Friday, September 12, 2014

A Lesson in Life and Academia from the (Student) Regents

UC’s Two Student Regents—one Muslim, the other Jewish—Seek Common Ground

By Katherine Seligman
Sitting around a table together is about to get even more symbolic. For the first time, two students, one Muslim and one Jewish, will sit together as the two student members of the University of California’s Board of Regents when the board meets in San Francisco later this month. One voted against the other’s appointment and both faced opposition and hard feelings when they were named to what remains, to many, an obscure post on UC’s system-wide governing body.

Their unprecedented roles will unfold against a backdrop of continued fiery conflict in the Middle East—a volatility that has incited passion and protest at U.S. campuses and perhaps particularly at UCs. It has inspired some pro-Palestinian students to stage mock harassment “checkpoints” on campus, some pro-Israeli students to sue the university for permitting what they called a “hostile environment,” and both sides to face off over a campaign demanding divestment in companies doing business with Israel.

“It’s not a secret that we have different views, but as long as you conduct yourself with integrity, that’s all that matters,” says Sadia Saifuddin, a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in social welfare. As a second-year regent, she is now a full voting member of the board. “I think it’s how we have conversation that matters. I’m not stopped by working with someone who feels differently from me.”

Abraham “Avi” Oved, a senior majoring in economics at UCLA, is a first-year regent-designate, meaning he will attend meetings but can’t yet vote. He wants to put the controversy behind him. Despite pro-Palestinian student protests around his bid to be a regent and Saifuddin’s vote against his otherwise unanimous approval by the regents, he says he considers her a mentor and looks forward to working with her on a shared list of concerns affecting all UC students.

“She is brilliant and I have a lot to learn from her,” he says. “A lot of people like to focus on that fact she voted against my appointment, but I like to focus on how we want to work together. I want to move forward.”

How exactly will that work? The two will tour all the UC campuses together in the coming year. They will listen to students and see firsthand how policies on finance, tenure and planning are carried out. And they already share a commitment to some of the same issues: prevention of sexual violence, and making college accessible to a wider group of students...

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