Student leaders should organize on political issues
Many students, alumni and community members have questioned the competency of new UC Student Regent-designate Sadia Saifuddin — so much so that they have actively campaigned against her appointment on questionable grounds. A significant portion of the organizers against her appointment have made extremely concerning Islamophobic comments, which shows a need for the progressive community to show our solidarity for Saifuddin as the first Muslim student to be elected into the UC student regent position. As a Berkeley student and chair of UC Berkeley’s longest-standing progressive multicultural coalition, CalSERVE, I am impelled to express my support for her appointment.
It is clear that Saifuddin’s appointment has been largely controversial because of her position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ariel Fridman’s op-ed published by The Daily Californian represents this point. While claiming that the UC sudent regent should “represent all students,” Fridman argues that Saifuddin played a “leading role” in the divestment movement, which she claims to be “anti-Israel.” Fridman’s logic fits into a larger problematic discursive framework around the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and student leadership at the university. The movement to divest funds from corporations complicit in Israel’s illegal military occupation and forced settlements in Palestinian territories is not anti-Israel, and student leaders should not aim to represent all sides on the Israel-Palestinian Conflict or other issues that we care about. I believe a great student leader is defined by the ability to take stances on important political issues even when it is uncomfortable for mainstream society to hear. Saifuddin has done this and should be congratulated on her activism, not condemned.
Like Fridman, I too believe that intentional organizing to foster greater unity and campus climate among various student communities on our campus is extremely important. This includes but is not limited to the Muslim and Jewish student communities. However, I disagree with the idea that neutrality on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is necessary to foster such unity. The reality is that multiple underrepresented communities and allies at UC Berkeley have taken a hard-line position against Israel’s illegal military occupation and forced settlements in Palestinian territories and have mobilized on this issue when the divestment bill was presented this past semester at Cal. If campus climate is dependent on Saifuddin and other student activists to reconsider our commitment to justice in Palestine, then I am afraid that a harmonious campus climate will never be achieved at UC Berkeley and within the larger UC system. I encourage Saifuddin to develop a comprehensive political agenda for students so that we can ensure progress on the issues important to our communities. Conclusively, I respect Sadia Saifuddin as a community leader and campus student activist and look forward to working with her on various student issues.
— Devonte Jackson,
UC Berkeley senior and CalSERVE chair