Op-ed: Amid uncertain times and an upcoming election, be mindful in choosing your words
Dean for Students Maria Blandizzi has been in higher education for 20 years and she’s never seen a crisis like the coronavirus. However, she worries that the rhetoric on social media surrounding the student government elections has been increasingly toxic during this pandemic. (Daily Bruin file photo)
May 1, 2020 8:52 p.m.
I have been the dean for students at UCLA for five years, and a higher education professional for 20 years. In all my years serving the University of California, I have never witnessed what we are currently experiencing. A global pandemic has necessitated unprecedented changes to how we operate UCLA, as we try to hold on to some semblance of community amid these massive shifts and the emotional turmoil they bring.
While the hills of Westwood never truly protected us from the biases of the outside world, the online environment is even less suited to do so.
In just the past few weeks, we have received reports of classes, community spaces and meetings being “Zoombombed.” While racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, transphobia or any other form of discrimination is not new, in this time it compounds the harm caused by constantly living on high alert. This is unacceptable.
To the extent that we can identify the students engaged in these activities, we will take them through the procedures outlined in the Student Conduct Code. If you witness or experience and incident of bias, we ask that you report it here.
As I look ahead at the rest of spring quarter, I am concerned that these feelings of frustration and distrust will grow as we approach the undergraduate student government elections. Social media threads are brimming with lively discussion that too often turns into vitriolic attacks against specific students. Again, this is not new. But in this new world, it compounds the fear and anxiety students are already experiencing.
While we must not shy away from truthful, intellectually honest, rigorous debate, we must always pursue a politics of persuasion – not one of coercion. While the happiness or sadness of winning or losing these races will eventually subside, the impact of our words and actions on others will not. And while the university was built to be a home to healthy, and often heated, discussion, it was also designed as a place where all of us can falter, learn and grow. We must give each other the permission to be fallible, to make mistakes and to learn from them.
And we cannot let our desire to do what we truly believe is best for our community turn us into bigots; that is too high a price to pay for a seat on the council table.
While university administrators cannot and should not influence the outcomes of the election, I would like to remind you that just because you can say or do something does not mean you should say or do it. Content posted on the internet may go viral in ways you did not anticipate and follow you for years to come. Before engaging on social media, I ask that you pause and consider the impact of your words.
If this time has taught us anything, it is that crisis can bring the best and worst out of each of us. I hope this upcoming election brings out the best in our student community.
Blandizzi is the dean for students at UCLA.