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Students air views on USAC’s student engagement, diversity at town hall

Members from the Undergraduate Students Association Council held a town hall discussion Friday to address students’ concerns and questions about student government. (Kristie-Valerie Hoang/Assistant Photo editor)

By Omar Said

December 2, 2017 4:46 pm

Students called on undergraduate student leaders to better engage with and listen to their concerns at a town hall meeting Friday.

At the “What Happened to Student Government?” town hall, students shared their concerns about political participation, meal plans, campus improvements and other issues. Several students at the town hall asked what Undergraduate Students Association Council members were doing to increase student participation in USAC, referencing low voter turnout in recent elections.

The USAC Office of the President and UCLA’s Office of Residential Life hosted the town hall, and USAC council members, Associated Students UCLA directors and On-Campus Housing Council members attended the event.

Academic Affairs Commissioner Divya Sharma said he thinks many students do not know what USAC is and added the council should do more to engage students. He added he thinks the fact that relatively few students attended the event demonstrates that students are disconnected with USAC. About 40 students attended the event.

“The lack of people here says a lot about what people think about USAC – they don’t care.” Sharma said. “They don’t know what it is.”

USAC External Vice President Chloe Pan said she thinks it is important that students also participate in local and state politics and encouraged students to engage with the Westwood Forward coalition, a group of students and home and business owners pushing for a new neighborhood council for Westwood.

Several students who attended the town hall said they think USAC is not diverse enough.

Isaiah Njoku, a third-year sociology student, said he thinks a Daily Bruin submission written by Kyle Norris, the appointments director for the USAC Office of the President, attacked mother organizations, which represent historically marginalized communities on campus.

Norris’ submission argued council members challenged the office’s appointees because of their affiliation with Bruins United, while the Academic Affairs Commission’s appointees were not challenged despite many being affiliated with mother organizations. Council members make appointments to a variety of campus entities, and some of these appointments, such as to the ASUCLA Board of Directors, receive stipends.

“Do you think that writing an op-ed bashing mother organizations will hurt Bruins United in the upcoming elections?” Njoku said at the town hall, addressing his question to USAC President Arielle Mokhtarzadeh.

Mokhtarzadeh declined to answer Njoku’s question at the town hall but said she thinks individuals are taking parts of the submission out of context. She added she would be willing to answer his question in private after the town hall.

“If we pick bits and pieces out of articles for our own political purposes, we aren’t creating a unified cohesive environment for students’ voices,” she said.

Several students said they think UCLA should introduce more meal plan options on campus and asked why their swipes do not carry as much value at campus restaurants as they do on the Hill. Students can trade one meal swipe for a $2.45 meal voucher they can use at ASUCLA-owned restaurants on campus.

Justin Jackson, USAC general representative 3, said many students have consistently asked to be able to use swipes on campus.

“Having swipes on campus is a huge elephant in the room when USAC and OCHC meet with ASUCLA,” he said. “We are waiting for OCHC to facilitate an initiative that would allow that to happen.”

[Related Link: Avvalzameer Bhatia: UCLA should offer an on-campus location that accepts meal plan swipes]

Mokhtarzadeh said she thinks the Hill’s dining halls and on-campus restaurants need to include more halal options.

“As a Jewish student who eats kosher, I did not want to live on the Hill because I ate so much tofu the first year, and I am working to make sure that there are better kosher and halal options in Ackerman Union,” she said.

General Representative 1 Nicole Corona Diaz encouraged more students to apply for positions in the undergraduate student government and directly engage with USAC council members.

“As a general representative, my office isn’t tied to any specific thing when deciding what to do, so that means that there’s no limit to what we can or can’t do, so I really encourage everyone to approach me on what you need,” she said.

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Omar Said | Senior staff columnist
Said was an assistant Opinion editor from 2018-2019. He previously contributed as an opinion columnist for the section and writes about issues surrounding diversity and student life. He also manages the Daily Bruin's various podcasts.
Said was an assistant Opinion editor from 2018-2019. He previously contributed as an opinion columnist for the section and writes about issues surrounding diversity and student life. He also manages the Daily Bruin's various podcasts.
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