University News

UCLA student council catches heat for questioning Jewish candidate

By
University News Editor
Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Undergraduate Students Association Council at the University of California at Los Angeles has come under fire for inappropriately questioning a Jewish candidate for the Student Judicial Board and subsequently removing a video of the Feb. 10 meeting from its website, the Huffington Post reported.

The USAC asked student Rachel Beyda about whether she could be “unbiased” while being “a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community” and if she held “any political affiliations that could cause a conflict of interest” were she to be elected to the position. Beyda had been nominated by USAC President Avinoam Baral, who tells USAC members in the video that he does not “think that’s a question we’d feel comfortable asking other students,” according to the Huffington Post.

Video recordings of the meetings are typically published on the group’s website. After the video had been taken down, the university responded to requests for its republication, informing interested parties that the decision to take it down had been made by USAC’s internal vice president’s office. Minutes from the meeting show the vote on accepting Beyda changed from 4-4 to unanimous after USAC was presented with its conflict of interest policy, which reflected that Beyda’s religious identity was not, in fact, a possible conflict of interest, the Huffington Post reported.

“No student should feel threatened that they would be unable to participate in a university activity because of their religion,” wrote UCLA Chancellor Gene Block in a campus-wide email following the incident, the Huffington Post reported.

 

  • Jenny Librero

    As I watched the full UCLA student council video, i couldn’t help but imagine myself in her place. Here is this beautiful young woman, a high achiever, more than qualified for the position; an almost perfect candidate who had been interviewed and vetted and then formally recommended. It’s the sort of rote confirmation process that usually takes 5 minutes, that’s normally kind of an anticlimactic formality, the real work having been done earlier in recommendation process.

    She’s really charismatic, when she wants something she doesn’t fail a lot. And she WANTS this, it’s a big deal and will make a real difference in her future academic career. She’s always been a serious student, worked hard and maybe now she’s about to take a big leap forward in her academic path.

    She steps into the room, introduces herself: hi, I’m Rachel Beyda, sophomore, studying economics with the goal of attending law school. Her words turn up just the tiniest bit at the end in a way that lets you know that while she seems polished, she’s a little nervous. She clasps her hands together so she won’t fidget. The other students on the council are mostly upperclassmen; she hopes they like her. She hopes she sounds knowledgeable and calm and competent.

    She finishes her brief introduction, and the president asks in a semi disinterested way (so you can tell he isn’t really thinking that anyone will bother to respond) if anyone on the council has any questions for Rachel. Oh wait, there is a sudden stir in the room, a few of the students lean forward. In fact, there’s no real pause at all between the question being asked and the time a hand immediately shoots up. Rachel stands before them, the seated UCLA student council, her hands folded, and focuses on the blond girl, seated halfway down the large conference table on the right, and waits for the question. And then, and then….

    “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view …?”

    How her heart must have dropped.

    How does a hopeful, ambitious young person respond to that? Not just the surface question, “how can you, Rachel…..” but the other, ugly question lurking beneath it….how can JEWS truly be unbiased, be trusted, be simply that which they appear? But, oh she wants the position, her adrenaline is flowing, she just needs to find the words – she probably doesn’t even have time to think about the question being antisemitic or inappropriate or that rather it isn’t a question at all, but an accusation. Instead she’s focusing on what she can say to convince them she can do this, can certainly be unbiased. That she, Rachel, is not a duplicitous person with a hidden agenda, a shifty manipulator out for political profit, but a student eager to gain valuable experience and credentials for soon to come law school applications.

    What does she say? These people don’t know her. This question isn’t even about her, about Rachel. What can she tell them, what are the words? They only know that she is a Jew. This ancient question has trapped millions before her; this is a test that can only be failed.

    She is asked to leave the room.

    For 40 minutes,she paces back and fourth in front of the door that now separates her from the other students. They are discussing her possibilities, the possibilities that can safely be allowed to Jews, the possibilities with which they can be trusted. A few times she hears muffled shouts, the word “conflict”, and she knows that despite her attempts to explain to them she knows what conflicts of interest are, and how to excuse herself from one, to explain that she would be administering existing regulations and not forming personal policies, she must have somehow failed to reassure them about her….well….her Jewishness. With each passing minute it’s worse, the sour-roller-coaster-drop-feeling that flooded her stomach when that girl, the small blond one with the malicious chin, had lifted her eyebrows and launched her question. Then the others that had followed, pelting her. Other similar questions, from the members of the student council that didn’t quite meet her eyes as she stood before them, hoping for confirmation….

    Jew. Jewish. Given that you are Jewish…..