In fall 2021, campus freshman Akash Ponna would walk past various dance troupes practicing on campus, inspiring him to join one of the largest groups, AFX, this semester.
While seeing dancing on campus was his invitation to join a group, the outdoor practices are a part of a greater challenge to campus’s dance community. At the start of the fall 2021 semester, the ASUC stopped covering the cost of dance studios in the Hearst Memorial Gymnasium, where groups would traditionally book rooms to practice, according to Ponna.
This, and other dance-related concerns, drove Ponna to run for the ASUC Senate in the current election cycle.
“I decided to run for Senate to represent the dance community because there’s so many ongoing issues in that community that are long-term and that really need to be addressed,” Ponna said.
Ponna, who is running with the Student Action candidate slate, has been dancing since the start of high school. However, his last two years were overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He added the pandemic has led to dance teams falling apart due to lack of interest in virtual alternatives.
“I was just not motivated to dance because a lot of the stuff was online,” Ponna said. “That’s also kind of connected to the issues that the dance community is facing because people didn’t want to join dance teams.”
As joining AFX and dancing helped shape his connection to an in-person campus, Ponna said that improving the overall campus student experience is the foundation for his plans as a senator. With a heavy background in community service, Ponna said he believes it’s his “duty” to give back to others whenever possible.
Prior to coming to campus, Ponna said his liking for public service started in middle school and was something he expanded on in high school. In partnership with a classmate who also attends UC Berkeley, he started a mental health awareness organization called Fighting for Hope, which the two intend to bring to campus as a club next semester.
Ponna noted that he pulls inspiration from notable leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi for their ability to bring people together to make a difference. He added that if people like Gandhi can create movements as individuals, he can make a difference in his community as an individual as well.
“Just seeing how much of an impact you can make on people … it’s our duty to give back to others if we’re able to,” Ponna said. “I definitely want to just continue that ability to help other people because why not help other people when you can?”