Wednesday, January 29

Op-ed: Unfounded criticisms of USAC erodes possibilities for student empowerment

The Undergraduate Students Association Council has grappled over the past few weeks with how to move forward with its upcoming elections. Intermingled with these discussions are statements made by a few students that the council was “conservative” and a “white majority council,” among other inflammatory accusations. Further, these statements, posts and letters unfairly targeted particular council members and students for actions that were never done and statements that were never said.

These erroneous statements aren’t just confusing and hurtful – they criticize and demoralize the idea of student empowerment through student government. We need to understand the history of USAC and stop perpetuating false notions of what this particular council stands for.

Near its inception, USAC was primarily dominated by programs and events, and was essentially a resume-building platform. It wasn’t until Third World Coalition emerged in the 1960s that progressive students could hold the council accountable and engage in broader social justice issues.

The Third World Coalition led anti-imperialist movements and its efforts led to UCLA’s corporate divestment from apartheid South Africa. Back then, USAC fought strongly against racist admission policies, a lack of ethnic and gender studies departments and UCLA’s ignorance of students’ basic needs. It was the progressive students on this council who were at the forefront of these changes and started to hold administrators to a higher standard.

USAC’s goal had shifted to ensure and uplift the political interests of the community.

Since then, we have seen a rhetorical shift, as various political parties emerged and some USAC members took questionable actions that made communities of color on this campus feel unsafe and targeted. Justifiably so, the council has been criticized and called upon to hold its members to higher standards.

Given this history, members of the community running for USAC knew they would be subject to a high level of scrutiny. I, like many others, came in with that understanding when I assumed my role as general representative 1 this year. After last year’s elections, I was proud of and inspired by the elected members I sat next to as we formed a majority student of color council.

I believed USAC would be more accessible to traditionally marginalized communities and able to build sustainable partnerships with previously excluded communities because the council consisted of independent candidates from a diverse set of campus communities – what was slowly being considered as the de facto to the once-dominant Bruins United slate.

I was inspired by how progressive students had played a part in changing the course of UCLA’s history, and I, as a brown, Muslim and international student, was ready to make an impact of my own and make this space more accessible for communities I come from.

But my time on this council has been characterized by having to choose between being a student of color and an undergraduate representative. I have had to constantly defend my identity and be pitted against other students of color. I have been called a “semiracist,” despite the fact that I have fought racism and Islamophobia as a brown Muslim in this country.

Some groups of students have not only made it uneasy, but also uncomfortable for me to serve in my role. This idea of students of color versus USAC not only undermines this year’s majority student of color council, but also disenfranchises the thousands of hours hundreds of students put in each of the 14 USAC offices.

These unfounded negative opinions of USAC not only discourage students from wanting to be a part of this space, but also create a barrier in bringing about tangible change on campus. The council collectively has access to vast resources and administrators on this campus, which can and should be used to benefit our campus communities. However, alienating USAC members and dehumanizing them via public comments, meetings and social media posts deters students from reaching out to their own student government for support.

We need to realize that when members of the public make an active effort to target council members for baseless reasons, it undermines the integrity and accessibility of the council. We need to hold our elected representatives to higher standards, we need to keep them in check and we need to make sure they are transparent and accessible – but we don’t have to antagonize our elected council.

If we keep pushing progressive students away from a space that they have just reclaimed, stop collaborating with USAC spaces and stop utilizing the resources of the council, we will eventually dissipate the transformative power USAC has to provide for our most vulnerable communities.

Haleem is the 2018-2019 USAC general representative 1.

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