Paolo Bicchieri & Ethan Tan
John Iosefo is officially a lame duck politician. As the days of his ASUSF presidency dwindle, he’s looking back on the unprecedented year he spent representing the undergraduate student body.
“It’s been reflective. It’s bittersweet as well, but there’s a lot to be proud of,” he said.
Iosefo, a graduating politics major, is leaving the Hilltop as the University’s first Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellow. The award grants him financial support from the U.S. State Department as he ventures off to study diplomacy at Georgetown University with goals of becoming a foreign service officer. Now that he’s leaving the politics of USF behind, Iosefo said there are a lot of things he wishes he would have known before coming into the job.
“You want to jump right in, you want to do things right away, you want to meet everyone. I wasn’t burnt out, but that first semester was definitely overwhelming,” Iosefo said.
The 21-year-old already speaks like a professional politician. He enjoys describing the benefits of using the workplace messaging app Slack over the more casual app GroupMe and discussing the efficacy of ASUSF’s Instagram posts. He talked about the wisdom imparted on him by faculty like Keally McBride, a politics professor and the vice president of the USF Faculty Association
“John embodies the kind of careful, patient leadership we desperately need much more of in this country,” McBride said in an email. “ He is a close listener, watches for spaces of potential agreement, and works to build inclusion in our community. He also tries very hard to give people their own voice, rather than speaking for them. It has been an honor working with him over his undergraduate career.”
Iosefo was born and raised in American Samoa, about 10,000 miles away from the Bay. He said that during his first few weeks in San Francisco, he was homesick and hated the city. Two years into his college experience, Iosefo was elected junior class representative. Being chosen to lead by his peers helped turn the feelings Iosefo associates with San Francisco around.
Looking back on what he has done as an elected official at USF, Iosefo said that a highlight was expanding financial support for the food pantry in 2019. As president, a proud moment was granting students the ability to opt-in to pass/fail grading for certain courses. He met with then-Dean Marcelo Campari from the College of Arts and Sciences, and “pled” to make the needs of students heard. Eventually, Iosefo’s lobbying worked and now non-mathematics majors can also opt-in to pass/fail grading.
A difficult resolution for Iosefo was Senate’s support of the 1.9% tuition increase for the next academic year, but only if certain conditions were met. The senate stipulated that the increase should not exceed 1.9%, that the University should operate in person, and that any funds gained from the increase go toward paying staff and faculty who made less than $128,000 during the pandemic. Senate also asked that the University adopt a “semi-conservative budget.”
“They were going to raise tuition anyway, so we wanted to add our own requirements. Our main one was to pay the faculty,” Iosefo said. “I was meeting with faculty right up to the moment we had the vote.”
Despite COVID-19, Iosefo said Senate was working faster this past year than at any other time in recent memory. He said his key to success is that he likes to laugh and make sure his senators are feeling relaxed. The meetings and the work are already stressful, he said, there’s no need to make it any tougher with a negative mentality.
“I’ve set that tone in our meetings,” Iosefo said. “And I couldn’t do it without my board. If you enjoy your job, you’re going to be much better at it.”
Nicholas Heng, assistant director for student government, said Iosefo did a great job of bringing people together. “He had those difficult conversations with administration,” Heng said. “He was in a position where it’s tough. You’re trying to please two communities. A lot of times there’s no one right answer.”
Iosefo said regardless of differences he may have had with administrators, he was always cordial with them. “You can’t bad mouth someone and expect to work well with them the next day,” Iosefo said. “I try to get along with everyone.”
To demonstrate an example of this cross-aisle work, Iosefo pointed to the board of trustees town hall ASUSF hosted. The meeting was tense, but Iosefo felt it was, on the whole, positive.
“There’s a sense [from the student body that Senate] is too chummy with administration,” Iosefo said. “But there’s a difference between telling someone you disagree with their actions and telling them they’re morally reprehensible. That’s not my style, and it’s one of the reasons we’ve been successful this year.”
Iosefo’s goal for the ASUSF Senate was to pass 15 resolutions in the year. They passed 17. He said that going straight to the parties involved, rather than waiting for those at the top to chip in first, was key; citing previous Senates’ decisions to send complaints directly to President Paul Fitzgerald without consulting other administrators or campus officials as ineffective.
Iosefo said it’s sad that the current moment is so polarized between many students and the University that even working with the administration is seen as negative. “If we just slammed them on social media or in the Foghorn we wouldn’t have got anything done,” Iosefo said.
Discussing any regrets he had about his tenure, Iosefo said that Senate’s relationships with student advocacy groups could have been stronger; he said that, if he had been more creative, these relationships might have played out differently. Iosefo also said that bringing more administrators into direct conversation with students was something he wished he could have done..
In proper politician form, though, he said with more time he would have launched another major initiative — a shared governance council.
“Talks fizzled out, but that was one thing I really wanted to get done. Early on, I realized it was something that was going to take someone else to finish,” Iosefo said. “I hate starting something I can’t finish.”
Now, at the end of his term as president, Iosefo has been meeting with his presidential successor Marisol Castro, who was elected a few weeks ago, to foster a smooth transition. Castro had a glowing review of her predecessor. “I knew he would be a great fit for president because of his positive energy and the persistence he always brings,” she said in a message. “He has definitely brought that into his term this year with his accomplishments of passing a really big resolution that allows more student representation in spaces where it is scarce.”
Even though he did not accomplish everything he set out to, Iosefo said that the “political pipeline” and the future of the Senate looks good.
“I couldn’t do it alone,” Iosefo said. “I was just a guy lucky enough to be president.”
Paolo Bicchieri is a graduate International Studies student. He is a staff writer at the Foghorn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @paoloshmaolo.
Ethan Tan is a junior politics major and the Foghorn’s News Editor. He covers the University’s administration and campus labor unions. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tanethans.