Advocating for community and students

by Catalina Myers  |   

Union of Students of the University of Alaska Anchorage (USUAA) President Tuan Graziano has always been an advocate for bettering his community. Now, the UAA senior majoring in economics and minoring in political science has a chance to lead the university's student body. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

For the Union of Students of the University of Alaska Anchorage (USUAA) president, Tuan Graziano, advocating for the betterment of his community is paramount to who he is. Since high school Graziano has been involved in his community, whether participating in Model United Nations in high school, volunteering his time with local nonprofits after classes in college or representing UAA’s student body through various leadership roles in USUAA. Graziano even feels his chosen major of economics and minor of political science are setting him up on a path toward public service. The UAA senior, slated to graduate either this spring or next fall, has a goal to create a better place to live, work and learn that is rooted in his value of community.

It’s what inspired him to join USUAA several years ago. Graziano has naturally gravitated toward leadership roles. He participated in Model UN throughout high school and was involved in his high school in and out of the classroom. When Graziano came to UAA, he joined the university’s Model UN program. He continued his engagement with his new university community, so it wasn’t long before he was introduced to USUAA.

At the time, student government hadn’t crossed his mind or path. As a full-time student who was highly engaged on and off campus, working full-time to support himself and pay for college, USUAA hadn’t made it onto his radar until a friend encouraged him to join. 

So naturally, he joined. 

“It was one of those situations where my previous experiences of community service through advocacy and volunteering created this kind of seamless transition into student government,” said Graziano. “You spend a lot of time educating and advocating for other students, leading an organization and bringing people together.”

Last spring, Graziano served as the vice president and temporarily assumed the role of president when the previous USUAA president resigned. He was officially confirmed for the position after running in the USUAA student elections.

Graziano acknowledges it’s been challenging throughout his tenure at UAA, both as a student in the classroom and as a leader. He’s experienced the university undergoing extensive budget cuts and pivot to online-only classes for a year-and-a-half during COVID-19, which lands USUAA and university students in the current situation of navigating their education through hybrid models of learning while still trying to have the college experience.

“From not only a personal standpoint but from hearing from other students, there's a good amount of students that are very, very relieved and happy to be able to come back to campus and take classes in person and have that in-person experience once again,” said Graziano. “However, there are a lot of students who really enjoy the virtual learning environment.”

Graziano said it's an unexpected revelation of the pandemic, but there are two distinct camps: students who prefer to come to campus for in-person learning, while others would instead learn remotely from the comfort of their home. 

“Students have naturally gravitated to what they prefer and how they would like to shape their educational experience here at UAA,” Graziano said. 

Graziano said in addition to the shift in the student body’s educational preferences, concerns over budget constraints limiting the university’s services and resources and the ever-present COVID-19 looming over the health and safety of not only the university community but the entire city as well, has students wondering what the next few years look like at UAA.

He said USUAA will continue to advocate for students from basic needs, like addressing food insecurity on campus to more executive-level issues of keeping a flat tuition over the next couple of years. Graziano said students will also be asked to vote on whether to keep Blackboard and upgrade to the new system or choose an entirely new one named Canvas, which he said will impact the entire university. In addition, USUAA will be examining the health and safety of students regarding COVID-19 and how the university is handling the ongoing situation. He said it's crucial student voices and perspectives are heard regarding COVID-19.

As a student governance leader, Graziano said he sees both sides of the coin. He thinks the university is doing its best to offer students the best educational experience within the constraints of a limited budget and pandemic. He said he will continue to, as will the rest of USUAA, advocate for students.

“We’re all trying to adjust to the new norm,” said Graziano. “I think at USUAA, something that's very important, that we strive for, is to put the interests of students and their voices first. This also means being a mindful organization that considers other parts of the university process that students might not see or have information about. It’s our obligation to put students first.”

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