Daniele Meñez, a senior at the University of Washington, is juggling a full schedule this school year as the newly elected president of Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW). Meñez has a multicultural family background. Her mother immigrated from the Philippines to Saipan, one of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Meñez was born in Saipan and lived in the Philippines until she was 4 years old before her family decided to settle in Guam. When she came to Seattle for college, she was surprised to see how small the Pacific Islander community was on campus. As she joined student organizations like Filipino American Student Association (FASA sa UW) and studied Filipino American history, she discovered the need to uplift AAPI voices like her own and make their presence more visible on campus. The IE spoke with Meñez to learn about what led her to run for ASUW President and discuss her plans for the upcoming school year.
International Examiner: What extracurricular activities or registered student organizations were you involved with before running for ASUW President?
Daniele Meñez: My fall quarter of freshman year, I was taking a class on Filipino American History. This really influential Filipino couple – Uncle Fred and Dorothy Cordova – they came to my class and they talked to me about their experiences and being activists in Seattle, there was this opportunity that opened up to intern for them. After that, I kept getting involved with other things on campus since I didn’t have family here. I didn’t know anyone at UW other than six or seven Guam people that I came to UW with. I really wanted to branch out and get involved. I did research for a bit at an undergraduate research lab in Psychology department.
Sophomore year, I was the Political Chair for Filipino American Student Association (FASA sa UW). They were the main organization I got involved with on campus. It was hard to get involved with at first because they all knew each other. They were all from Washington and I didn’t know anyone. I felt like they were the only people I could even remotely relate to on campus. FASA is one of the constituents of the Pacific Islander Student Commission. That’s how I got my Director position junior year. Last year is when I ran for ASUW President. It kind of followed a timeline and it’s interesting how they all fit in because nothing was planned from the very beginning. A lot of the people involved with ASUW have been involved since they were freshmen so at first it felt like a very clique-y environment. To me, it was hard to break in and get involved, but last year when I worked with them, I really loved what I was doing. I was getting paid to do what I love, especially in the Pacific Islander community where I come from.
IE: What was the most important reason you decided to run for ASUW President instead of a different position?
Meñez: Last year was my first year with ASUW because a lot of people have been involved since they were freshmen. When I worked for them, I got paid to do what I love, to serve students, especially in the Pacific Islander community where I come from. I don’t know if I have the mental capacity to undergo such a stressful time. The biggest thing was putting myself out there because I’m a really private person. I just said yes. I wanted to bring a new perspective I didn’t grow up in Washington, I’m a person of a color, so I looked at ASUW. No one else had that same perspective.
IE: On your ASUW profile, you highlight “intersectionality” as the overall goal of your term. Can you speak about the different components of your vision for UW’s community and the steps you plan to take toward those goals?
Meñez: The basis of understanding intersectionality is understanding that there’s no issue, there’s no identity of the University that can be singular in and of itself. Everyone is connected somehow. Every on-campus issue is also connected. For me, intersectionality is when I see a problem taking place that’s affecting the students, I think, “Okay, what kind of community is this issue affecting and what are the different layers to this issue?” So I think the fact that I came to ASUW as an outsider helped in that sense, because when I look at an issue I don’t look at it at a singular lens, I look at it at an intersectional way that will allow me to bring together all of these different communities.
IE: On your ASUW profile, you also mentioned Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council in your effort to improve collaboration between student and nonstudent groups to fight against “power-based violence.” Why do you think the United Greek Council (UGC), a group of fraternities and sororities formed for ethnic minorities, is excluded from large-scale conversations despite them also being a Greek community?
Meñez: Last quarter, my ticket talked about that because half of us are students of color. My vice-president, Michael Aldridge, is the president of the Interfraternity Council. When we were crafting our platform and sat down to talk about which communities’ needs weren’t being met, UGC definitely came up. Personally, I always knew about UGC because I had all of these different connections but what we’re trying to do this year as ASUW is try to bring them into the conversation because when people think “Greeks” they don’t think the multi-ethnic sororities. They don’t think about the Asian sororities or fraternities, so they get left out of the conversation which doesn’t help. In the Greek community, a lot of the issues they’re talking about are about race and equity. How are you going to solve that problem if you’re not already including Greeks who are super diverse, who are already knowledgeable about the issue?
IE: In the last ASUW election for the 2015-2016 school year, only 2,643 out of about 40,000 students voted. What do you think about the low civic engagement of AAPI voters during elections, whether it’s the General Election, the Presidential Election, or ASUW elections?
Meñez: I would say in terms of the General Election, it’s always been an issue in the API community. Low civic engagement, low voter turnout. I know there are amazing organizations like APACE (Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment) that fill that gap, and I think the reason why it even existed in the first place was when our ancestors first moved here, their first instinct wasn’t “Oh, I want to get involved politically.” They’re worried about how to survive, how to find a job, how to send their kids to school. So extracurriculars like getting involved in the government … it’s not an extracurricular but sometimes it could feel like it is when you’re worried about surviving. That, and also many of them don’t speak fluent English.
IE: How do you plan on balancing your classes and extracurriculars with your responsibilities as ASUW President?
Meñez: I don’t know, only because school hasn’t started and already I’m up at 6 a.m. for work and I don’t end until around 7 p.m. and that’s already without classes. The major issue for me isn’t even doing my job, it’s staying sane as a person and making sure my mental health doesn’t deteriorate.
IE: What are you most excited for for the new school year?
Meñez: Just getting to meet students and getting to connect and hear their stories on such a broad level, to hear from thousands of students what issues they’re facing and just knowing the fact that I can make the tiniest impact on a student’s life.