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Submission: We should look past resentment, work toward reconciliation

By Danny Siegel

May 10, 2017 1:23 a.m.

Our university is supposed to provide an environment for personal discovery, rigorous questioning and intellectual development. At least that’s what I was told when I arrived. Yet with just weeks to go before I graduate, I find myself asking a simple question:

What just happened?

Let me acknowledge that a photo taken of me a year ago flashing a gang sign was stupid and immature. I have apologized privately and publicly, and I do so again now. It is hardly appropriate to draw any attention to or make light of organizations whose daily activities include violence, fear and death.

I also acknowledge the right of students to criticize my actions and voice their thoughts and concerns. But some students are using this to tear down the rules of civil engagement and threaten, intimidate and bully those they disagree with. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what transpired last week.

Serving as the Undergraduate Students Association Council president has been the greatest honor of my life because it required me to serve every student on campus, not just the ones who agreed with me and those who voted for me. I embraced the commonality and universality of my mission because it is who I am, and how I was raised. True, there were times when I didn’t think I could handle it – not because the job was too tough, or the responsibilities too broad, but because of circumstances back home.

Coming from Long Beach, California, 30 miles south of Westwood, I have to stay close to home. My dad worked as an industrial hygienist at the Los Angeles Unified School District. After 25-plus years of service, he was laid off due to budget cuts. Around the same time, my mother’s multiple sclerosis – a neurological degenerative disease which caused her to slowly lose all nervous functions – rendered her quadriplegic, unable to move and perform basic daily functions. I am proud of my dad for taking care of her full-time, and grateful to the rest of my family for helping us throughout this tough period. I’m also appreciative for the student loans and financial aid that have allowed me to pursue higher education.

My own personal situation has taught me to better empathize with those facing adversity, because of what I’ve been dealing with at home. I won’t claim in the slightest to understand all forms of adversity, but a tough situation is a tough situation, and the difficulty I’ve had with my own personal circumstance has been a major guiding force towards shaping my own worldview. Sometimes I miss the mark. We all do. But I always try to push forward, for my parents who cannot, and for communities across campus who cannot.

But recently this has become painfully ironic. Over the last year, and particularly in the last week as USAC president, I have been subjected to the taunts and attacks of people condemning me for my lack of perspective on the basis of my race.

As for civility and respect on campus, we seem to have lost our way. The USAC meeting on May 2 felt like a disappointing representation of the torrent of righteous intolerance that we sadly see on campuses nationwide. Some of the students assembled in Kerckhoff 417 practiced the exact intolerance they criticized.

Some claimed I was “silencing” students when I tried to uphold our bylaws, after verbally disrupting the meeting for hours, and physically prevented me from leaving the room because I wouldn’t accede to demands to declare myself or my actions “racist.” I agree with the need to step aside, to give a platform to voice frustrations, especially those who historically have not had a platform to voice them, but I do not agree with prioritizing resentment and intolerance. We cannot abandon the basic human respect for others we are taught to uphold.

It didn’t end there. I received a flurry of threats on social media that required both UCPD and administrative intervention. No student, on any campus, should feel as though their physical safety is in jeopardy. It’s not resentment we need on UCLA’s campus. It’s reconciliation. And then, more importantly, a commitment to collective action.

Let me be clear: Reconciliation, forgiveness and empathy alone aren’t enough.

This past week has brought into focus the reality of gang violence, just a few miles from our campus, which is ignored because of the complex economic, racial and societal conditions that promote this behavior. What’s happening right here on the streets of Los Angeles isn’t just about white vs. black vs. Latino. But it is prudent that we acknowledge how communities of color are disproportionately affected by gang violence.

It’s easy to shout people down with righteous indignation at USAC meetings – and then celebrate for acting so tough. It makes hecklers feel good because they get to disrupt. But the problem isn’t solved, the neighborhoods will continue to face challenges, and innocent youths will die.

So I have a simple question: Are we here to shout, or here to work? Is our goal to create a public outcry to do more about gangs in Los Angeles, or is it just to intimidate people we take issue with on campus? If we really want to do something about gangs in Los Angeles, let’s do it. Together. What started as an airing of frustrations by disaffected members of our community sadly devolved into racial blaming and scapegoating. It is the bias of bigotry – and UCLA deserves better.

The goal of this “resentment” toward the other, or the unlike, has become intimidation. The result has been to intimidate everyone into silence, and stifle honest conversation. Instead of resentment, let us try reconciliation.

Danny Siegel is a fourth-year political science student and the president of the 2016-2017 Undergraduate Students Association Council.

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