ASPSU 101: Meet your President and Vice President

ASPSU President Dana Ghazi and Vice President Davíd Martinez took office June 1. They’ve spent the summer filling their executive cabinet, meeting with administrators and settling into their respective positions.

Ghazi and Martinez sat down with the Vanguard to discuss their transition into office and what they plan to accomplish over the upcoming year while in office.

Vanguard: What’s the transition been like since taking office in June?

Dana Ghazi: It’s been really busy and very interesting. For me, this is the first time I’ve been at ASPSU. I think that’s both an advantage and disadvantage. It’s an advantage because I feel I’m coming with a fresh look. My previous experience has been graduate assistant work and focusing on the academic side.

I consider myself part of both the educators and the learners of PSU, so I have a different look into how things are analyzed. Rather than bureaucracy, I look at the deep-rooted issue and how we can have them addressed and discussed.

So transitioning into…a lot of little bureaucratic things you have to know by the time you are situated in office has been a challenge. But I have a lot of people in student government who have experience in this and I am looking to their help.

But I’m also sitting with a confidence with the perspective I bring in. So, it’s been both challenging and exciting at the same time.

Davíd Martinez: For me, this is the second time I am in ASPSU. I was on the Student Fee Committee last year. I think from elections to today, this new position I have has been challenging.

We knew it was going to be hard, but not this hard. It’s not only time, but the bureaucratic institution is a part of the more challenging stuff.

VG: What’s been the hardest aspect of ASPSU so far?

DM: The hardest part, on a personal level, is time. I have had to manage my time more, because of all the meetings with faculty, administration, students and directors. [July 28], for example, we are going to have our second Senate meeting, where we’re going to vote in one SFC member, two senators and one judicial role.

So for that, we have to do interviews, and we have to set up times that work for our schedules. We have to make time for the Senate meeting. And that’s on a personal level…it’s hard, but I personally enjoy it, because that’s what I ran for.

On a bigger level—like Dana mentioned earlier—we’re coming fresh, different. We have different political views from all administrations in PSU. We’re more like left, left-wing, you could say. And…we are going to do everything it takes so we can get our goals done.

Our principle [call is] to represent the students…it’s something bigger than students. The university should be around for the students, but it’s something more like they’re bureaucrats, for example. We are not. We are going to try to collaborate, talk [and have] open conversations.

But definitely what I can say for sure is that we are not going to sit aside. We are going to speak for students and try to represent them in all conversations.

VG: Dana, what do you think your biggest challenge has been so far?

DG: Honestly, it’s a challenge that might not be noticeable. But I feel like…considering my responsibility—I have two children—definitely time is one of them. But also coming into, as a president, and as a woman, honestly—I feel like there are established ways already in ASPSU that I’ve seen, some of it related to different styles of leadership, some of it related to expectations of things, how they are traditionally run. And…my style is different. I’m very confident in it.

For example, I want to sit in the middle of the room. I don’t care about the hierarchical structure of sitting in the back, and then, you know, having everyone just sit—like I want to be where everyone is, and that comes from…how I practice my teaching, too.

The people I deal with every day are mostly younger and they’re men. It’s not something that is necessarily overt, but it becomes a challenge in different styles and different communication and expectations and really trying to be clear and assertive and disrupt the old ways and being OK with it. That’s kind of one of my challenges.

VG: Do you think that the restarted elections had anything to do with the challenges that you’re facing right now?

DG: It seems to me…that I started feeling that…I needed to read beyond the surface, because a lot of it relates to previous events that happened that I’m not necessarily aware of all the details of. So I’m spending…a lot of time reading under the lines, to be honest. So yes, I think some of them are very related to last year. Some of them are related to the elections that happened.

And some of the challenges that elected ASPSU members are facing now in the summer are directly related to how fast the election was, and how their appointment and the election was. They also feel, as they are excited for these positions, they also have been thrown into this process really at the end of it. So it’s kind of taking some time…to balance and know your grounds.

We’re running into a lot of that…at least through the summer, just kind of working on stabilizing everything. Kind of getting acquainted, getting comfortable in the space, drawing out some outlines for next year. And we’re still working out the details. So there’s a lot of just getting into the space happening now in the summer.

