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Submission: Bruin columnist, SJP used selectively leaked information to accuse GSA

By Milan Chatterjee

Nov. 25, 2015 12:02 a.m.

Aram Ghoogasian’s unfair and inaccurate portrayal of the Graduate Students Association, along with Students for Justice in Palestine’s usage of uncharitable tactics to express concerns with our funding of a Diversity Caucus Town Hall, leave us very worried about the level and style of political discourse at UCLA.

It is important to clarify what actually occurred when I tried to help the Diversity Caucus’ event. When the Diversity Caucus approached me for funding, it had already overcommitted to an almost $7,500 catering bill. At first, other organizations were hesitant to contribute money to this event on the grounds that they felt it lacked credibility, but I truly felt dedicated to promoting diversity and wanted to help assure the event would go smoothly. I persuaded my cabinet to contribute $2,000 in ad hoc funding and then convinced the Undergraduate Students Association Council to co-sponsor the event as well. Because of this GSA-USAC alliance, other organizations joined to sponsor, and the event was a great success.

Unfortunately, the Diversity Caucus has chosen to respond to our support by selectively leaking and misrepresenting information to SJP that has been completely taken out of context.

Ghoogasian and SJP might not know this, but Associated Students UCLA’s Student Interaction Fund prohibits organizations from using funds to support “religious or partisan programming.” With Ghoogasian’s logic, the entire ASUCLA organization – and not the GSA in particular – violates First Amendment rights and should be subject to mass resignation. Since the GSA cabinet was providing ad hoc funding, our stipulation adhered to ASUCLA’s policy by ensuring that we did not use student funds to support a partisan event. So we informed the Diversity Caucus that we cannot financially support a one-sided viewpoint, whether it be Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or any countermovement to BDS. It’s unfortunate that the Diversity Caucus chose to misrepresent this fact to SJP and the greater UCLA community, making it appear as though we were arbitrarily choosing to silence one viewpoint on the issue rather than adhering to ASUCLA’s Student Interaction Fund policy.

What’s even more disappointing is that, instead of engaging in a respectful conversation about its concerns with GSA, or even alerting us of its concerns at all so that we might respond, SJP chose to immediately retain attorneys and have them send us a letter mischaracterizing events. In his opinion piece, Ghoogasian misleadingly claims that I told SJP to reach out to UCLA’s legal team with its concerns so I wouldn’t have to deal with them myself – but he fails to mention that I only did this because SJP had lawyers contact us first, rather than speaking to us directly, thereby bringing matters to the “litigation” level. This bad faith omission of fact confirms that Ghoogasian and SJP’s aim wasn’t to resolve their genuine concerns but to publicly and misleadingly cast the GSA in a poor light.

Ghoogasian, SJP and SJP’s lawyers should not bully student leaders but should instead take their issues to the UCLA administration. Our position is not and has never been that students should not freely voice their beliefs and engage in dialogue. Any legitimate worries about the policies should be voiced and heard, but our efforts and decisions should not be misrepresented in the process.

In this case, the three firms that SJP retained have used their letter – which criticizes us based on an inaccurate picture of events and our positions – in an attempt to gain publicity and unfairly criticize us.

This intention has been highlighted by the fact that, instead of addressing its concerns with GSA or engaging in a dialogue with us directly so that we have the opportunity to clarify our stance and appropriately solve any problems students might have, SJP is focused on circulating this letter to the media.

The GSA works hard to serve the UCLA community and would hope for a good-faith chance to discuss and resolve complaints. It is unfortunate that the Diversity Caucus chose to selectively leak and misrepresent information and that Ghoogasian and SJP have misdirected their disapproval of ASUCLA’s funding policy toward us for our attempts to accord with it.

I’d be happy to resolve any concerns with SJP leaders over a respectful and direct conversation. The GSA knows that not all of our decisions will please everyone at UCLA, but we would have hoped that any concerns be raised directly with us so we would have the opportunity to address them prior to bringing lawyers and publicly circulated misrepresentation of events into the picture. I hope we can all hold ourselves to a dignified level of political discourse. And no, I won’t be resigning as GSA president.

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Milan Chatterjee
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