Through my OT Student Leader Series, I join notable alumni and current Oakland Tech’s student body members to learn about how they made their mark on the school and how Oakland Tech shaped them.
Let’s start out with the student government. Share a bit about who you are as a person and as a notable student-leader in Oakland.
Sure! My name is Corinna Basch, I went to Saint Theresa Catholic elementary and middle school for K-8, so I wasn’t necessarily super involved with the city of Oakland when I was younger. I wasn’t very knowledgeable about it because I went to a really small Catholic school where I was kind of hidden from all of it. When I got to Tech, things changed because my eyes were opened to a lot of different things that are going on in Oakland, such as the politics of Oakland and the public school system. I remember in my first two weeks of Tech I was switched out of two classes and moved into two other ones strictly because the classes were overfilled, and that really opened my eyes because I had never experienced that before. I used that experience to learn a lot about the school system in Oakland. I decided to be in the student government because I wanted to change some things, fix some things, and be involved. I joined some clubs in my sophomore year to get involved and realized that I wanted to do more. That’s when I ran for junior class president at the end of my sophomore year. Junior year, I was class president — I was very involved in the student government scene and all of that. In March, I was sitting at a student government meeting with Samuel (who was the sophomore class president), and this freshman came up to me — he’s like, “Hi! My name is Maxwell. I’m the freshman class vice president. You guys are pretty involved in school, and I was wondering if you could help me or point me in the right direction for the gun violence presentation’. We were like, “Yeah, of course!” And we never really thought that it would grow into what it did. Still, after a few months of making announcements over the PA and gathering a bunch of students, we put together this walkout protest [during my] junior year in March, and we ended up walking to the city hall. We did a few walks out for gun violence prevention, we put signs everywhere, and we did a big protest outside of Tech. That’s when I kind of fell in love with activism and being involved in local government. From there, the students engaged in that walkout found the Student Activism Club at Tech, and through that, we did a few things to get involved in Oakland: help different communities and raise awareness for different issues. When the teacher strike stuff was going down in my senior year, that club stepped up again, and we helped run the strike protest. And the Student Sick-Out — we paired up with a ton of other students, but many of us were involved with it and found out about it through our club. I went through the whole college app process in my senior year when I was ASB vice president and chose UC Santa Barbara, and now I’m here. I’m studying math, and I’m in the honors program. I am involved in a few different environmental clubs, the Rock the Vote club, and a few various student government clubs, but not the actual student government itself.
Let’s go through that. So first off, what was the catalyst for your involvement in student government? You said that the class sizes were impactful. Was that what got you involved?
That was kind of the first thing that opened my eyes to the importance of student government. The class sizes paired with the incredibly poorly run leadership announcements and poor communication between admin and students really irritated me. I asked myself why there wasn’t a student government fixing these issues, and I figured out that there was a student government AND a leadership class. I was shocked about this; how is this a student government and leadership when I can’t hear the announcements or understand what’s happening? I felt like the announcements were poorly organized, and speakers were not proofreading, setting a time, or pronouncing names correctly. I’ve always had a lot of school spirit, and the way Tech did Spirit Week made me so sad because I felt like no one was excited or getting involved. I think the culmination of all those factors made me want to run [for class president], and then I ran and did my best to change what I could. I quickly realized that many of the things that I wanted to change in student government were actually up to the leadership class, and that was a class that I had no interest in joining. I had to accept defeat in many of those battles because I was not ready to add another class to my schedule that I just didn’t have room for.
What do you think about the relationship between student government and leadership class?
It is incredibly toxic […] it sets back the relationship between students and administration. I think that it does more harm than good, and for any progress or change to be created, one of the two needs to be abolished or merged. I don’t think it makes sense to elect a student government but also have kids by their own free will choose to join the leadership class and have both of those groups make decisions for the rest of the school. I think that the point of electing a student government is for students to elect representatives who they want to make decisions for them…the fact that some students can add a class to their schedule and then have just as much authority as those kids who were elected is ridiculous.
Regardless of leadership, class, do you think that student government was successful? What were some achievements that you remember in your term with the student government?
