Submission: USAC needs to reset priorities
By Evan Moffitt
Feb. 26, 2014 12:00 a.m.
Since September I have been director of community engagement for the General Representative 3 office of the Undergraduate Students Association Council. In this capacity I have been responsible for overseeing one of General Representative Lizzy Naameh’s platforms. The following is my letter of resignation from the USAC General Representative 3 office, effective immediately.
I joined USAC because I wanted to make a positive change on the UCLA campus. After being involved with numerous campus organizations during my last three years here, I felt that only USAC, equipped with legislative authority over student fees and a vast wealth of resources, could launch enduring programs capable of changing students’ lives and improving campus climate.
Time and time again, I was disappointed by councilmembers’ misplaced priorities. In meetings, instead of being asked what students needed and how we could help them, we were lectured on military aid in the Pacific and Israeli policies in Gaza. Instead of focusing on how to improve our own university, members of USAC insisted we focus on global political issues over which we had no sway.
Many sitting members of council are self-described “activists.” While I applaud their activism, the council table is not the place for it. They were elected to be leaders, and that means making legislative decisions that will benefit all the students they represent. It does not mean reducing USAC to a soapbox from which to broadcast divisive opinions that divide campus communities and force students to pick sides against each other.
The recent debate over divestment from companies that profit from Israeli occupation is but one example of a startling trend in USAC: Councilmembers have repeatedly passed ringing declarations stating their positions on global politics, rather than working to create substantive change on real campus issues that affect the student body.
Where are we on increasing access to mental health resources? Where are we on helping homeless students? Where are we on improving workers’ rights on campus, or taking proactive measures to ensure our campus is safer for students?
It seems as if these tangible student needs are of no importance to the present council, even though it was elected to meet them; I’ve lifted those few examples from the platforms they ran on.
Instead, we’ve wasted countless hours of precious legislative time debating the job record of the former secretary of Homeland Security, the efficacy of statewide ballot propositions, Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action and peace in the Middle East.
Councilmembers should be reminded that they are neither U.S. Congress nor the United Nations. They are the sole officially sanctioned legislative representatives of the undergraduate student body of UCLA– providing students with lasting programs that affect real and much-needed change is their primary responsibility.
I must emphasize that my resignation has nothing to do with my position on divestment. I respect the views of all Palestinian and Israeli students. Nevertheless, the University of California has made it perfectly clear that not a single cent of UC funds will be divested from companies engaged with Israel unless the U.S. declares that the government is committing acts of genocide.
Since we can all agree that will not happen, we must be clear that Tuesday night’s divestment resolution is nothing more than an empty gesture that can only hurt the Israeli and Jewish communities on campus. Passing the resolution marginalizes Jewish and Israeli students; voting it down ignores the wishes of Palestinian students. There simply is no right answer with divestment– everybody loses. It is an issue, like many others the council has doggedly pursued, that promises only to tear apart a campus councilmembers promised, in taking office, to bring together.
Councilmembers’ egregiously misguided set of priorities is especially offensive given that they have requested almost twice as much pay as previous councils for doing less than half the work. If councilmembers wish to repurpose the student fees we all pay for their own benefit, rather than using them to fund impactful programs or facilitate the operations of UCLA’s more than 1,000 student organizations, they should make sure they’ve earned those scarce funds.
Councilmembers must stop burning bridges and start building them. I hope they will work to reverse a dangerous trend that threatens to replace our only vehicle for student-driven progress with petty partisan politics.
And most of all, I hope that before each councilmember leaves office they remember to put students first. In every action they take, they must ask: What is it that my fellow students need, and how can I better serve that need? How can I help make our university a better, safer and more caring place for all students?
Moffitt is a fourth-year art history student and the former director of community engagement for the General Representative 3 office of the Undergraduate Students Association Council.