Riverside Community College District elects new student trustee, Q&A details pandemic aid plans

new trustee
Ivan Hess, a Riverside City College economics and political science major, will represent Riverside Community College District students on the Board of Trustees for the 2020-2021 academic year. Image courtesy of Ivan Hess.

By Erik Galicia

A new Riverside Community College District student trustee with an extensive platform was chosen with 61% of the votes for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Ivan Hess, a Riverside City College student majoring in economics and political science, will assume the role at the end of the spring 2020 semester. In the following interview, Hess details his plans to serve students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: What do you first hope to accomplish as the Riverside Community College District student trustee?

A: First and foremost, getting CARES Act aid expediently to all students. It is a priority for me to have not just one award for spring 2020 but for another award to come in June (and) for a diagnostic to be conducted upon the allocation process to see why students were ineligible.  And giving any leftover resources out in the fall.

Based on the numbers that I can remember, the ineligible proportion of the total applicant pool was almost 50%. I have talked to students, I have talked to (Associated Student Body Officers). Many found it problematic that the application was published without recourse and opportunity for review by students. Getting a student on the (CARES Act distribution) task force as is supposed to occur with Title V (is) critical.

Based on what Chancellor (Wolde-Ab) Isaac shared, it sounds like the vast majority of aid will not be dispersed during round one of aid distribution. It’s critical to set up a transparent but also responsive timeline that shows when, how and how much aid students are going to get in the future until we dole it all out. The district has a year, according to the (U.S.) Department of Education, but I don’t see why, especially in the midst of these emergency circumstances, we should be waiting a year. People need to eat now.

Q: How can we ensure that international and undocumented students, who have been excluded from federal emergency aid, get some type of help just as soon as the rest of us?

A: This is where we need to take some initiative and serve as a role model district. We look at the examples nationwide, we look at how institutional resources have been leveraged to provide to each of those groups and then we do it. The idea that we’d preclude any human being in need from aid in these emergency times, that’s abhorrent to me. 

There needs to be a conversation started. It’s already occurring amongst the student government. They are crafting their own solution which would provide financial outreach to undocumented, international students and middle class students as well. There has been remarkably little attention given to this issue and no action taken. That’s unacceptable. If there’s a person in need, you reach out and you do what you can. 

Q: What else do you hope to accomplish in your first hundred days as student trustee?

A: Ensuring, when we go back to campus, that it’s safe. I think allowing students, staff and faculty to be aware of who will and who will not be on campus is key. I don’t want a decision being out on, say, June 15. So then students know, “Oh yeah, there’s still people dying in Riverside County. There’s still new cases of COVID-19. But I have lab so I guess I have to go to campus.” That would be absolutely unacceptable.

I personally have advocated for the district acquiring personal protective equipment that has been approved by the Riverside County Health Department and then dispersing that to students, staff and faculty who are required to be on District sites of operation for employment or educational purposes.

Q: Some feel the position of student trustee is more symbolic than effective. Do you think the student trustee should be allowed to vote on board decisions?

A: The student trustee should be given an advisory vote. The student trustee should only be excluded from closed sessions or under exceptional circumstances. In an ideal world, the student trustee should have a full vote if the student trustee is responsible and educated on state and district policy, is ready to exercise prudence in their decision making and embraces not only the role of student advocate, but the fiduciary duty. That’s the fine line that the student trustee has to walk.

I think there are ways to exercise influence through means other than a vote. Some of us recognize how to do that. How to create our own political capital and be heard and exercise effective advocacy and utilize other groups and work through other channels to get done what we need to get done. Political power is not just sitting there and exercising a vote. It is achieved in many ways.