VG: What’s ASPSU working on specifically during the summer going forward into fall?

DG: We’re working on getting committees and sub-committees together to work on the points that we had in our platform, kind of pointing our directors where to go and who they should talk to, who they should connect with. We’re getting connected with people from the administration, community members [and] student groups.

We’re trying to really focus on the points in our platforms and see how we can forge the best relations.

We have a meeting with President Wim Wiewel on [July 24]…We’re really excited to introduce ourselves, have the chance to sit down and talk some of the issues that we’re planning to accomplish and maybe just get acquainted in general.

Arming CPSO

VG: Shortly after you were elected, you asked the PSU Board of Trustees to delay their vote to implement armed Campus Public Safety Officers. They went forward and approved the implementation. How does that affect how you’re going to move forward on the issue of CPSO and armed officers?

DG: I think we didn’t expect a different decision. We were hoping for one. But I feel like the whole process…happened fast and during the finals—I think that affected a lot of student engagement. Yet I was really proud of the students who showed up…and some of the faculty members from AAUP who actually in the open comment [period] had statements. So I feel at least it brought the discussion back. Now how it’s going to be projecting in to the rest of our administration, I feel like we’re still working on that. We’re going to be working on different levels, really.

So we appreciate like all the work the students did with being involved in the implementation committee, but I think in general a lot of students are really interested still in organizing against that decision.

So, it’s implemented, but we are trying to see ways of exploring that more and how we can get into a resolution where we don’t have guns. So this is all still in the process, but I don’t think it’s affecting how we’re trying to engage with students.

We’re still trying to get a lot of input, and from different—whether they’re opponents or for arming [officers]—this is still an ongoing conversation, so it’s not just ending by the fact that the implementation passed.

DM: For me, it was expected to hear that…decision from the Board of Trustees, but I think we…brought the conversation back, because it was kind of dead. They say students were like, ‘OK, well, they’re going to implement the armed police force on campus. There’s nothing we can do.’ I mean, Dana and I—we don’t see students being here enough for the decision to move forward. So, yes, so I think the decision was three people who were against, and before it was only two.

So we changed some minds right there…Last year, last ASPSU administration—there was a…show that the majority of the PSU student body were against [armed officers], and I don’t think that was reflected in ASPSU last year.

It was more like, ‘OK, well, this is what it’s going to be. We cannot do anything about it.’ And for, at least for me, personally, I think we want to establish an ASPSU administration, while Dana and I believe that it should be done, we are going to say, ‘OK, let’s bring the conversation back and talk about it and see what we can do.’ And definitely do something so students can feel safe, because the issue [is] students not feeling safe. So we are just going to bring the conversation back and let the students decide.

VG: Last year’s ASPSU administration focused on a campus survey that showed opinions evenly split between those against armed officers, those in support and those who had no opinion. Given that, how do you plan to address campus safety?

DG: I think a survey will be a good idea to actually get the current feeling, but I also feel like a lot of this issue where people…don’t have an opinion, or if they are [in support of] guns because of the sexual assault issue—there’s a lot of lacking education around that. And I’m interested in providing some education around this issue.

So I feel like the indifference comes from not knowing the major effects that arming security on campus [has] on other communities on campus, our diversity community on campus, and I think that needs to be, really, at the heart of discussing this.

Sexual assault on campus

DG: The other issue is sexual assault on campus. Because I feel bringing a top-down approach where we’re arming the security on campus is not really addressing the root cause of such an epidemic of sexual assault.

Students who are transfer or freshmen, they don’t get education on sexual assault. There’s the module on D2L, but…no one is tracking if you take it or not. So…if you’re not involved in classes where that’s something talked about, you do not understand the culture of sexual assault on campus. And what Davíd and I are trying to do with some of our directors, is trying to implement some education right when students come in.

So it’s either in the orientation or we have, you know, a training unlike the module—and it’s mandatory, like part of the orientation where they’re taking it, or actually having a one-credit class. So I mean, it’s still ideas, but…we can’t relate those issues together and consider such a drastic measure to address it as arming the security.

It really needs a change in culture and a change in understanding about other issues like patriarchy and structural violence and things like that. So [I’m hoping to] introduce that knowledge and education and have that conversation focus in so we can actually have something effective happen.

