Photo courtesy of David Bocarsly
David Bocarsly is a former Undergraduate Student Association Council member who served as General Representative from 2011-2012 and USAC’s 100th president during 2012-2013. He is currently in New York finishing a 9-month Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs that focuses on advanced leadership development. I was able to catch up with him recently to ask him a series of question pertaining to Jewish life, USAC and his job goals.
Rebecca Zaghi: How has USAC shaped you as a person?
David Bocarsly: Being on USAC for two years had a huge influence on my career aspirations, as well as giving me many tools to use in that space. Being in such a big leadership position in school gave me the opportunity to develop leadership skills needed for my future goals. It gave me the tools to act and made me want to dedicate my life to politics.
RZ: Why did you get involved with USAC?
DB: On a personal level, I got involved in USAC because I felt like the Jewish community was underrepresented. It exposed me to a lot of issues that affect some of the other communities as well, which has completely changed my worldview.
RZ: Did you ever feel like there were moments where your Jewish values and/or beliefs were challenged?
DB: Yeah, [but] it didn’t highlight my experience. I wear a kippah and being such an outwardly Jewish individual in such a position had its consequences. Before, there was very minimal representation of an active Jewish community.
As president, I made 70-75 appointments [to USAC positions]. After about the 40th person I appointed, I had appointed my fifth Jewish student. UCLA is 10 percent Jewish and we should expect to have at least seven or eight Jewish appointees. There were comments on articles in the Daily Bruin saying that I was engaging in hegemony for putting too many Jewish candidates on council. USAC was not used to having Jewish representation, so this dramatic shift seemed like I was abusing my power, and the fifth Jewish person I appointed was rejected. In reality, I was being very fair. It seemed clear that politics were at play from the community they were coming from. I still felt respected from different communities, but there will always be politics.
RZ: How would you describe the Jewish community while you were at UCLA?
DB: As being incredibly strong and supportive. I got involved — Hillel was the first place I went and made friends, and was first real sense of community I had at UCLA. Most of my time, I was the welcoming committee for Shabbat and led “Shalom Aleichem.” I was involved in Bruins for Israel and was on the board of directors of Hillel for three years.
I was able to witness the growth of Jewish involvement at UCLA. While I was a freshman, my mentors at Hillel convened a committee of people that put together a proposal that completely revamped Hillel. As a result, seniors became mentors of mine and the proposal helped create changes that led to an increase in student involvement and showed me the power of the student voice. It was amazing to see the power student leaders had and how they impacted others around me, and myself. How you can impact someone younger than you just by sharing the same space as him or her was fascinating. During the middle of my sophomore year, upwards of 200 people attended Shabbat at Hillel, compared to the 70 students during my freshman year.
My support group when I was running was phenomenal. I had a huge network and to me that was invaluable. When I got elected, the Jewish community did not know about the resources campus had to offer them. When I was on USAC, we were able to share resources. Now they are still using these resources. It was amazing to be a support for Hillel, which is a space for so many different types of Jews.
RZ: What are your thoughts on what the Jewish community is like now at UCLA?
DB: I think it’s still incredibly strong. I have not been there, but despite what’s going on, I still think it is strong and united. I find it very problematic and untrue that UCLA is being labeled as an anti-Semitic campus. I still believe Jewish institutions at UCLA, like Hillel, are very strong and are adapting to the situation in the best way they can. I am constantly impressed with how good and powerful the student leaders are.
RZ: What are your favorite memories from UCLA?
DB: At the five hour campus tour during orientation, we were told in order to be initiated we must touch the Inverted Fountain. I asked my New Student Advisor, “Is this really the last time I get to touch this fountain in four years?” When she said yes, I took off my clothes and completely jumped in. During my time at UCLA, I used jumping into the fountain as a metaphor to express how I approached my time at UCLA, and I encourage students to do the same.
And I always wished I were better at singing. I always thought I was a tone deaf, and never in a million years I thought it would be possible to sing on stage. During True Bruin orientation, in front of 7,000 students, as the chancellor was getting ready to recite the pledge with rest of USAC, an a capella group just finished. [I was to walk on with the chancellor and so] I walked onstage, [but then] realized I didn’t [yet] belong onstage — and that the a capella group was not yet finished singing. Since I was already on stage, I started singing “Alma Mater” [with the group], even though I realized I didn’t know what was going on! I did not know any of the words and I have a terrible voice. I was trying to mouth the words to the song […] Someone picked up the microphone and started beat-boxing and I realized I could put my hand over my laugh and rap. Never did I think I could sing, let alone in front of 7,000 people! That is an opportunity USAC provided me with and is one of my favorite experiences.
I was raised a big UCLA fan, for both my parents and grandparents attended UCLA. As a child, I often attended UCLA basketball games with my dad and got John Wooden’s signature every single time; I have accumulated over 40 autographs. John Wooden being legend and someone I really respected growing up because of my dad, I am a huge admirer. While I was a student, John Wooden passed away. In his honor, there was a $134 million renovation of Pauley Pavilion and a statue of him donated in his honor. At the statue unveiling, the people who spoke included me, two of his sons, the chancellor, the athletic director, and the grandson of Edwin Pauley. Being able to be the student speaker and to pull the ropes of his statue unveiling was one of the best moments of my life.
RZ: What are you up to now?
DB: My Coro fellowship is a 9-month program that consists of six placements, each lasting five weeks. Currently I am at my last placement and at an organization called Bend the Arc. It is a progressive organization that does national domestic progressive advocacy through a Jewish lens. They work on gender, racial, economic, [and] sexual equity for all people in America by showing that these issues are Jewish values. I enjoy how I am engaging in the Jewish community without talking only about Jewish issues. They are working on changing policy, lobbying with officials, and policy organizing, which I really like.
I finish my fellowship in a month and am looking to work somewhere in politics or non-profit advocacy work. If I were not working for a campaign or for politics I would want to do advocacy/policy change for a non-profit.