Ten Questions: Brotonel brings a ‘back-to-basics’ presidency for student well-being, comfort

The LaSallian sits down with Alex Brotonel as she enters a shortened presidency in the University Student Government with a handful of plans to promote safe spaces for students.

Amid the University’s transition to hybrid learning for the second term of Academic Year 2022-2023 and the challenges of national issues, duly-elected University Student Government (USG) President Alexandra Brotonel reassures the student body that she will prioritize the quality of student life and development for the students’ well-being through her leadership values of transparency and consistent dialogue with the community.

During your head-to-head interview with The LaSallian, you mentioned that the student body can expect a “back-to-basics” presidency. Can you expound on this? 

What I mean is that we sometimes overlook the basic necessities of what a student body needs. We focus too much on complicated issues. “What’s next?” is the question the USG always asks without asking “What’s now?” What problems are the student body facing?

We do not try to see tomorrow without fixing what is happening today. We want to implement a back-to-basics approach, to…prioritize learning spaces, mental health, enrollment services, [and] compassionate academic policies that are for the students, because I believe that in the University, the most important stakeholders are no other than the student body. If there are no students, I believe it would be senseless to have DLSU.

Your predecessor Giorgina Escoto pushed for the #BalikDLSU proposal as her term’s primary concern. What’s a key issue in the University that you intend to prioritize addressing this year and why? 

During my administration, we want to reinforce security and comfort in the University.

For example, we want to have pronouns in Canvas, which we already have. We also want the choice for students to use their lived names in their DLSU emails. Another thing to push forth is to re-lobby the Anti-Red Tagging Policy in the University; this is to ensure that students who participate in mobilizations or Student Media [Groups] (SMGs), who are at the forefront of our fight against disinformation, are protected [from] external threats outside of the University. 

We also want to reinstate Archer’s Eye (a live video-streaming facility that offers real-time surveillance around the University) so that we can provide logistical support to our students. If you have a condominium or your house is far from Taft Avenue and there is an ongoing storm, students can visit the Archer’s Eye to see if the vicinity [around the University] is flooded, if they still have to attend their classes, or if there is a long line outside the Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall. Moreover…we want to push for the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Bill to extend benefits and assistance to PWD in the University.

It is the little things to add comfort to the lives of students in DLSU.

Your term in office was shortened to two terms due to the late elections. Given the shorter timeframe, how do you plan to deliver your campaign promises?

First thing is, I am lucky that I was able to win the elections with the same executive board that I ran with. 

I think it is an advantage at our end since from building our platforms to consulting with different offices, it is [we] who are always together. So it is convenient for the five of us to just delegate the tasks to each other to ensure that we are working synchronously. 

Transportation is one of the major concerns of students in the transition to hybrid classes. What actions will the USG make to address this?

First, we are going to have a dialogue with the Support Services Office in our University to see if there is a possible implementation of shuttle services at a much cheaper price.

We are going to seek out payment schemes for that to ensure that they are not obligated to a one-stop payment scheme because that is a huge cost for our students. Second, we are trying to secure funds to subsidize students’ transportation costs.

What are the future plans of the next USG to tackle disinformation issues in the country? 

We plan to collaborate with the SMGs to ensure the integrity of the news they provide to the student body through fact-checking. With that being said, our SMGs are at the forefront of our fight against disinformation; they are the first to be attacked by trolls. We can see that as a threat and the USG will act upon it. We cannot accept that the “bearers of truth” in our University, and they are the ones who get threatened with malicious intent. So we want mechanisms where we can protect our SMGs as well.

What else is included in your planned COVID-19 student insurance other than the RT-PCR tests? 

Our priority is to have the RT-PCR tests included because it’s really expensive. Second, we also want to provide our Lasallians with support in getting claims when they have severe COVID-19 cases that put them into hospitalization.

We want Lasallians to not subject themselves to doing fundraising programs or emailing different organizations to ask for support…[to] fund their medical bills. As a student who pays for their insurance every term, hopefully, the University’s insurance provider covers it (COVID-19).

Is your planned implementation of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing services a step toward future prevention programs?

Its implementation is indeed a step forward for future preventive programs.

What we want is that, first, students [will] be informed if they have HIV and engage themselves in proper interventions…We want them to still be guided, like through [the] Office of Counseling and Career Services or Lasallian Center for Inclusion, Diversity, and Well-being. [Second], due to the fear of discrimination brought by the stigmas that surround HIV, there might be a lot of Lasallians being hesitant to test for HIV, though we’re hoping [that] through the implementation [of] testing services in our University, students will actually understand or know that the University and the student body accepts them. 

The cross-dressing incident that happened months ago sparked concerns about the safety and inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community in the University. Will the USG make improvements to the Safe Spaces Act to address this?

I think what we have to do is to actually consult with the students first on what they don’t like about the Safe Spaces Act and what scopes should be added. It’s hard to speak for a whole population of students that we didn’t consult. To ensure that all students are taken into account, we first want to find out what works and what doesn’t work. We will go through the Safe Spaces Act before we recommend different improvements to the said policy.

We also want to introduce a Safe Spaces Kit and the orientation on the Safe Spaces Act to the community. Maybe we could add the Safe Spaces Policy to the University’s Student Affairs Services orientation…These mechanisms will ensure that all students are really aware of the policy.

You also engage in volunteerism outside the University, including your tenure as president of the Parola Children’s Rights Advocates and member of GoodGovPH. How do your advocacies influence your leadership?

I learned the grassroots approach through volunteering at GoodGovPH and Parola Children’s Right Advocates. It turns out that leaders are not right most of the time. They’ll only be right once they have listened to all their constituents; so at times, the sentiments of a personal leader do not actually translate [to] the sentiments of the people. It’s difficult if you will become a leader that says, “I believe that this is the problem,” when that is not actually the problem students are facing. That will indicate that I am not a leader that serves the interest of the student body and a future DLSU that is not for the students.

Your protest art has been widely recognized due to your artful stances on certain social and political issues. How will you incorporate your craft in your term as USG President? 

Personally, I don’t think I’ll be carrying the craft; but I will be carrying the values that I had learned throughout creating my craft—that is, not to step down and always fight for what is right and just for the student body. You should always be courageous, even if both of your knees are already shaking.

You should continue to fight because a lot of people are counting on you, and that’s why you always show up. 

I will not be silenced because I will continue to make noise until we attain the rights of each student in the University; and that is…something that they could expect—that the DLSU USG will be unwavering from now on.

This interview was translated from Filipino and edited for length and clarity.

Cammylle Beltran

By Cammylle Beltran

Christopher Go

By Christopher Go

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