USC diversity resolution dealt setback by student opposition

The University of Southern California student government postponed a vote that had been scheduled for Tuesday night on a resolution calling for a laundry list of diversity initiatives.

Student senator Jacob Ellenhorn, who strongly opposes the resolution, told Campus Reform that rather than a victory, the delay is actually a capitulation to the resolution’s supporters, who he claims lack the votes to pass the measure in its current form.

“The Senate was overwhelmingly not supportive of the resolution as it stood,” he asserted, explaining, “we have a fairly reasonable Senate at USC, but the Executive Board and the student assemblies are fairly extreme.” Despite their opposition, though, Ellenhorn said, “The senators didn’t want to vote it down because they feared being attacked, so they decided to postpone the vote for two weeks and spend that time amending the resolution” to make it more palatable.

“I voted against postponing the vote,” he noted. “I was ready to vote ‘no’ last night, but the other senators were too afraid to, I think”

As previously reported by Campus Reform, the resolution contains a number of staggering proposals intended to increase diversity at USC, such as requiring all first-year students to take a course on diversity issues, instituting a racial quota system for admissions, and creating a $100 million scholarship fund for minority students. In addition, the resolution calls on the university to hire a Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as Vice Deans with the same specialty for each academic department.

Several amendments were proposed—such as adding religion and sexuality to the diversity goal, including student input in the selection process for the new Vice President, and requiring that all the initiatives be financed from the university’s endowment fund rather than diverting money from existing student resources—but Ellenhorn told Campus Reform that most of them did not pass.

In remarks delivered prior to the amendment process, a video of which was obtained by Campus Reform, Ellenhorn focused his attention on warning that the initiatives included in the resolution would likely lead to further tuition hikes, reminding his classmates that tuition was already increased $2,000 this year.

“It becomes clear to me that all of this funding in the past—every time the university adds new administrators; a new department—this spending is passed on to the students in the form of tuition increases,” he observed, pointing out that the amendment requiring the programs to be funded by the endowment says nothing about preventing future tuition or fee increases, and that the language would not be binding on administrators, anyway.

“The endowment fund is not a piggy bank to be dipped into; it is a savings account for this university to make sure that we are here, as always, serving our community and serving the students,” Ellenhorn declared.

Once the students in attendance began to realize that the Senate would defer on taking any concrete action at the meeting, Ellenhorn told Campus Reform that they became somewhat restless.

“At one point a chant started, calling for impeachment of the Senate,” he claimed. “Students were saying that the Senate is not representative because most of the senators ran unopposed, which is true because the elections are not very well publicized. It deteriorated fast.”

Frustration with the political process may only have provided the catalyst, though, because the atmosphere of the meeting was tense from the very beginning, when several female Jewish students took advantage of an open forum period to deliver statements decrying the student government’s eagerness to promote diversity for racial minorities while overlooking instances of anti-Semitism.

While they were not allowed to address the resolution directly in their comments, captured on video for Campus Reform, the students used the opportunity to allege that Shyann Murphy, the director of the Women’s Student Assembly and a co-author of the resolution, has repeatedly show hostility toward Jewish students without so much as a reprimand from the student government.

“Although the guise of tolerance seems to drive this campaign, it comes from people who encourage hatred on this campus,” asserted Ariel Sobel, who claims to have overheard Murphy make an anti-Semitic remark while Sobel was serving in student government last year.

“I overheard the leadership planning what they called ‘an event to address how well women are treated in the Gaza strip, because they are always making the excuse that Palestinians abuse their women’,” Sobel recounted. “When someone proposed that they should include a representative from the opposing side of the event, Shyann allegedly”—Sobel’s tone of voice and facial expression suggested she harbors no doubts that the charge is accurate—“declared, ‘I feel 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 student government became aware of the incident after reading her blog post about it, and promised to sponsor a pro-Israel event as a show of support for Jewish students, but Sobel said that “the event never materialized,” adding that when the Anti-Defamation League sponsored a similar event, not a single student group co-sponsored it.

“The WSA has spent too long without being questioned. Tonight I will ask them some questions,” Donna Emein, another Jewish student, said subsequently.

“Why is it that they threw events like ‘From Ferguson to Palestine,’ which drew unfounded similarities between the plight of Palestinians and people of color?” she asked. “Why is it okay for Shyann Murphy to refer to Jews as ‘the de-legitimization of our identity’?”

“I am here to share my disappointment in the hypocrisy I see in USG for claiming to represent the interests of minorities while allowing this anti-Semitism and partisanship in non-partisan student organizations to be swept under the rug,” added Leesa Danzek, the third speaker. “I am here to call attention to the fact that USG has done nothing about it; that USG claims to be on a mission to support minority groups while quietly putting down one of the world’s most oppressed minorities: Jews.”

Ellenhorn, who is also Jewish, told Campus Reform that he shares the girls’ concerns, but noted that Murphy and the WSA did deny the allegations during the meeting.

“At the end of their speeches, Shyann broke down in tears and started sobbing on the floor, and at the end of the hearing, she got up and said the claims were false and that Ariel was lying,” Ellenhorn recalled. “Then the assistant director of the WSA got up and said their newsletters include pro-Israel stuff all the time.”

Senators will be meeting with the resolution’s authors over the next few days to discuss their objections, but Ellenhorn said he could not predict with certainty how the document might be altered before it next comes up for a vote in two weeks.

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