Meet the Candidate: Simrun Chhabra
Running for president
Major: human services
Below are excerpts from an interview with The Western Front.
Why do you want to run for the AS?
“I want to run for the AS because I’ve been a part of it for two years. Running for it is just adding to this adrenaline I feel I’m having, and the momentum I believe that the previous board members have caused. The previous AS presidents have also caused this big push towards affirmative action, and allowing people of color and women of color to rise to power in positions that they didn’t think were possible a few years ago. I would also like to advocate for the places I come from, the communities I come from, that have made me who I am. And in turn I would like to represent them. I want to show their resilience and I want to show their compassion towards making this place a better place.”
What issues do you want to tackle?
“First, the big one, that’s been on a lot of people’s minds: the RA issue. The fact that student’s on campus are overworked in general and they don’t receive the proper sustenance to be able to continue in their endeavors. They don’t have the basic necessities to be able to help themselves, to be able to propel themselves, and to be able to actually succeed on campus, the way other students would if they didn’t work. I think that working on campus shows that you’re passionate about something and that should be rewarded not taken as “it’s just a student, they don’t matter,” because the students do matter. We are why we’re here. We’re why we’re working. We are working for the other students.
“I would also like to tackle the issues regarding the Ethnic Student Center. I’ve been largely involved in the Ethnic Student Center. I’m really excited about the renovation. I want to be able to speak up for other students in the Ethnic Student Center. I have a large connection within there, because I’ve been a part of it through the South Asian Student Association and through many other clubs. I’m very blessed and honored to be a part of those, because they are the communities that show resilience in a way that accepts one another and they rise together. I’d like to be there for students during the time of renovation, assessing their needs and being able to communicate those needs to administration in ways that are bigger than the renovation.”
How would you address these specifically?
“I think I would address them by listening to the students, because that’s where the voice comes from. I’m not trying to represent my own self. Yes, these students have made me and that’s who I want to represent. But I’ve also been made through these students. I’m here because of them. I want to speak on their turn. I want to speak from them, words directly from them. Not just what I’m thinking or saying.
“I think I’m really good at being able to listen to student needs, being able to assess them and being able to make students feel that there’s someone that cares. And someone there that wants them to be successful in the future.”
How are you going to listen to them?
“I think I would like to hold spaces where students can come and meet, and speak to the board. Because there are board meetings, but I feel those are a bit more inaccessible. Especially because of the formality of them, it feels like you can’t be there as a student with a concern. A lot of students sometimes don’t know where to go to, if they’re students at large and they aren’t involved in the AS, it’s typically difficult for them to know where to go. A lot of issues we don’t hear about until students come up to us and are like, “Hey, this is a problem.” And then we realize it’s a problem and we have to go and fend for them. But being able to have actual physical spaces where students can come and talk would be really helpful, I think, for them. I think it would allow them to feel like they’re heard on campus, and feel like they’re appreciated.”
Do you think these issues haven’t yet been addressed by the current and past AS Boards?
“I think that there’s a momentum created, so they have tackled certain issues. There are certain issues that I haven’t seen yet and that’s only because the concentration has been on some different issues. That’s not saying it’s a bad thing, that’s why we cycle through AS positions every single year. It’s because there’s something new that comes with every single school year. Some new issue, something new that can be progressed and that can be changed. I think that what they have been doing is marvelous work and I would like to continue their marvelous work. I would just like to see a lot of those issues that I feel have not been addressed finally be talked about, or finally be tackled. I think I would like to mostly continue the momentum. [There is] a lot of underlying stuff that hasn’t been quite done yet. But I feel like the stage is just set.”
Is there anything in particular that you’d like to say that they’ve done marvelously?
“I think they’re doing a great job listening to the RAs. The board is behind them. I’m pretty sure the entire board is behind them a 100 percent, but being able to be so out there with all their information is really creating the momentum to help students. I don’t experience what the RAs are experiencing because they have a new type of exploitation, a different type of exploitation. Their job requirements are different and it has caused them to be exploited. However, the AS positions also need that type of support. I think that a lot of jobs on campus need that type of support too. So I’m really excited to see what comes out of this year’s progression.”
