Throughout the history of the University of California, the UC Board of Regents have consistently turned a blind eye to issues facing Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian, or AMEMSA, communities. From UC Santa Cruz lecturer Tammi Benjamin, who last year publicly claimed that Muslim Student Associations were allied with terrorist groups, to the deafening lack of administrative response toward spying on UC students on educational visits to the Middle East by right-wing political advocacy group AMCHA, to the administration’s failure to protect students from racially charged intimidation campaigns intended to silence their political participation, the Board of Regents have done little to protect UC students from systematic discrimination.
The campus climate report ordered under then-UC president Mark Yudof in 2012 revealed how ineffective the administrators have been in creating a safe learning environment for these students. The responses submitted within the survey to the statement “Students of my religion are respected on this campus,” show Muslim students felt their religion was the least respected when compared to all other religions on UC campuses, finding it hard to acquire prayer spaces, halal food and student development offices.
The UC system is part of a larger narrative of the failure of public institutions to protect AMEMSA communities and to further institute racist and discriminatory policies such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, where the FBI covertly monitors prominent Muslim Americans. We have also seen it in recent revelations of systematic NSA spying on Muslim Americans, as well as in Peter King’s McCarthy-esque congressional hearings on whether Muslims are a “threat” to American society and if so what to do about them.
This week’s confirmation hearing for student regent-designate nominee Avi Oved brings these issues to the forefront. In 2013, as a candidate for student government office, Oved participated in a system of soliciting outside funding for student elections. One of the central figures in this funding scheme was Adam Milstein, a real estate magnate who runs the Adam and Gila Milstein Foundation, which espouses right-wing pro-Israel views. When these facts were revealed, students uncovered dozens of insulting, noxious and vitriolic public statements by Milstein, expressing his hateful attitudes toward the AMEMSA community. These issues were shocking enough to cause the UC Student Association to vote to pause Oved’s nomination, but as of this writing, the regents have not seen fit to acknowledge or address it. In an interview with the Daily Bruin, after a UCSA public hearing in which dozens of students voiced concern about the Islamophobic nature of Milstein’s political views, Oved said, “I (did) not do anything wrong. I am proud that there are those who want to support our causes. I don’t regret getting that support.”
The fact that the student regent-designate nominee worked so closely with an outspoken bigot is disturbing. It sends a clear message that bigotry against our communities is perfectly acceptable in our university system.Take just one of many examples of Milstein’s vitriol — he praised the election of Narendra Modi in India as a victory for an “anti-Muslim” politician. This type of hate speech affects the students of the AMEMSA communities and having a student regent associated with a hateful individual such as Milstein is supporting the claim that not all students matter in the UC system.
What happens at the university will eventually be what happens on a broader state and national political level. If bigotry against the AMEMSA community continues to be acceptable at the University of California, then there is no reason to expect that in the future, discriminatory policies, surveillance, congressional witch-hunts and other attacks against the AMEMSA community will continue to operate unchecked. Sensing this, and outraged over the regents’ undemocratic actions toward the UCSA and student body, students across the state are mobilizing to push back against this nomination.
Earlier this month, the UCSA voted to postpone this nomination in light of student concerns. While the regents have chosen to ignore that vote, the public outrage regarding this issue is only growing. Students have issued a call for the regents to be held accountable for the decisions they make for the University of California. Within hours of its circulation, more than 200 students signed onto a petition calling for Oved’s resignation. Student organizations and coalitions representing communities of color see the danger in having a student regent who puts campaign finances over the students he represents and call on the Board of Regents to take action. It is time for the regents of the University of California to start doing their job and serve the students of this public institution. As students of the university in support of an equal education for all students of color and backgrounds, we are obliged to say, Avi Oved is not our student regent.