students want, and not to say we need to know what all the students want, but I would say a large portion, a majority of students don’t know what the AS is. They don’t know what we can do for them. They don’t realize all the resources and programs and events that we have available to them. So, outreach, I guess, is one of the things that I want focus on. Being out there with people.
I would say almost a majority of students are getting overlooked. Not intentionally. Students who are active, who know what they want, they’re getting their club opportunities. They know where to find us. They’re not the ones who are getting overlooked. It’s just the average student who doesn’t know about the ROP, who doesn’t know about the Environmental Center, who doesn’t know about the Outdoor Center. Those are the guys who are getting overlooked. One of the things I did two years ago as the VP for Activities is that I created the Marketing Coordinator position because there was a lack of getting that outreach to the student body. How can I personally do it? I do plan to outreach. Part of my campaign as of late has been collecting people’s names, adding them to my Facebook, adding them to my e-mail listserv, and just saying, “Hey, you know, we had a good conversation,” and trying to remember the individual stories that they told me, so, I take notes and when they fill out a survey that I have them do and I write down things that they say personally so I can follow up with them and do individual e-mails if I can. There’s a lot of surveys—right now I have, like, a hundred—so I really can’t do every single person, but there’s certain people who do stick out. And taking that approach, times six other board members, times 86 other AS salaried positions, I think would do us a great, great service.
ASR: Since you came to Western, what has been the most important issue facing students that went unaddressed or was dealt with poorly? What issue would you say has been addressed most positively?
Garcia: I would say, for this year, one of the big issues that has been brought up is transparency, and I think what happens a lot is we do enough to say, “All right, we’re transparent.” We do enough to say, “We take our minutes, we have our open meetings where anybody can come and have these meetings,” but I think it’s part of the culture that we’ve developed that we kind of do the bare minimum, and it goes back into changing that culture within the Board, of going the extra mile, of outreaching to students, of getting to know an individual’s stories and getting to know individual people and there is no singular event that I could point at and say there wasn’t enough transparency. It’s just been a tone that’s been used throughout the year. I don’t think that we’re not transparent as an organization but, can we do more? Yes. Will we do more? Yes.
Garcia: Most positively, I would say that the Chick-fil-A response. The outcome wasn’t what the students wanted, but I think the process, having the ROP and ASP offices come together and facilitate that forum and having the different people voice their opinions and in the end people had their voices heard. The change that people wanted wasn’t initiated, but I think it led to a place where people could grow there and, instead of just being angry and bashing heads with different people, there’s that dialogue. All right, you know, there was a mistake. We’re kind of committed to this for now, but down the road this mistake isn’t going to happen again, and that’s something that I think people kind of felt strongly about. Major kudos to the Board in how they handled that issue.
ASR: What are your three biggest goals for next year?
Garcia: One of the things that I’ve been trying to do is get people’s input, so that’s why [I’ve] been doing these surveys during my campaign. You know, I have my own goals, I have my own agendas, but as the student body president, you know, your goals are the students’ goals. What they want to get done, you know, that should be your priority. But, personally, these things that I know students want me to address if I were to be elected president is—there’s tuition and fees. You know, right now we have our governor, Gregoire, who’s proposing a 14 percent hike and that’s no pinch in our pockets, that’s going to affect us majorly. I’m sure there’s going to be a compromise in Olympia between the 14 and 7 percent increase, but ultimately what I’m afraid of is that the administration’s going to start using the different fees that are in place to make us cover up those expenses, and I just don’t think that works right, so, one of the things that I want to do is have a comprehensive legislative agenda with the VP for Leg[islative and ] Gov[ernmental affairs] and our legislative liaison, our lobbyist and make sure that this is our priority. Maybe there’s going to be a 14 percent increase, but to make sure that every legislator in Washington knows Western Washington University students’ agenda. And on top of that, the administration, they have their own lobbyist and their own legislative agendas, and figuring out where we can match up, where we can compromise, because it makes sense that, if they’re going down there to lobby, why not have students lobby together with the administration? And there’s going to be issues where we don’t agree on, like the 14 percent increase, and being able to still sit at the same table and have that discussion and not having that “We hate you, administration” relationship. So, tuition and fees is probably one of my first goals. I mentioned it earlier, outreach. You know, we don’t get out to the students enough and I don’t see a reason why. There just isn’t a reason. If we’re getting paid our salaries, then we should be out talking to the people and getting ideas, and it just benefits us as a whole when we go out there and branch out because, if we don’t, we’re going to just start redoing the same things over and over again. We don’t become progressive. We have to start bringing the new people into our organization and one of the complaints that we get a lot is the AS is just their friends and they hire their friends, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think we come into this organization and we become friends. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we should enable the system to allow people to enter into any of these positions. And my third goal—I’m a huge advocate of the Ethnic Student Center and diversity is part of my platform of reaching out to different students here on campus, and diversity isn’t just an ethnicity thing, isn’t a race thing but there’s diversity in thought and beliefs and political ideological beliefs and those are things that we need to be able to bring together, and it’s OK to disagree. It’s OK to butt heads, but, in the end, as one student union, we’re powerful, but if we allow ourselves to break us into different sects, it’s just not going to be successful. So, I guess, the third one is diversity/coalition-building.
ASR: Last question. When a student comes to you with a question that is beyond the scope of your job, how will you respond to this student?
Garcia: You know, that’s the toughest part because an AS president’s going to be busy and I know there’s going to be times when I’m like, “Ugh, can I really deal with this?” And those are the times when I’m going to have to slap myself over the head and be like, “You know, it’s your job to sit down and to listen and to dedicate as much time as possible to help them.” Fortunately, I know that there’s the different resources within the AS, so after I do my job listening and seeing what they need to do, I’m going to help them find the resources. You know, I don’t think there are that many questions that are beyond the scope of my job, and that’s just kind of the nature of the AS, there’s no real limitations and I think they’re so open-ended that it allows us to really bring in whatever we want, and, as the president, you have to be willing to listen to the students. Even if there’s fundamental disagreement[s] you have to sit down with these students and listen to what they have to say and create those avenues of discussion, or else, what happens, there’s the issues of transparency, there’s the issues of, you know, students not being represented and at no point do I ever want to say, “I didn’t represent a student.”