The moral outrage and indignation from the video of a racist chant sung by the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter is well justified. The now-shuttered UO chapter obviously failed to live up to SAE’s moral code of “The True Gentleman” and will now suffer the consequences from their peers and the public on and off campus. OU President David Boren was quick to denounce SAE without holding any punches:
“To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves “Sooners.”
While the SAE chapter’s racist song has caught the attention of Americans across the country this week (especially on social media), last week an entirely different episode of bigotry was captured on video at another public university. At UCLA, a well-qualified nomination for the student council’s Judicial Board was originally rejected solely due to her being Jewish. Immediately after introducing herself to the council and listing her qualifications for the position, Rachel Beyda was subject to the following from a council member: “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?”
For the next forty minutes of debate, members of the student council simultaneously praised Ms. Beyda for her strong qualifications and academic performance, while continuing to question if she could “set her Judaism aside” to prevent any “biased views” in her position. Despite protestations from some council members that questioning a nominee about her faith is inappropriate – more like reprehensible and shameful – the council voted to reject Rachel’s nomination. Only after a faculty advisor explained that being Jewish and belonging to Jewish student groups is not a conflict of interest, the council revisited the nomination and confirmed Ms. Beyda.
The singling out of a Jewish student for questions about how her Judaism should disqualify her from a position on her school’s judicial board speaks volumes about the nationwide return of antisemitism to college campuses. The cruel treatment Ms. Beyda suffered at the hands of her student council hearkens back to a time when Jews were restricted via racial quotas from colleges, barred from certain professions, and inherently viewed as fifth columnists who would betray their country at the drop of a hat. Three of the four student council members that questioned and voted against Ms. Beyda solely due to her Judaism apparently are involved with UCLA’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement (BDS). As demonstrated by the video of Ms. Beyda’s confirmation hearing – where Israel was not mentioned once but “Jewish” was many times – the premise that BDS’s hatred and demonization of Israel has nothing to do with antisemitism is wearing thin.
Comparing the fallout from the UCLA incident to the SAE video shows another interesting point: blatant antisemitism is not treated with the same moral outrage as blatant racism against black Americans. Instead of the sharp-tongued condemnation that SAE got from their president, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block’s response is that his student council’s lack of impartiality was “morally unacceptable”…but ultimately, a “teaching moment…I think they [the student council] all learned about what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.” A teaching moment, really? You’re telling me that college students – adults between the ages of nineteen and twenty-two – still need to be “taught” that questioning and rejecting a candidate on the sole basis of her Judaism is “not acceptable?” So far, I have seen no social media outrage, nor have my fellow college students condemned this like they condemned SAE. While a few press outlets have reported on the story, they gave way more coverage to the SAE video this week than the UCLA video last week. I make these points not to diminish how awful the SAE video is, but only to argue that the UCLA incident deserves equal attention, anger, and action. Antisemitism is just as bad as racism, and vice-versa.
As students at a state-funded university, the council members that engaged in an antisemitic manner towards Ms. Beyda are protected by the same First Amendment rights that SAE’s OU chapter has (Gitlow v. New York, (1925)). They cannot be expelled by UCLA, and while President Boren expelled two SAE students today, that could cause a potential legal battle at OU. That said, as an official representative body of UCLA, the student council discriminating on the basis of religion or ethnicity should not be tolerated. Because the Student Council is composed of members elected by the student body, they cannot be removed by the University like OU disaffiliating their SAE chapter. However, the council members responsible for this incident have certainly violated their Oath of Office, which mentions that a member must “…promote, maintain, and extend the worth, value, and name of the University of California.” Antisemitism certainly diminishes the name and worth of UCLA, in my opinion. My only question now is: how would the university and society at large have reacted if the nominee in question was rejected because they were black, or gay, or Muslim?