VG: Do you have a specific sub-committee that is going to be focused on sexual assault?

DG: Yes. We do. Yes.

Subsidized lunch program through Green Roots Cafe

VG: What other sub-committees will you have?

DM: Right now, I think in the summer, it’s the alliance with the Green Roots Cafe—one of our points with our administration is to create a lunch program for students of low income, and that sub-committee will be Green Roots Cafe managers, floor manager, kitchen manager and some members from ASPSU.

The idea is to subsidize a lunch for students of low income. They will apply for the lunch [program] and, for example, it will be $2 or $3, and [the other $2 will be covered]. We’re going to try to create that for this coming year or the year after, so we’ll see what happens.

VG: Where would the funds come from for that?

DM: The fund would come from the incidental fee, which all we pay, and it’s—it can happen. We have $14 million from the incidental fee, and sometimes…the money is not being used properly for students, so we want to do something that benefits them.

VG: So if you implement a new program like a lunch program, that means something else is going to have to lose funds. 

DM: Well, that would be the role of the [SFC]. Like I said, this is just the beginning, having conversations about what it’s going to look like. Right now the most exciting part about the program is to start from the bottom, start trying to do presentations and forums to invite students to talk about it. At the same time, ASPSU can talk about what they’re doing during the year…We want to hear from other students, [their] feedback—if they really want to do this or not.

VG: So you’ve got a sexual assault sub-committee and the possible alliance with Green Roots. What other sub-committees do you have?

DG: So we do have one that’s looking at CPSO, and we…just had our executive meeting. We are looking into—it’s an issue that has been worked on during the last administration—the [PSU] Payment Plan. So this is another issue that we’re still looking at, and the health insurance plan as well. So we’re just going over what was presented and researched during last year and trying to continue that.

Also, cultural competency—we’re definitely going to continue that. I think it’s a very critical plan that we want to keep supporting. We have the divestment committee and it’s also related to a conversation that started from the previous administration—divesting from fossil fuel but also possibly from other things like the prison industrial complex.

DM: Also, next is our national elections and our [student government] elections. I think one of our goals—I haven’t even mentioned this to Dana—but I would like to see if we could create more democratic participative elections so it doesn’t have to rush into one candidate or two candidates, and people that are already known by ASPSU, but instead by students that don’t know anything about ASPSU to come and join ASPSU, to be participants in politics and the decisions that the institution does.

Student engagement

VG: Student involvement is something that’s been historically a problem with ASPSU. What specific plans do you have to get students more involved?

DG: Honestly, I almost feel like for us, as people who [were] involved in other student groups previously on campus, and in our own capacity, for me, as working with the University Studies program and the Master’s program I work in, I feel like there’s a lot of potential to get people interested in the subject and having that conversation.

I could actually introduce it to students about good governments and civic engagement topics, but also just staying connected to student groups and the student body. And our directors are doing a great job attending a lot of events that are related to student life—a lot of the fairs, a lot of the events that are happening.

We’re trying to get better connections with the alumni…at PSU so they can come maybe and present a little bit of the work they’ve been done after PSU and talk about how engaging in ASPSU or caring about elections or all those issues will empower later for civic engagement. So we don’t have specific plans yet, but it’s definitely an issue we’ve been addressing and it’s on our agenda.

DM: I think it could be something like an alliance with the Green Roots Cafe and implementing the forums and talking about the lunch program and also talking about ASPSU. And I think without knowing Dana and I, we have already created participation from the students, because on the first elections, there was very minimal participation from the students in the elections. But when Dana and I came to run for office, I think we also brought a lot of students from different backgrounds and cultures, and also bring awareness from those cultures before they know about ASPSU.

DG: And I think that’s reflected in the current administration where we have a lot of people who have, whether it’s the multicultural center director or other people on the SFC or other directors, they have been really involved before ASPSU. And a lot of the student groups, some of them were at the resident halls, so they have been engaged with students before and they bring that engagement with them when they are elected into ASPSU.

VG: Even the second round of ASPSU elections this year only included votes from three percent of the student body. Do you think there are concrete ways to reach students who aren’t in the programs that you’re involved in or directly related to? How do you get those people to pay attention, who are also affected by tuition and by sexual assault and by CPSO?

