This year’s spring election was surprising to say the least. For the first time in several years, Bruins United, the dominant campus slate, failed to gain a plurality on the Undergraduate Students Association Council. Next year, Bruins United will see its smallest USAC presence yet: only four of the fourteen council members belong to the party – a dramatic decrease from this year’s nine.
So, how does a party with such a strong majority fall into minority within a single year? Is it just “one of those years?” Or is there an underlying reason for their election defeat?
Though some (maybe even most) of the blame falls on them, Bruins United faced insurmountable odds coming into this election cycle. Their election defeat is the culmination of a year full of disappointments, frustrations and a general dissatisfaction with the establishment, both on- and off-campus.
To better understand this upwelling of exasperation felt by the student body, let’s chronicle the past year and see what led to their stunning defeat.
- Nov. 8, 2016: Donald Trump Defeats Hillary Clinton in the Presidential Election
In one of the biggest political upsets in modern history, Donald Trump secured the needed 270 electoral votes to win the presidency – the second time this century the candidate who lost the popular vote would become president. On a campus that overwhelmingly supported Clinton, and stands against basically everything Trump ran his campaign on, it came as no surprise that the campus erupted in protests following Trump’s win.
And though the protests on campus have faded in the recent months, the anger and betrayal still lingers. For many of us, this was the first presidential election in which we cast our ballots, and yet we had never felt more disenfranchised at the end of it. Not only did our votes not matter, we felt like we were screaming into a vacuum, powerless, as women, people of color, immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community were being attacked by a government that is meant to protect us.
- Nov. 29, 2016: UC President Janet Napolitano and California University Leaders Send Trump Letter Urging Him to Preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival
Napolitano, along with California State University Chancellor Timothy White and California Community Colleges Chancellor-Designate Eloy Ortiz, sent a letter to Trump demanding that he preserve DACA and showing support for students who are able to attend college because of the program.
Though this was a meaningful display of solidarity, the lack of tangible action has UCLA students both angered and worried. Rafi Sands, 2016-2017 external vice president and Bruins United member, pledged to help make the UC a sanctuary campus, but his efforts have led to no real results. And whether it’s due to bureaucratic incompetence or an unwillingness to take a stand, the UC’s lack of action is indefensible.
Comforting words and promises are meaningless when there are U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stalking courtrooms and schools, literally hunting undocumented people for deportation. Undocumented students in California and across the United States are not pawns in a political game – they are real people with lives that hang in the balance because the UC refuses to declare itself a sanctuary campus.
- Jan. 9, 2017: UCLA Fails to Punish Alleged Sexual Assaulter Gabriel Piterberg
Winter quarter opened with protests against history professor Gabriel Piterberg, who was accused of sexually assaulting two graduate students in 2013. After a one quarter suspension without pay (during which Piterberg taught at the European University Institute), Piterberg was back and allowed to engage with students as if nothing had happened.
This, compounded with a newly elected president who admitted to sexually assaulting women on tape and the unjust trial of Brock Turner, the Stanford University swimmer who received a three month sentence for raping a young woman, led to fierce and emotional debates on campus.
This is also when UCLA students were able to witness Chloe Pan’s leadership on campus. She, along with other members of the Bruin Consent Coalition, organized protests, telling the administration that they would not tolerate the university protecting an alleged sexual assaulter.
- Jan. 26, 2017: UC Regents In-state Tuition Hike
In the United States, students owe $1.3 trillion in student debt, with a $4,160 debt per capita ratio in the state of California. For the 2017-2018 Academic Year, UCLA tuition will be $13,254 for in-state students and $41,268 for out-of-state students.
Today, those numbers don’t seem too shocking. Debt has become synonymous with a college degree. But, for just a second, we thought Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders might be able to relieve some that debt with their affordable college plans.
Unfortunately for us, this year brought some more unwelcome changes. The UC Board of Regents voted to increase our tuition by 2.5 percent in the coming year, putting yet another undue burden on students.
While the Fund the UC Campaign, organized by the office of the EVP, tried its best to prevent the tuition hike, once again, the complaints of students were drowned out by an establishment that seems to reject our existence. At the moment, it seemed like there was nothing students, faculty or even Chancellor Block could do about rising tuition. But then…
- April 25, 2017: State Audit Finds UC Mismanaging Funds and Overpaying Faculty
Surprise, surprise: the UC has been mishandling funds. State auditors found $175 million in hidden funds, which would be more than enough to cover the tuition hike for all 250,000 students in the UC for the upcoming school year.
Not only are UCs more expensive than most other state schools, some UC employees are grossly overpaid compared to other state employees. According to the Los Angeles Times, an information system manager makes $150,000 at other state agencies, but can make up to $258,000 at the UC.
No matter how grateful we are for the world-renowned education we receive at UCLA, it’s upsetting to watch bureaucrats misappropriate funds while our families are forced to foot the bill. And with no transparent response from USAC, it’s clear to see why students are frustrated with the establishment.
- May 1, 2017: Photo of USAC President Making Gang Sign Leaked
By now, we’ve all heard the story: a picture from last year of USAC President Danny Siegel making a Bloods gang sign was leaked on the eve of the USAC election. This was the nail in the coffin for Bruins United.
Siegel, of course, apologized for the picture, but students’ reactions were just as varied to his apology as they were to the picture itself. Some found his apology sincere and mature, while some thought he was more sorry that the picture was leaked than he was about actually making the sign and still others found it outrageous that he had to apologize for “being white.”
But despite its intention, the picture revived all the problems Bruins United has had in the past: being too self-involved, not being diverse and not serving students to the best of their ability.
And they have to ask themselves: are these not the products of their own actions?
Actions have consequences and that’s what we all saw on May 2. And while it’s hard to face your critics, trying to limit the time individuals – people of color – have to express their grievances with the systematic issues on this campus by calling a recess is not the way solve problems.
Quite frankly, this past year has been tumultuous: we have a president who wants to strip us of our rights, an administration that refuses to make student needs a priority, a board of regents that is keeping secrets and a student government that has left us feeling betrayed.
We needed change desperately; not the surprise tuition hikes kind of change, a Barack Obama kind of change. And with this election, that’s exactly what we got.
Bruins United was voted out because in a year during which we felt like we were losing control, the students we elected to represent us failed to take control of the one thing we can call ours: UCLA.
Yes, they took steps towards our common goals, but these efforts didn’t come to fruition, and rhetoric only gets you so far. At the end of the day, they simply failed to listen.
And after the past year, I think it’s time we all take a moment to listen. Our Black Bruins are hurting. Our Undocumented Bruins are hurting. And we owe them a chance to tell us why so we can work together to help this campus heal.
We saw Let’s Act, Waves of Change and other slates rise and fall while Bruins United remained a UCLA institution.
For the first time in a while, a string of passionate independents took on the establishment – and came out on top.
These candidates won because they proved they were passionate about inciting change, tangible change, throughout campus; their very campaigns were instruments of it.
Bruins United has a lot to learn, and listen to, if they want to come back next year. But as we look forward to next year, let’s look on with hope that we can heal the wounds of our campus.