No other candidates for the AS mention “students experiencing homelessness” in their campaign biographies, do you consider that group of students as needing more attention?
“I think they’re a group of students that haven’t been receiving any attention at all. I think that they haven’t been talked to. I think they haven’t talked about. I didn’t know they existed until this past year. My partner had a project in a comm. class in which they did videos on students experiencing homelessness. And for the first time ever I had thought, there are some students that go home and they don’t have a home. There are some students that just couch surf and that is their entire college life. To see that is really saddening because I would like those students to be able to feel like there’s resources out there. And there should be resources out here. The reason that I think it’s so important is because… if you don’t have a roof over your head, that’s one of your basic necessities. If you don’t have food, how are you going to actually succeed in college.”
What are your qualifications?
“I think I have a deep understanding of marginalized identities on this campus, because I am one of them. And I hold many intersectionalities that are marginalized. I think having these experiences and being able to talk to these people, talk to many more people with these experiences, allows me to have a deeper understanding of what student needs are and how I can better fulfill them. Because I know what I would need and I know what others would need. I would like to know what more would need, because we could actually work towards a goal that benefits all the students.
“Also, my first year here I worked on the South Asian Student Association Board as a board member. It allowed me to see the Ethnic Student Center in an in-depth view. I was also able to talk to other students in the Ethnic Student Center and discover real issues that are on our campus, and largely Bellingham community, United States etc. There’s a lot of underlying issues that we don’t talk about. It was a wake up call and finally being able to see things that are wrong. Why do I feel uncomfortable when somebody says a microaggression? Even being able to know what a microaggression is, I think it’s really been helpful that way.
“I’ve also had two years of experience in the AS which has allowed me to see the AS in a different light. My first year was in the Club Hub, and that experience allowed me see how passionate people are about the clubs and their purposes. There’s a lot of different clubs on campus and of course everyone should join, but it has allowed every single person that has joined to be able to pour their heart into something that isn’t just school. They’re able to do it in a way that they can come together in a community and that’s where clubs are really important. So I think I’ve been able to see a larger part of the AS or the Western community that way.
“This past year I’ve worked in the personnel office, which has allowed me to see the internal workings of the AS and question a lot of the intentionality of what we do and how we can do it better. I think I’ve been able to see the AS from the inside perspective and the outside perspective. And I think my specific experiences have allowed me to do this in a way that I don’t know other candidates might be able to.”
How has working in staff recognition in the AS Personnel Office prepared you for this role?
“So a lot of the job seems like it’s happy, cheerful, ‘Oh let’s do Happy Birthdays’ and let’s just say we appreciate. But I don’t think people understand that once we recognize the work that people put in, it propels them to do more. I’ve experienced a lot of this, where at first I was really excited about this job, and then I was questioning why we did it. I discovered through the hard work of the AS that these students do this job for the purpose that they care about it and they’re so passionate about everything that they do. They want to better this place and that matters so much. Being able to recognize their work means that they know when they’re doing a really impactful job. That continues to propel them forward, makes them want to keep doing it. I think that if we recognize that students on campus are working hard, or students on campus have issues at all, then we will be able to address those. Because if we don’t talk about them, then what’s the point of it. If we don’t talk about, then these students go unheard. There’s nothing more that we can do. There’s no way we can help. Because if we don’t actually talk about these issues, then these students will go unheard.
“Their entire college experience will not be as successful as others, because their issues were not addressed the way they should have been on campus.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“I’m just really excited. I hope that can be the next president, because I think that there’s a lot that I bring to the table. I’m really passionate about this job. And I really, really want it, because I care. I care so much, it tears me up. I really want this because there’s so much that I want to do and there’s so many people I want to help and there’s so much I want to give.”
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