DG: I don’t know. I think that’s part of the challenge because [PSU] is also a commuter [school] and this conversation outside of ASPSU, we’ve been trying to have in our classes, where like [PSU] doesn’t have a university culture like other universities.

It’s not like there’s something that unites people around a certain aspect of it. People are very diverse. They come from different places. They commute by different ways. We have older students. We have students with children. Really, I think it’s going to be a challenge. I don’t think we’ve formulated concrete ways.

I know we’re trying to work with the centers for students, like the Resource Center for Students with Children…and the Queer Resource Center and the Women’s Resource Center and the Veterans Center, and you can see already how challenging it is because of the nature of PSU as an urban commuter school.

Civic engagement

DM: But also I think that it reflects our society, because society doesn’t have enough participation in elections…So that’s, I think, the heart of the issue. But that’s what Dana and I have been talking about it: How to make things more politicized in this school, the university, this consciousness so they can realize, ‘These decisions are affecting me.’

And sometimes students don’t want to participate. I know a lot of students in my classes who have three jobs or one job—they don’t have the time to be part of ASPSU. They wish they could participate, but they can’t. They have children—single mothers. It’s hard for them to participate.

But I think that’s going to be a challenge, [and] I think we can accomplish a lot. We can accomplish more participation in elections next year and I believe we’re going to try to do that.

DG: And I agree with Davíd that thinking just about elections as the end goal is not beneficial, because it takes more than that. It takes people to feel like they are part of the decision-making. If you have decisions just being trickled down to you, you already feel like you have no agency for change.

So if they feel like they are part of the decision-making, if we can reverse some of the decisions that feel like they are coming to us and they just land in our lap and we don’t have a say in them, I think that’s where you start. It’s a place where people feel like they have a say, they’re interested, there’s a political awareness, and the elections just become a representative of that awareness.

It’s not the end goal just to have people sign up for elections, it really depends on raising that consciousness and awareness and education around issues, how they affect them, how policies affect their well-being, their success as students, all of those issues.

So even if we don’t see necessarily more participation now, if we can…get more students engaged and politicized and knowing their rights, knowing how some of the issues are affecting them and affecting their peers and affecting a whole culture of success for students. That by itself is really, it’s the process, is the goal. It’s not just reaching the elections.

VG: What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge or the hardest project that you’ll have to tackle from the plans and goals you’ve mentioned?

DG: Definitely the arming [of] CPSO.

VG: Is there anything else you want say?

DG: For me personally, I would really encourage students to come and tell us about their issues. In general, we have certain issues we are aware of, but then there are other issues students are involved in, very passionate about. This is part of making the issues relevant to everyone, making them politicized and actually bringing them to the spotlight and having conversations about them. We’re really ready to support students in anyway we can.

If there is a certain topic or a certain issue that’s happening on campus that maybe ASPSU is not paying attention to, I would encourage all students to feel they can just come into the office…any of us will be happy to have conversations and talk about this and have meetings with students who are interested or student groups and organizations.

So I think the next year is not going to be easy…We have goals we want to achieve, but I also feel if we just get students to be really active participants, that’s going to be already achieving half the goal. So I hope students will feel empowered and they have a say to be involved with ASPSU, know about, and come talk to us about any issues they have.

DM: That’s the same for me. We want students to know…that we are here to represent [them].

Also, something that needs to be clear: We’re going to have challenges because the institution is used to some kinds of students or administrations who have run their student governments in a…stricter way. We want to do it differently.

We want to create an atmosphere that is welcoming to all students, as Dana mentioned earlier…we want to have the door open for all students to feel comfortable to come anytime and talk about their issues. We want to see how we can work with those and try to make something for them.

It’s going to be a challenging year. It’s going to be hard. But I think we knew that since the beginning…We knew it was going to happen. But we have a strong team and administration, and we have a really good directors and very good senators. That’s another thing we’re doing this year is…getting our senators to be more participative in the process.

So we’re going to do everything we can do get all our goals done. We want to invite students, even if we don’t have any vacancies, to come over and be part of the meetings.

For more about ASPSU, visit

Additional reporting by Lisa Dunn.