I think that my junior year felt more successful than my senior year. I had a smaller group of people and more specific roles as junior class president, such as prom and hallway decoration for juniors. When I was the ASB vice president, I felt more like an assistant to the president, and I supported class cabinets more as an advisor. I was most proud of our fundraising in junior year and our Spirit Week awards that year. I feel like that was exciting for my class because we had never really been one to show up for those events. I think I had some effect on leadership announcements for a short time before the leadership class took them over again. Before prom, I was allowed to take over leadership announcements for a short period, and during that time, people were understanding and involved in what was happening at school.
As the ASB Vice President, how do you think the position can be improved, and how can the student government be formed to support the officers and students?
I think that, number one, when people run [for student government], they have to be held to a specific standard. I think there needs to be a specific contrast that can be held up because when officers used to be elected, they just kind of won […] they were like, “Congratulations, you’re president,” but no one knew what that meant. That was great in theory, but some kids said, ‘Great! Time to put it on my resume’ and do nothing. Whereas underclassmen don’t have as much to do with student government, they have a lot more responsibility. When kids are on their cabinets in freshman and sophomore year, they don’t really know what they’re doing. I think we need a document that lays out the expectations and goals of every single cabinet position on the team, with a leader or an adult administrator who supports the students. During my time in student government, there were kids who I barely even met in my student government team because they would never show up for things they didn’t care about. They only wanted scores on their college applications. In the past, we have said that officers needed a 90% attendance rate to meetings, but that has never happened. Officers don’t show up. We need to clarify that the student government is not something you can work around because no one prioritized it. If you’re going to run for student government, you need to be conscious of that decision that you are a part of the team and need to be there for your school and classmates. You need to hold yourself to a specific standard that the student government will be your priority in the same way when you join a sports team that you prioritize your team and those games and your practices and your team. I don’t think I’ve met anyone besides Tiffany Tong who had treated it like that.
Yeah. Tiffany worked insanely hard, and as ASB president, I can appreciate how passionate she was.
Yeah. And it’s because obviously, you are amazing. You are so accomplished, and you’re an overachiever, which is wonderful. The fact that you have this incredible nonprofit going — I’m not really well-versed on what GENup is but the fact that you have this organization going. You’re also involved in the Oakland Youth Commission, and you’re also ASB president; that’s wonderful. But in a perfect world, our ASB president is fully dedicated to doing student government. The fact is that no one in our school’s willing to do that, so of course, someone like you has to step up because you’re like, “one more thing on my plate is doable.” It’s wonderful that you’re willing to do that, but I wish that there was a group of people who were so passionate about student government that they could commit to it.
In some ways, the student government just isn’t seen as an important or valid leadership position.
Exactly. I think part of that is that it’s such a mess that everyone argues, “You guys don’t do anything.” I think we don’t do anything because we aren’t taken seriously, and that’s a vicious cycle. I think that that will be fixed with some strict management and reform. I think that we will need a leadership advisor, someone who’s not Rosemary, who dedicated all or a lot of their time to student government. In contrast, Rosemary is the school treasurer, the coach of two sports and four teams […] above all of that, she leads the leadership class and the advisor for student government. That’s the root problem: student Government is not prioritized by the people who lead it, and so students can’t prioritize their roles.
How do you think student government is going to have to change during the COVID-19 pandemic?
That’s very interesting. Everything is going to be run virtually, and fundraising is going to be super hard. I just spent a week fundraising for my sorority, and doing that was nearly impossible. In a way, this could be beneficial because this is a time where they’re not expected to do as many physical events. Students can focus on reforming and working out specific roles and specific jobs within the team. Although the pandemic will put a damper on fundraising and events that are allowed to be done, I think this can be an excellent opportunity to take a break and reassess.
What activities outside of the student government were you involved in, and where else did you demonstrate leadership?
Yeah! I was also on the leadership board in my Student Activism Club and with the National Charity League outside of school. I played volleyball, and I was also a Girl Scout up until my senior year of school. I think those are all of the big things, but I was also team captain of the Tech Mock Trial team.
One question, do you put drugs in the Girl Scout cookies? What makes them taste so good?
That is so funny! I mean, to be completely honest, I’ve never been around when they’re making them. I just receive them and sell them. I guess that’s a secret that they’ll never tell us. They are so good, though.
Thank you for coming today! You shared some great ideas, and I’ve definitely learned a lot from you, which is awesome.
Thanks for talking to me about this! It really warms my heart to hear that there’s someone out there right now that really cares so much and who’s willing to put in the work and time to fix things. It makes me feel good that you’re doing that because it needs to be done.