Editor’s note: This is one of four profiles that has been published on candidates for ASUC President. Stories on DeeJay Pepito and Jason Bellet appeared in print and online Monday.
Rafi Lurie knows something about small beginnings.
From kindergarten through 12th grade, the Student Action presidential candidate attended the same small school, graduating as part of a class of just 47 students.
Arriving at his first Chem 1A class on his first day at UC Berkeley, Lurie was overwhelmed by the hundreds of students cramming into a single lecture hall.
Born in London to South African parents, Lurie grew up in San Diego with his two younger brothers, Josh and Daniel. All three of them attended the San Diego Jewish Academy, where Lurie served as student body president during his senior year.
“Needless to say, the student government at my school did not have the resources they needed to provide for our student body, and moreover, it didn’t really do anything,” Lurie said during a presentation at the Berkeley Political Review last week.
It is a story he has told many times over the last week to crowds and to individuals on Sproul Plaza. He stands tall when he tells it, and it’s well rehearsed. For the next five minutes, the sophomore and intended electrical engineering and computer sciences major shows the audience that he takes his ASUC presidential bid seriously. He talks about his platforms aimed at revitalizing college spirit, engaging the new chancellor and making the university more accountable to students.
“Lurie doesn’t campaign for the numbers but to make real connections with the student body,” said Joey Lam, Student Action party chair.
Lurie knows about small beginnings but says he has big plans for Berkeley and believes in the importance of his platforms and, above all, the importance of diversity.
“Diversity is what makes life exciting, and so really experiencing that in my high school, having been with people of all different beliefs and creating a community where we could work together and co-exist together, is an experience I will take from high school onto the college campus as ASUC president,” Lurie said.
But his commitment to certain campus communities has come under fire recently following his controversial decision to vote against a senate bill aimed at improving the position of victims of sexual assault on campus.
Despite being listed as co-sponsor of SB 130 at one point, Lurie decided to vote against the bill — along with four other Student Action senators — after listening to Senator Rosemary Hua, a victim of sexual assault, state that she had concerns with the bill.
CalSERVE Senator Klein Lieu, who co-authored the bill, said he was shocked when Lurie voted against it on the floor.
“I would imagine that somebody that sponsors a bill, regardless of party, would advocate for it,” Lieu said. “He did completely the opposite.”
Lieu said he believes that Lurie’s change of heart was a result of both party politics — as all who voted against the bill were members of Student Action — and an attempt to remain on the good side of the campus administration.
In all, five Student Action senators voted against the bill, three voted to support the bill and one abstained.
“It is clear to me that certain elected officials — especially those running for this year’s campaign — are too afraid to stand up, and Rafi is one of them,” Lieu said.
Lurie has defended his controversial vote on the measure, claiming he believed the bill did not satisfy people who had been sexually assaulted.
“I voted no because there are members of the senate who are survivors of sexual assault that did not feel comfortable with the bill and wanted to work with our administration to rework the language,” he said.
Lurie said he wants to engage in a proactive process to ensure that UC Berkeley students feel safe from sexual assault.
Lam emphasized Lurie’s attempts to reach out to all sections of the community, including the students of the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition, a community of students whose views may be contrary to those of Lurie, an Orthodox Jew.
Lurie is well-known as an active member of UC Berkeley’s Jewish community. Not only does he keep kosher, but at the end of last year, he was involved in setting up Friday services at the Hillel Center.
“If Rafi’s not at Friday dinner, he will definitely be at Friday service,” said Liza Raffi, a senate candidate with Student Action and a member of Hillel. “He’s always around.”
For Lurie, the issue of inclusivity has been a primary driver behind his campaign.
“I don’t want any student to ever feel like they are alone on this campus,” Lurie said. “I want them to know that as ASUC president, I am here to represent them — to make sure their voices are heard.”