Student Regent Hopes to Improve Access Across UC System

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Student Regent Jesse Bernal

Reporter Allie Bidwell talks to UC Student Regent Jesse Bernal.

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As a first-generation college student, UC Student Regent Jesse Bernal said he recognizes the importance of higher education for students hoping to make an impact in their careers.

Bernal, the only voting student member on the UC Board of Regents, said he hopes to use his position to benefit underrepresented students, especially at a time of financial crisis for the university.

The 27-year-old graduate student at UC Santa Barbara began his two-year term as student regent 14 months ago, after he was selected because of his involvement in UC Students Association, having served as the university affairs chair for the previous year and a half.

"I realized how unique our college experiences are, and helping expand that for people has been a goal of mine," he said.

After beginning his undergraduate studies at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, Bernal dropped out halfway through his first semester, stating that he was not ready for college and found the transition difficult.

He then moved to California and began attending Westmont College in Santa Barbara. He said he thought moving farther away would make it harder to leave school.

Bernal is now a doctoral student pursuing a Ph.D. in education at UC Santa Barbara. However, he also experienced the financial hardships that he said students are still facing now. He ended up leaving UC Santa Barbara during his first quarter as a doctoral student in political science and then returned to pursue his education doctoral degree because it offered more flexibility with his work schedule.

Bernal said he found it difficult to manage working full-time while attending school, which he has done throughout his entire college career. Now, he said he balances his position, work and his studies by using travel time wisely and by setting a strict schedule to follow.

As student regent, Bernal attends the six major board meetings per year and visits all 10 campuses in order to better understand student opinions on issues affecting them. However, Bernal said unlike other regents who sit on the board for several years, student regents have only two years to learn their responsibilities, which at times poses a more challenging job.

"Most people think that (student regents) represent students ... and we've learned that we try not to represent students," he said. "We represent one student perspective that is pretty isolated, although we try to gain more perspectives."

Bernal added that the student regent brings a student voice to many committees and initiatives for the rest of the regents.

One initiative on which Bernal is collaborating with other regents is the UC Commission on the Future, a committee of UC regents and other officials aimed at protecting education, having more predictable fee structures and making suggestions about changes to the university.

"Making sure the UC (system) is more responsible with fee revenue has been something that we've been working on for a while," he said of the commission. "It's just clearer and really instilling the idea of accountability."

Bernal said he sympathizes with students and the ways in which they are negatively affected by budget cuts and fee increases.

"We can really almost solidly point a finger at our state legislature and a decline in funding for public education," he said. "Students have always been the targets of revenue. I am vocally opposed to the fee increases, especially this midyear increase--it's going to blind-side students."

Still, Bernal said he did not agree with the UC-wide walkout on Sept. 24 because it was "bad timing." He said he thinks a similar walkout directed at the legislature would be more effective.

For the time being, Bernal said he hopes to continue working with the regents, ensuring that the UC system maintains its quality, although for the near future, students will suffer as a result of the budget cuts.

"Students are really right to be angry," he said. "The governor I think is in a lot of ways detached from reality when it comes to student concerns. I think students and faculty have every right to be angry. I'm angry with where we are right now, too, but the UC will work to maintain its quality."


Contact Allie Bidwell at [email protected]

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