It behooves someone, perhaps a university president or chancellor, to explain why a racist chant from the fraternity brothers at the University of Oklahoma’s (UO) Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) is bigotry but the student council actions at UCLA is not. While interviewing Rachel Beyda to confirm her nomination for membership on the Undergraduate Students Association, a variety of prejudicial questions regarding her religion stunned her and anyone who listened to the proceedings. Why is UCLA viewing their campus incident simply, in the words of the UCLA Chancellor, as a “teaching moment” and not as something more indicative of a blistering sore of prejudice that is growing on their campus?
Both incidents were caught on tape and both widely circulated, though the UCLA video was recently removed from Youtube. Both incidents are horribly biased against campus minorities and both justifiably required swift reactions. At the UO, the SAE fraternity was immediately shuttered and the students residing there were evicted after hateful songs sung by the fraternity brothers were publicized. There were further promises of actions against the students who took part in the racist chanting directed against African-American students. The Chancellor of UO also promised the implementation of a variety of educational programs university wide to teach cultural sensitivity and diversity not just for those involved.
At UCLA Ms. Beyda was questioned with items drawn directly from the old anti-Semitic/anti-Jewish canards like “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?” Apparently, the UCLA Student Council believes Jewish students cannot be trusted. The implication of bias not unlike the old courtroom ruse that is prohibited – “So Mr. X, when did you stop beating your wife?” In this case, “So Ms. Beyda when was the last time you voted correctly?” – if you are Jewish, according to the Council members, it must mean that you are always voting wrong.
The UCLA Student Council event took place February 10 and while it was publicized on some Jewish sites, what took place at that meeting was not widely reported until early March. On the UCLA campus, though, the event has sparked a serious debate about the relative impunity those who choose to attack Jewish students have while other minorities are treated with more respect, at least overtly.
On the UO campus, there are likely not too many Jewish students and the issue of Israel or other Jewish related issues are not likely to be a source of much concern. On the UCLA campus, the Student Council passed a resolution after only a second vote in support of the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. So affiliation as a Jew apparently equates to being in support of all of Israel’s policies at UCLA, and all of Israel’s policies are considered, by the Student Council, dangerous and to be shunned. It is impressive that students can be so self-assured, convinced that they know what is best even before learning options.
How is it that bigotry has different standards for different cultural or religious groups? The simple answer is that groups more willing to take a stand against their being on the receiving end of discrimination are more likely to be heard, more likely to demand action against the intolerance and lack of respect and understanding directed at them.
I completely support the actions taken so far against SAE by the University of Oklahoma and hope that the administration implements even further penalties and educational interventions. I hope that the UCLA administration can see the issue on their campus for what it is – pure bigotry – a discrimination that is thousands of years old and rapidly creeping in across the UCLA student body. Barry Kosmin, a researcher at Trinity College and co-author of a recent study about college anti-Semitism found that this anti-Jewish bias is increasing across campuses in the US. Professor Kosmin is quoted as saying that the bias directed at Ms. Beyda is egregious and illegal. He is correct but in my estimation, that is an under-statement. Not only is it egregious and illegal it is immoral, unethical and dangerous to the fabric of humanity. We all should take a stand against anti-Semitism and other racial ethnic and cultural bigotry.