College orientation is like fishing: you spend half the day waiting for something to latch onto, until you find something that reels you in and leaves you on the tip of your toes. For me, that fish was the student government at the University of California, Riverside. One visit to the Associated Students of UC Riverside (ASUCR) booth was enough to pull me into a year of serving as the First Year Fellow for the ASUCR Office of the President. Since that day, I have been able to work on issues that I knew sought to improve student life. Until recently.
A few weeks ago, a resolution was proposed by the Riverside chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. The resolution called for the removal of Sabra hummus for supposed ties to the Israel Defense Forces and the condemnation of the landmark UC Principles Against Intolerance for the alleged silencing of student activism.
I’m not here to convince you of one side over the other. I’m not Jewish, therefore it is not for me to define anti-Semitism, just as I wouldn’t want anyone who identifies as straight to tell me what is homophobia. However, this resolution is insulting to students like myself who are committed to supporting our students.
Last Wednesday, several dozen students with a diverse perspectives on the issue crowded the ASUCR Senate meeting in the midst of their busy schedules to participate in the process. If the issue was not important, students wouldn’t give up their evening to talk about their views, share their stories, and engage in a critical discussion about a centuries-long conflict. As a student government member, it is my greatest joy to see rooms overflowed with students interested in becoming engaged with the activities and interests within our organization.
Yet, the resolution was initially tabled by the ASUCR Legislative Review Committee because of the lack of citations – and with facts they did provide were proven to be false.
SJP has thus far been unable to prove direct, significant linkage between Sabra and the IDF. If there are no ties, why are we taking time away that could be spent discussing student issues? This isn’t to point any specific organization out, as I would be just as vocal about it whether it was Students for Justice in Palestine or the Bowling Club attempting to pass false resolutions in our student government.
Although the issue at hand is an international conflict that merits discussion and debate within higher education institutions, the resolution’s lack of facts make it impossible to productively engage within the scope and resources of the Association. If Sabra has already been found to have limited ties to the IDF, why are we investing several hours discussing it? No professor would spend an entire class trying to defend a paper preaching that the drought in California isn’t real because notable and credible scientists have already proven that to be true. So why are we taking time away from making tangible change on campus by defending a resolution with no substance?
In fact, on the same day the Senate discussed whether or not to keep Sabra hummus on the shelves, the UC Board of Regents voted on a tuition increase that will affect all undergraduate students. In 2014, we made our stance clear on tuition increases. We organized a sit-in at the Chancellor’s office, we held protests, we made our voice heard in the press and through our activism, and we secured a historic two-year tuition freeze for students.
As an Association, we dropped the ball when it came time to prepare for the vote on a tuition increase, and now we’re faced with the Regents deciding to raise tuition for the first time in six years. Instead of using our resources to educate, mobilize, and empower students to reclaim their university within the limited timeframe we have remaining, we took more than two hours to explain a resolution full of lies, sensationalism, and no credibility.
By passing this resolution, we’re doing three things:
1) Wasting time that could be spent in discussing tuition hikes or mental health advocacy.
2) Charging administration with action items that we have no authority to enforce or oversee, thus diminishing our credibility regarding future negotiations with campus administration.
3) Creating unnecessary controversy on a campus that already distrusts the motives and actions of our Association.
We could spend weeks discussing an issue that is irrelevant to our campus, or we could focus the remaining 16 weeks of the academic year working to create programs and policies that better the student experience.
It is the goal of the ASUCR student government to unify students from all backgrounds – Israeli or Palestinian, political science or microbiology major, first year or graduate student. If we want to reclaim trust in our Senate, we must dedicate our time to the pursuit of factual, reason-based policies that provide clear action steps to move our student government forward, not delay our action by countless meetings, debates, and discussions.