I experienced a job interview like no other during last week’s Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting. I was interviewing for the position of USAC Election Board chair – the arbiter of student government elections. For nearly three hours, council members questioned my past leadership roles, my affiliations with student organizations and campus departments, and my personal character.
Having been a part of USAC elections before, I understand the election board chair has a significant role on campus that, unfortunately, gets politicized every year. The council’s tough questions are part of ensuring fair elections. This process only works, however, if council members themselves can be trusted to review and question nominees for election board chair without bias.
That wasn’t apparent last week.
This job interview was disheartening. Although most council members agreed I am qualified to serve as the election board chair, some seemed to question my integrity and character for other reasons. For example, my employment at the Community Programs Office was viewed as highly controversial, as if low-income students of color should not be trusted if they are affiliated with a place that serves and affirms their existence.
As a black man, my racial identity will follow me for the rest of my life. Growing up in San Bernardino, California, I was criminalized well before enrolling at UCLA. I will continue experiencing that reality after I graduate. Last week, however, I was disappointed to realize that elected student leaders at a place like UCLA can also showcase racially biased undertones.
Despite the uglier side of student government, I was eventually confirmed as this year’s election board chair. Though I hope no future low-income student of color will experience the level of scrutiny I have, I believe in a vision that someday student government will be truly inclusive for all.
Every student contributes fees to the student association. Therefore, every student regardless of identity and campus affiliation should have the opportunity to participate in our student democracy. I am motivated to lead an election board that will contribute to this vision, from revising the election code that determines how elections should be run to facilitating a safe and fair election in spring quarter.
For example, the election code states that the election board and the Daily Bruin must maintain a strong working relationship, and that the board is a standing committee of the council. However, for many years the campus – members of the Daily Bruin included – have been highly critical of black, Latino, Asian and other minority students who decided to get politically involved. Minority students are deterred from participating in elections, be it because of how the student council behaves or how their fellow students comment on the prospect of minority students running for office.
That racial bias needs to be challenged.
The initial step to ensure a fair election is to have open conversations with the Daily Bruin and USAC to identify areas of concern, especially regarding bias against minority students.
Furthermore, election feasibility is a pressing matter for many students who do not have the means to run for election. I commend last year’s election board for using 10 percent of its budget toward minimal reimbursements to candidates, and look to continue that effort by increasing the reimbursement funding allotment.
These are just some of the apparent issues that have lingered for years and that I will address as election board chair. I welcome every student’s ideas and look forward to the work we will accomplish together to make this year’s student government elections a more inclusive process.
White is a fourth-year political science student and the 2018-2019 USAC Election Board chair.