My Tuition Dollars Are Being Used Against Me
The clank of my keyboard is reduced to a silhouette of office sound. USC’s Program Board, the group responsible for allocating tuition dollars to organize events across campus, is definitely employed by the most zealous students I know. The office oscillates between a tornado and typhoon, bustling with students who push our university forward. I’ve been working here for less than a semester, but it is by far the best job I’ve ever had – and not because of some powerful position I hold; I am a lowly webmaster, or, what I like to call myself, webmistress. But the position’s value lies in my interactions with directors of various assemblies and committees. They are the voice of every type of student – from those who identify as Asian Pacific American to patrons of the performing arts.
As I update webpages, I indulge in my favorite vice: eavesdropping. I’m a writer – I feed off human interaction. Today’s serving is a discussion between the director of the Women’s Student Assembly (WSA) and the Assistant Director of Queer & Ally Student Assembly (QuASA). They’re making plans for the upcoming Palestine Awareness Week. It quickly makes me uncomfortable; I am a Zionist with strong pro-Israel views.
The WSA Director declares how she wants have an event that addresses how well the women are treated in the Gaza Strip, because they are always making the excuse that Palestinians abuse their women.
They? Does she mean Jews? Pro-Israel supporters? People who condemn Hamas? Whatever she’s referring to, I know I’m part of it. I feel my blood curdle at the classification of “they”, but my ears go against their better judgment and listen on.
The QuASA Assistant Director questions if there would have to be another speaker for the other side of the event.
I try to hold my trembling eyes on my computer screen, but I watch the edges of her lips crinkle inward.
I feel that I was elected because my constituents believe in my political stance, and I honestly don’t want to use our funds for a Jew to speak.
The words slapped my skin, drenching my body in heat I couldn’t shake. It was the only thing I couldn’t shake; every piece of me was shuttering, from airless lungs to thighs that would not cease their quaking. I wanted to speak up; I wanted to point out the blatant bias and anti-Semitism of her words, how they tore at wounds of racism that cannot heal. But whispers permeated my crania, uttering: I am not a part of this conversation.
I sealed my lips as I ran out of the office mid-panic attack, discovering a private corner to cry in.
Today, weeks later, Palestine Awareness Week has just begun. There are a variety of events, two of which are sponsored by Program Board. The Black Student Assembly (BSA) and WSA who I, as well as all the students I share this campus with, fund, co-sponsored the event. I do not feel this is to be an program on Israel-Palestine awareness. It neither pursues a Two-State Solution, nor does it offer up any pro-Israel or even Jewish speakers.
Events by their title refer to the “colonization of Palestine”, which previews a week of propaganda and intimidation. That makes me feel threatened, but what unsettles me most is that the event has not been publicized by the Student Assemblies or the general Program Board social media. The logos of WSA and BSA are placed in small lettering on promotional materials such as cover photos and posters. After more digging, I discovered an additional week of Pro-Palestinian events was sponsored over spring recess by the Political Student Assembly. It included an “apartheid wall.” Yet few knew about the event, which is known for sparking hostilities on campuses rather than conversations, or it’s funding.
However, they do have on the event page which events are co-sponsored with the respective assemblies. This is not transparent; the only people who see this funding are supporters attending the events, and it leaves stench of a backhanded deal between student dollars and a political agenda.
Program Board and Undergraduate Student Government are meant to celebrate and protect all of USC’s students, but for me, granted I may be radical, granted student leaders might not agree with my standpoint, or feel it contradicts their values, funding these programs is a demeaning betrayal.
I’m writing this article because, although I felt condemned to silence in the office, I am equally a part of this conversation.
I consider myself part of WSA’s constituency, but am also proud to say I’m a Jew. Centuries of oppression and hatred have brought my ancestors to America. Yet I still do not feel that this country guarantees Jewish safety. According to the Anti-Defamation League, over a billion people harbor attitudes of anti-Semitism, 20 million of whom live here in the USA. In the Middle East, 74% of the population think I should not have the right to even write this article.
Anti-Semitism is perpetrating campuses across the nation, from swastika graffiti being placed on Jewish fraternities at Emory, to hateful YikYak declarations at the University of Chicago. A National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students in 2014 found that 54% of Jewish students reported experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism on campus.
But one of the worst cases comes from just across town. Our rival, UCLA, has a growing anti-Israel movement that serves a guise for anti-Semitism, a group that scorched Rachel Beyda.
When appointed to the Judiciary Council, she was subjected to Fabienne Roth, who questioned, “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?” along with a 40 minute debate seeking to disqualify her because of her involvement with Hillel and a Jewish sorority.
They saw her Judaism as a conflict of interest and refused her the position unanimously on no other grounds, until a faculty advisor pointed out the bigotry of the decision. Imagine if someone of a different demographic endured racism clothed in political views? Would this behavior be tolerated towards a black or gay student?
What if this spreads to USC? Will I be able to keep my position after writing this article? Would I even have had the opportunity in the first place?
As I struggled to recapture my breath outside the office, I grasped a new reality. The comments I overheard didn’t just upset me with their insensitivity. They made me feel like I was just another Jew our university will not invite to speak up.
It’s moments like these, in which leaders of my community fervently believe and advocate that Jewish voices should not be heard, that remind me why my Zionism matters.
It’s the promise that as Jews are beaten in the streets of Kiev, attacked in British temples, or called to die repeatedly by Middle Eastern leaders and military groups, as the rest of the world turns a blind eye, that there will be sanctuary for us – one we’ve built for ourselves.
This is part of my identity as a woman, and although the director may have been elected for her political stance, her responsibility is to represent all the women on campus, not just the ones she agrees with. According to the same National Demographic survey, female students are more likely than males (58% versus 51%) to report anti-Semitism. Jewish women are vulnerable on campuses. That’s a women’s issue. I want to remind that to the Director of the Women’s Student Assembly, and that she can do better than perpetuate the problem. I’m glad she’s opinionated and politically active. But I also need my intersectionality respected, even if it doesn’t parallel hers.
This article is not easy to write. Speaking up jeopardizes my job. But I’m not here to condemn Program Board. It is an exceptional organization. It is not anti-Israel; the International Student’s Assembly has even sponsored events to celebrate Israeli culture. But I hold it and my university to high standards. I work amongst hard workers with huge hearts.
We can do better. We can be more conscientious of our entire student body, rather than the ones we empathize with. USG would never fund a week of pro-Israel events, and until it does, that is an injustice to me. Although I am an unimportant webmaster, I have responsibilities, too. I must advocate for myself. And I won’t use someone else’s tuition to do it.
NOTE: Program Board specifically gets funded from a Student Programming Fee that is placed on USC Student tuition bills.