This post was updated on March 10 at 11:59 p.m.
The undergraduate student government recently took down a YouTube video of a controversial council meeting after several councilmembers received death threats and hate mail accusing them of being anti-Semitic.
On Feb. 10, several members of the Undergraduate Students Association Council raised concerns about the appointment of Jewish student Rachel Beyda to the USAC Judicial Board, saying they were unsure she could rule fairly on cases related to UCLA’s Jewish community and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Though Beyda, a second-year economics student, was unanimously appointed to the board after some discussion, USAC General Representative 1 Manjot Singh, General Representative 2 Sofia Moreno Haq, General Representative 3 Fabienne Roth and Transfer Student Representative Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed have gained attention from national news outlets and criticism from numerous individuals who say their line of questioning was anti-Semitic and discriminatory.
USAC voted 8-1-3 to put the video back up at its meeting on March 10.
This was the first USAC Live! video that USAC members have removed since the creation of the channel last year. The Internal Vice President’s office created the USAC Live! YouTube channel as a way to make meetings more accessible to students who could not attend on Tuesday nights and to increase transparency of USAC. USAC archives all of the videos and currently has no official policy on when videos must be removed.
USAC Internal Vice President Heather Hourdequin said she changed the video’s privacy settings after she consulted administrators about concerns over councilmembers’ safety. Hourdequin said she removed the entire video instead of just the footage of the questioning because she wasn’t sure how to edit it.
“All councilmembers need to be transparent and vocal about their opinions on the council table, but above all else, we are students and we are people,” Hourdequin said. “We shouldn’t be afraid of walking home and someone hurting us.”
After a student received death threats in response to her words at a controversial divestment-related meeting last year, the Daily Bruin took down a short portion of its footage. The student was not a councilmember and spoke during “good and welfare” at the end of the nearly 12-hour meeting.
Hourdequin said administrators told her they think this incident set a precedent for making all of the Feb. 10 footage private.
Haq said the hate mail she received in response to her questioning at the meeting was so severe that she did not feel safe walking around campus.
Some of the people who sent messages to her identified themselves as donors who would cease donating to UCLA until she and other councilmembers resigned, she said. Most of the hate mail she received did not come with identification, and Haq said she would not be surprised if many of the messages were from UCLA students.
Sadeghi-Movahed said she also received death threats and rape threats in emails and that she has reported these threats to university police.
Other messages were sent to her email, Facebook and Twitter account. Some of these criticisms used hateful language, including expletives and pejoratives.
Most of the hate mail was from people outside the UCLA community, and she said she thinks they have come from all over the country.
“It’s to the point where this story has been so exaggerated that I’ve been dehumanized in a way that most people don’t think our apology was genuine,” Sadeghi-Movahed said. “I was okay with (the video) staying up to be quite honest, but it becomes an infringement on our safety when other outlets take it and manipulate it into a different narrative.”
Haq said she thinks that she and other councilmembers have been misrepresented by news outlets who did not reach out to them before publishing their names, and by Chancellor Gene Block, who issued a campuswide email calling councilmembers unfair without reaching out to them for explanations beforehand.
Singh said he also received death threats following the meeting. He said he has received hate mail using racist language in the past, but he had never been threatened before. He did not report the threats to UCPD.
Roth said she has also been threatened, but she could not disclose the nature or severity of all the threats because she has not read all of them. This is the first time she has received hate mail, she added.
Haq said this is also the first time she has received hate mail and that it has only gotten worse since the video was taken down. She did not address the USAC Live! video when reporting concerns for her safety and did not ask for it to be taken down, she added.
“It’s a lose-lose situation, really,” Haq said. “If you don’t take down the video, it’s just going to grow more and more. If you do take it down, people get angry.”
She added that she thinks the media attention on councilmembers criticized for questioning Beyda’s appointment is interfering with the council’s ability to focus on their work and other issues such as tuition hikes and higher education.
Hourdequin said she plans to discuss the video and USAC Live! bylaws at the next council meeting to determine whether procedural guidelines should be established for a video’s removal.