I sat down with Claire Fieldman, the incoming president of UCLA’s student government and an active member of the Jewish community on campus. Here’s what we talked about:
So let’s start out – Congratulations on winning the election!
How does it feel to be the next USAC president?
Surreal. This has been something that I’ve been working towards for years and something that I’ve visualized in my head for a long time, and to have it be a reality is really the most humbling experience I’ve ever underwent. So I really just want to get to work. I can’t wait to get to know all the other council members better, start working with them, open up applications for my staff. For me it’s really just about the work and about maximizing the 365 days that I do have. So this is an immense honor, but I’m ready to put my head down and get to work.
Can you tell me a bit about the work you’ve done to get here?
Absolutely, yeah. My USAC career started my freshman year, I was an intern in the General Representative 1 office. I also got involved in Bruins United my freshman year, and I’ve stayed involved ever since.
My second year I served as the communications director in the Office of the President. I did a lot of work in an executive capacity, working with members of the office and crafting the communications that went out of the office. And then this year, I served as Chief of Staff in the Office of the President, so I know the office inside and out. I know it better than pretty much anyone.
So it was very important to me when I decided to run that I’d worked years and years to create this legacy in an office that I cared about really deeply. And I wanted to be the one to carry on that legacy, and to make changes that I had seen by being part of USAC, to develop new programs that I thought there were spaces for but also to preserve the long-lasting legacy that I’ve been very privileged and fortunate to work with.
Can you tell me a bit about your plans for this year?
Yeah. My three platforms — I won’t go into too much detail because you can read them online — the three major platforms that I ran on that I really want to focus on this year are reforming and expanding sexual violence prevention trainings, as well as continuing the advocacy of the Title IX team this year, such as bringing rape kits to Ashe Center, continuing to advocate for accessibility of the Santa Monica rape treatment center and related services. That’s the first pillar.
The second pillar is women’s leadership development and mentorship, creating a transgenerational mentorship network of undergrads, grad students, faculty and alumni. We’ll be pairing students, in groups or one-on-one, with people in their field and with similar interests, in a way that specifically targets women’s leadership, combining that with relevant career programming. Making sure that not only are there events in general for women in leadership as a whole but also targeted for women who face specific barriers, such as women in STEM, women in tech, women of color, international women, undocumented women, and queer and trans women.
The third pillar is advocating for more student representation in safety policy. The platform is called “Our Safety” and the intention was reclaiming students’ rightful place in decisions about our safety, hence the name. We’ll be augmenting student representation on a lot of entities and committees that make these decisions, advocating for improved and more transparent Bruin Alert, better dissemination of resources for what to do in case of an emergency, and above all ensure that students have more input on committees, such as the Campus Safety Alliance and the Police Chief’s Advisory Council, which exist to ensure students’ safety.
Thank you. This year we had a really interesting campaign, and it felt even more divisive than usual. Do you have any reflections on that?
Totally. I ran because I believe in the power of USAC to overcome divisiveness and apathy, which is another problem as seen by the low turnout. I believe that USAC does not have to be inherently divisive, that party politics do not have to get in the way of the important work that we are all (for the most part) on the same page about doing. So I hope going that moving forward, divisiveness is something we can leave behind in the campaign, and we don’t need to accept toxicity and division as a norm in USAC. It should not be the norm.
Given that over 700 students voted for a candidate who wanted to disband USAC entirely, do you feel the need to justify its continued existence? And if so, how do you plan on doing that?
I don’t believe that USAC’s existence needs any justification, because I believe the relevant work that we do for students, whether that’s advocacy, whether it’s connecting students with funding, administration, and the other resources that they need to be successful, as well as the work that we do in each of the individual offices – I believe that speaks for itself. I don’t think it needs any justification.
I believe that students that may have voted that way did see flaws in USAC, and I am the first to admit that USAC is flawed, that there are things that we can do to improve. But disbanding it entirely ignores the very real student issues that only student government is equipped to address. So I hope that through my work moving forward, and my collaboration with the 13 other council members — soon to be 14, which is very exciting— that work speaks for itself. The relevant changes we make to student experience, whether or not they know they came from USAC, speaks louder than any rhetoric to disband ever could.
Do you have any reflections on the Judicial Board/Election Board investigation process that’s going on right now?
As that investigation is still ongoing, I’m going to refrain from commenting on that, but I do want to say that I hope my integrity and the campaign that I’ve run speak louder than any allegations.
How has your involvement in the Jewish community affected your experience with UCLA politics so far? And how will it affect your goals moving forward?
It’s affected me very deeply. Ironically, my involvement with the Jewish community at UCLA came out of a lot of my involvement with USAC. I grew up in a mixed-religion household, so I never felt a deep connection to either my Catholic identity or my Jewish identity until coming to UCLA. A lot of my friends who I happened to meet while getting involved with student government spaces happened to be Jewish. One of them encouraged me to come to Hillel, week after week, until I finally came to a Shabbat, and my life’s changed ever since, as cliche as that might sound. The values that I’ve learned from the Jewish community, from my experiences on Hillel board, just being involved in general with Hillel and other Jewish spaces, has very much informed the type of leader that I have become. A lot of the values that Judaism cultivates are values that inspire successful leaders.
