USAC General Rep 3 speaks COVID-19: What’s to Come for UCLA Students

Mahala Herron News

Brandon Broukhim is a fourth year political science major, who serves as General Representative 3 on the USAC board. There are fifteen council members who represent students to the administration, and his position is of 1 of 3 students general members. I met him through the communications board, where he served as the News Magazine representative. Broukhim has been an advocate and reliable voice of reason and clarity. As General Representative 3, he especially represents the voices of marginalized students, being that the historic nature of UCLA is to leave them behind. He began his position as Gen Rep 3 in October, after leaving the Communications board.

 On March 13th, 2020, UCLA announced the remote continuation of classes through the spring quarter. Many students are currently facing housing insecurity and mental health challenges, as we all grapple for clarity about what’s to come. As our lawmakers and officials are making decisions, it is important to stay inside, stay informed, and to maintain and foster a positive outlook. Broukhim was kind enough to sit with me on Zoom and answer some of my questions and concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and what that means for the future of UCLA students.  

“I think one big problem is that the UCLA administration should not view themselves first as a business.”

Brandon Broukhim

Does UCLA realize that by sending us home to our older parents, that they put our families at greater risk of contracting COVID-19?

There are certain students who really had no option but to stay at UCLA and for everyone’s health and safety, they need to depopulate the campus as much as possible so that people are not so close together. I’m sure you know, a lot of the units are triples and that’s really not conducive to social-distancing. Sure I do completely get what you’re saying, and I’m worried about my elderly family members as well and it’s a tough situation. I don’t see the alternative, at least on that decision, because it was very important that the university doesn’t become an epicenter of this virus. 

On March 18th, 2020, UCLA cancelled our graduation and opted for an online ceremony, what were your thoughts at that moment? 

I was very frustrated, but the student government was able to organize and make it clear to the administration that [online graduation] wasn’t what most students wanted, especially the class of 2020. I’m glad that they heard our concerns, they understood how serious they were and they wanted to postpone the graduation to a later date. Just because of the circumstances right now, I don’t think they’re able to give a specific date (again, I can’t speak on administrations behalf)… but I am really glad they decided to postpone it rather than cancel it and I think it was really unfair to students and dismissive of student input to make the graduation call on Twitter, without giving student voices consideration first. 

“We pay for UCLA in person. UCLA on zoom is not the same thing, so we shouldn’t be paying the same amount.”

Brandon Broukhim

What can we expect in the quarter approaching? Can we expect a bigger refund since were doing online classes? 

I don’t want to give a solid answer on this because I really don’t know yet. We’re still working on stuff in that regard, we really do want to try to bring tuition down, because we pay for UCLA in person and UCLA on zoom is not the same thing, so we shouldn’t be paying the same amount. This is actually not an administration question, this is a UC system wide regents question, so even if our chancellor Block wanted to come up and say I am doing this, this is not within his authority. All the UC’s go on the UC set tuition standard. They did delay our tuition increase last week at the meeting which was important, but I still call them to decrease tuition, especially student services fees because we’re not using Wooden. 

*UCLA did send out a recreation reimbursement form via email, however it appears to be an optional form. The email is easy to miss, which is pretty unfair (to me). Broukhim did not see the email until during the interview. The subject line of the email is ‘UCLA Recreation on Membership and Lockers’*

UCLA still has time to adjust the summer fees, do you think that’s something they will do? 

We haven’t looked into it yet. Right now, we have been dealing with a lot of the immediate implications, on everything that’s happening right away. So, we’ll get there, no doubt. But right now our first priority is the grading situation for next quarter, tuition, this week we were working on finals and graduation. We have been really successful on that, but we need to keep going. 

What are the specific ideas that USAC has, regarding grading for next quarter? 

We’re about to go into a call right after this one. We are just looking at ways we can help students who might be impacted by the virus have less of an academic stress load equitably. But we have to see how we do that—a lot of people are also going to be needing to apply to graduate school, or a lot of students might want to use this quarter to improve their GPA, because this is a quarter that most people assume classes will be relatively easier online than in person. So we have to see how we can balance all these considerations while wanting to equitably help people. UCLA has a very large pre-professional population—we have some of the best medical, law schools and business schools in the country so we have to balance these considerations. 

In my opinion Brandon, I think that it’s a misconception that online classes are easier, because if we’re regarding marginalized students, it can actually be more of a distraction to be at home. They may have to take care of a grandparent, their siblings are running around, their mom is here needing them to translate for them, etc. What do you have to say to the marginalized students about online classes?

I don’t want to treat these communities as a monolith in a sense. It’s really important to emphasise that every person, even if they come from a marginalized community, has their own experience and they should have the agency to make decisions for themselves that suit their situation rather than UCLA administration of UCLA student government coming in and telling them that this is what’s good for you. That’s inappropriate and also I know it’s just wrong, and I’m listening to these communities, I am not trying to speak on behalf of them.

To answer your question, we want to give students a choice to have a pass no pass system. A lot of schools have been implementing various systems where students are not penalized in any sense for doing pass no pass, while still finding a loophole where certain students who need or want actual grades can request them at some point of time. The reason I say it might be easier is that some students, (this is not my attitude, this is the attitude I heard from some people) say that “I want to use this quarter to improve my GPA, it’s really important to me,” or “ I am a senior applying to grad school, and I need a little boost before I apply.” Only having pass/no pass would really hurt them, like a mandatory pass no pass for everybody, because they could want to boost their GPA, and grad schools might not accept those grades. We don’t know what those policies are going to look like. We are going off a guess. These things can be reconciled, but we need to do it with care so that we don’t leave anyone behind. Particularly students who could be affected by this. 

Sometimes, students feel as though UCLA does not have their best interest. How do you think we can foster a better relationship between the students and UCLA administration during these tough times? How do you think we can make students feel represented, and that UCLA does have their back? 

I think one big problem is that the UCLA administration should not view themselves first as a business. It’s a really big concern that I have. I think administration is doing the best they can, but that should be their first priority: how are students doing? The fact that we had finals at all this week was honestly crazy in my opinion because of everything that’s going on. Everyone I talked to talks about how they couldn’t focus at all this week and that there was so much chaos. Nobody’s mental health is good right now, it’s a disaster. I am glad they took the steps that USAC urged them to take in our letter. Ultimately UCLA professors have academic freedom, but it urged professors to take greater steps to make their finals more accommodating for students but it still wasn’t enough. 

The way we solve this is by engaging in strong advocacy as individuals, but also through remaining engaged with student government right now—not just engaged by signing petitions and supporting the letters and advocacy, but also going to each representative and telling them “Hey, this is a concern I am having.” It makes a difference. Another step is by telling our representatives what we think, we can implement this to our advocacy. 

In a utopian world, what would you see UCLA doing in the weeks to come and for spring quarter? 

I don’t want to spread rumor but I think we should be prepared for potential long term changes. It appears like this virus is going to be around for a while, and life will be a little different, but we need to be patient and this is when we really need to show our true Bruin Values more than ever. We need to be fearless advocates while still showing our greatest character. I think everyone is going through alot, but we’ll get through this if we get through it together. We’re all social-distancing, but we are all in solidarity with each other too. 

As a student representative, it is Broukhim’s position to report and reflect the concerns of the student population to the administration. Broukhim invites students with concerns to email him at [email protected]

This interview has been edited for clarity.