The entire University Washington’s governing body, the University of Washington Board of Regents, consists of 10citizens, all of whom are appointed by the Washington state governor. The Regents, as a collective body, govern the University of Washington, and select and evaluate its president.
Among the responsibilities of the Regents is to set institutional missions, establish policies and ensure the financial stability and academic quality of the university. Since 1998, the Board has filled one of 10seats with a UW student. Three students are nominated by a committee made up of student leaders across all three UW campuses, and of these three students, the governor selects one to fill the seat.
The outgoing student regent is Daniela H. Suarez, who provided insight into the appointment process as well as the position itself. “For the candidates that move onto the 2nd selection round with the governor’s office. It looks really good when you have community support. I put together a list of people who would support me and write a small note to the governor.”
Going on to say that “A political appointment is about a strategic interest in placing a person on the board. He has the availability to shape the institutions with these appointments. So having a perspective that has not been shown before is something that plays in. I am the first community college student to be the regent.”
According to Daniela, the role is “ultimately is to sit on a government board. It is to help implement its strategic mission. Each regent has a unique perspective and background they can use to help the university achieve its goals. Something that I was interested in was the tri-campus community. I was interested in the unique nature of each campus, they are each autonomous campuses but I wanted to find a way for them to come together.”
Emphasizing that this position is not as a student representative, Daniela spoke to balancing her positionality as a student with the responsibility of being a community representative.
“Throughout this process, I have learned that you need to incorporate student staff and faculty opinions into their decisions. Students are my constituents, so I factor in our experience when I am making decisions. You are there as a guardian of public trust – I am there to incorporate every community on campus into my decision.”
Discussing the year she has spent in this position and the work that she has done Daniela had this to say, “Impact is interesting. And again goes back to the difference between representative and regent. A lot of the work that I do is unseen. The difference between short and long term needs to be considered. Student government is more about short term. Getting a program set up, changing a perspective etc. As a regent its more about the future. It’s about where higher ed is going and what our financials are like. As regents we elevate conversations to the board level. My student regnant project is about students finding belonging at UW. This comes from academic programs and also feeling secure. If we early on establish community building then students will be more resilient when they face challenges and know that they have connections.”
As part of this project, Daniela helped to organize a lunch where every student regent in Washington state came together to discuss issues in higher education, what we as regents could do to solve those issues, and what our position is like at our campus. Amid those discussions, there was a common problem that they identified, as regents they did not feel that they were given an adequate amount of time to both learn the job, and make real change.
“Our term limit is one year, and this doesn’t give a lot of time to really get used to the position. So we recommended that they either extend the term limit or identify the student earlier – Identifying the next regent in January instead of June, so there is a 6-month overlap between regents.”
Another issue that they identified was that only two schools in Washington get tuition waivers — UW and WSU — this means that the position is not accessible to all students. Daniela and the regent from WSU collaborated to write a letter advocating for tuition waivers for all Student Regents to encourage diversity in applicants.
Finally, Daniela had this to say to anyone looking to take on this position “Differentiate yourself. Have a willingness to learn. Advocate for your perspective to be represented where you feel it has not been before, and get community support.
Whoever is in this role is positioned to help and to diversify stories and perspectives. It has the ability to elevate perspectives and stories and opinions to the board level that have not been seen before and that is a great opportunity. It seems like a position that you need to have qualifications for, but this position despite being a political one is not about politics. It is about your unique perspective and I’ve been working to break down the barriers and get all kinds of students to apply.”