I’d also say that I have had the privilege to learn from a lot of very inspiring and powerful Jewish leaders as well. People like Arielle, Leah Moyal who serves as the current Hillel President, Yael Breziner, these people have been really inspirational and mentors to me throughout this process, and I think a lot of who I am now is informed by my Judaism and I have no intention of leaving that behind next year.
Point blank – Let’s say divestment from Israel comes up next year. Let’s say council’s tied. Your vote decides whether or not it passes. What are you going to do?
I would vote no. To be honest, I don’t know if there would be a situation when it would be tied, and as you know the USAC president has no voice on the council table, but I do not support divestment. I do support the human rights of Palestinians, but I don’t necessarily believe that divestment at the UCLA council table is the right way to achieve that goal. So in a situation where divestment would come up, that would be how I would vote.
But I do believe that it’s extremely important in my role as USAC president, as a facilitator at the council table, to be having those difficult conversations, and to be incorporating as many students’ inputs as possible. When we’re making these politically charged decisions, we should be informed by the fact that there really are students on campus who feel like their very safety and right to be here is threatened by a resolution such as divestment. It’s important to me above all else that students feel safe on this campus and that every decision that we make is informed by student safety.
How should we evaluate your success? Next year, when we look back at your presidency, what questions should we be asking to determine whether or not you succeeded as USAC president?
That’s a wonderful question. I think the most important question is whether or not the work that I do outlives me at UCLA. I think that, while programming is really important and having some of these one-time events or two time-events can be really valuable— this year we had a STEM research fair and brought in two or three hundred students who have never touched USAC before— that work is incredibly important, but above all else, the question should be whether the impact that I seek to make outlives my time here. Whether or not we’ve institutionalized lasting change. Whether or not there’s been policy reform that will affect future students. Whether or not, to some degree, whether these students even know USAC exists or not, their experience was a little bit better because of something that my office or USAC as a whole helped accomplish. Longevity is absolutely a criterion that I should be evaluated by.
At the endorsement hearings, you said that when you looked at past USAC presidents you saw the faces of a bunch of white men, and it was time for a woman president. There’s been some criticism that that comment ignored the contributions of women and people of color who have been President of USAC, including Arielle Mokhtarzadeh, the current president. So do you still stand by what you said there? And if so, how should we interpret it?
Much of my intention with that comment was that for a long time, about 50 years, it was bylaw-mandated that the USAC president be male, and most of those men were white due to the conditions of the time. When you go into the office there are three cases of portraits, which is what I was referring to, and the first case is almost all white men. So that’s what I was referring to — to clear that up.
I believe that the people who have held that office who were not white men were the ones who inspired the most change and critically reevaluated the institution of USAC and the role of the USAC president in that institution. I really want to recognize that, especially having worked with people like Arielle and Heather Rosen personally. Seeing the impact that they had, as someone who the USAC Office of the President wasn’t made for, is inspiring. I don’t want to invalidate any of their work at all.
My intention behind my statement was to point out that USAC as an institution — UCLA as an institution, but especially the USAC Office of the President — was made for a very specific type of person. Running in a campaign where I had seven male opponents, and I was the only one representing the voice of femme-identifying students on this campus, I felt that I would be remiss not to bring up the barriers, both implicit and explicit, which women face. That was where my comment came from, and that was my intention when making feminism such a driving factor in my campaign.
You’re the fifth Jewish president in a row, right? After Avinoam, Heather, Danny, and Arielle. Do you think there’s a significant trend there? And if so, what do you think the causes might be?
It goes back to what I said earlier. Jewish values, and Judaism as a whole, cultivates a very specific type of leadership. And I believe that it’s not a coincidence that many of the strong leaders who I’ve come across in my time at UCLA and beyond have been Jewish.
That’s not to say that there aren’t equally-strong leaders who do not identify as Jewish, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Being the only Jewish voice on council next year, and being another Jewish president, is not a position that I take lightly. I hope that, in all of the work that I do, I can represent and serve the needs of my community as well as possible, in ways that USAC presidents have in the past.
What are your plans for after UCLA?
I’m pre-law, and I’m taking the LSAT in September. Fingers crossed for how that goes. I want to attend law school, obviously, and then pursue a career in criminal prosecution. District Attorney, Attorney General kind of work. Maybe not running myself, but working in those offices. I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of law and public policy, and [also] ways that the law can be used and interpreted to craft long-lasting public policy. So that’s what I want to do.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with Ha’Am’s readers?
Shameless plug – the applications to be involved in the office come out this week, and I would love to have readers apply. They can find the application here or on the Facebook page.
I think involvement of students with USAC is the only way to move USAC forward and make USAC better, to respond to some of the negativity and toxicity that surrounds USAC, so I would invite all of the readers to engage — however critically — and to involve themselves in USAC in whatever capacity moving forward. And I hope to help facilitate that.