In a room filled with board members and the media, it can be difficult to find a way to fit in — especially as a 21-year-old senior in college.
Enter Sadia Saifuddin, the UC student regent-designate, who will join the Board of Regents as a voting member in the 2014-2015 school year.
The date is July 17, and Saifuddin does not allow nerves — or opposition — get the best of her.
Standing before a room full of board members in charge of UC finances, policies and long-term planning, this is real. This is the grown-ups’ table. But Saifuddin remains composed.
“I want to serve because I know what it’s like to work three jobs, to be a full-time student and to maintain my capacity as a student leader to serve my campus,” Saifuddin said to the board.
That Wednesday afternoon, Saifuddin was approved by the UC Regents as the student regent-designate. The vote was almost unanimous, with the exception of UC Regent Richard Blum, who chose to abstain, citing his concerns about Saifuddin’s political activism and ability to appropriately represent the student body as a whole.
After the meeting, Blum approached Saifuddin and reassured her that he would defend her to the media. Saifuddin told Blum he wouldn’t need to. Looking him in the eye, she said, “My qualifications speak for themselves.”
Saifuddin has come a long way to get to the Board of Regents. In her three years at UC Berkeley, Saifuddin has served as ASUC senator, worked in the office of Student Regent Jonathan Stein, was involved with the Muslim Student Association and spearheaded the bill in support of the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, a food bank that helps student families with children.
As student regent-designate — alongside Student Regent Cinthia Flores — Saifuddin wants to focus on financial aid reform and campus climate. Saifuddin said she will look at how the student experience is shaped by the financial aid office.
“It’s not helpful: It’s scary, it’s intimidating and it just doesn’t serve the students,” Saifuddin said.
By the same token, Saifuddin said she wants her work with the regents to help the board gain a better understanding of the students it represents. She hopes to give various members of the student community the opportunity to meet with their Regents and talk about their concerns.
The oldest of five siblings, Saifuddin grew up in Stockton, Calif. as a first-generation Muslim Pakistani American. A social welfare major, Saifuddin at one time had to work three jobs to support herself, on top of receiving financial aid.
While Saifuddin said she hopes to tackle reforms of financial aid and campus climate in the next two years, she knows that achieving these goals definitively will be difficult. Instead, she said, she will try to take her leadership position day by day.
Luckily, Saifuddin has garnered support from members of the campus community on her appointment, despite her controversial role in the proceedings of the ASUC’s divestment bill in the spring, which proposed divesting university funding from companies affiliated with the Israeli military.
“While I do not support divestment or the targeting of a single nation or state in the context of a complex Middle East conflict, I also believe that students have the right to their own political views and perspectives,” said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in an email regarding Saifuddin’s nomination.
Peers speak positively of Saifuddin, praising her for her intelligence, grace and persistence.
“She’s a phenomenal senator, and I’m sure she’ll make a phenomenal student regent,” said George Kadifa, a former ASUC senator who worked with Saifuddin.
Some of Saifuddin’s greatest moments come not from her public work — what Saifuddin has found most meaningful comes from the kinship she shares with her family.
Saifuddin recalls a time of distress, when her 15-year-old sister, Salma, had begun home-school and was having a hard time adjusting. Salma had been crying and had locked herself in her bedroom, so Saifuddin went to comfort her.
Afterward, while in Berkeley, Saifuddin received a letter from her sister, thanking her for being there for her. Saifuddin kept the letter as a symbol of sisterly love.
“I felt like I was able to accomplish my job as a human being,” Saifuddin said of the memory. “I truly believe that the programs we push through, our grades, events that we host, even me being student regent — eventually people are going to forget. But people are not going to forget how you made them feel. I take a lot of pride in that.”
Saifuddin hopes to apply this kind of sincerity to her role, being acutely aware that her position has the potential to affect thousands of other students at the university.
“I supported myself and took care of myself, and that’s what really motivates me,” Saifuddin said. “I know that my experience is not just a singular experience. It’s the experience of a lot of students.”