Student government officials appointed a new election board chair mid-March amid student concerns about comments made by the appointee that some considered to be anti-Semitic.
Kyana Shajari, a third-year psychology student, was appointed election chair by the Undergraduate Student Association Council at its March 12 meeting.
Shajari was formerly the investigative director of the election board, but was appointed as chair to replace former election board chair Richard White and has been involved with USAC since January. USAC removed White from the position a week before Shajari’s appointment.
However, her appointment was a matter of debate among USAC members, who appointed Shajari with a vote of 5-4 and two abstentions, with President Claire Fieldman casting the tie-breaking vote.
During the March 12 hearing, Justin Feldman, a third-year political science and Middle Eastern studies student, raised concerns about a comment previously posted in the profile description on Shajari’s personal Instagram account, which he thought to be anti-Semitic.
Aaron Boudaie, a former Financial Supports commissioner, said he also thought the comment was overtly anti-Semitic. Boudaie added he thought Shajari’s appointment indicated the council does not take anti-Semitic comments as seriously as it might take other types of hate comments.
“I think that this council perhaps is not as educated on the history of anti-Semitism, and that’s why maybe they don’t take it as seriously as other forms of identity-based hatred,” Boudaie said.
Bella Martin, a USAC general representative, said at the March 12 meeting that she shared similar concerns, and asked the council to consider whether they would appoint a candidate who had made comments regarding another racial or ethnic group.
“What if this microaggression in the bio of a candidate were anti-black or anti-Muslim or transphobic?” Martin said. “Through this perspective, would we be kind of accepting apologies? Would we be rationalizing it as like not a big deal, and something that we can kind of claim as ignorance? I would venture to say that we’d be more up in arms.”
Martin ultimately voted against Shajari’s appointment.
Shajari said she sincerely apologized for the previous comment on her profile and said it was originally a misguided attempt to use humor as a defense mechanism.
“It was not meant to be targeted whatsoever, it was just a stupid attempt to defend myself and I could have absolutely done it a different way,” Shajari said. “It was a dumb move.”
Fieldman said in an email statement she thought Shajari demonstrated her ability to learn from her mistakes, and that she was confident the experience will help Shajari foster a positive election environment.
Shajari has been a member of the election board since January and was previously the election board chair and interclub council chair at Santa Monica College.
Shajari said she thought her previous experience with school organizations made her suitable for the position.
“I kind of have some knowledge about the ways elections work, like the dynamics that happen during elections, just because I have the experience at SMC, so I thought I would be a good fit for the election board chair here,” Shajari said.
Fieldman said she recommended Shajari to the council because of her prior experience managing elections, but added since the appointment happened so close to the 2019 election season, Shajari will have to overcome the learning curve very quickly.
“She has been working on the board as investigations director for months now and is directly familiar with the elections process and its demands,” Fieldman said. “She also has a team of board members to support her.”
Shajari said she wants to make sure the 2019 election is incident-free.
“Obviously every chair’s goal is to make things go smoothly and that’s also my goal as well, and I just kind of want to make people feel safe and have people follow the rules, do things the right way and just have a fair, clean, transparent election,” Shajari said.
Before the beginning of spring quarter, some due dates for slate and candidate registration materials were changed from winter to spring quarter so Shajari could receive all the proper election board account credentials in time.
However, Shajari said the 2019 USAC election is set to continue as planned according to the 2019 USAC election calendar. Fieldman said despite the unusual circumstances, she expects the election will continue unaffected.
“Though this appointment was made under extraordinary circumstances, it will not substantively affect the elections calendar that has already undergone USAC confirmation,” Fieldman said.