Editor’s Note: Lea Toubian is a candidate for External Vice President for Local Affairs in this spring’s Associated Students election.
“Fuck that bitch running for EVPLA … I’m so glad we are not on campus ’cause I could not stand seeing her face…”
This was the first of 11 tweets written about me five days ago. At first, I was shocked. Although I knew what I was getting myself into when I announced my candidacy for EVPLA in yet another Associated Students election this past week, I did not expect the drama to get this toxic, or this personal. My brother attempted to make light of the situation: “Now you know what it’s like to have #haters,” he joked. But I couldn’t keep myself from refreshing the page, reading over and over again the dehumanizing words about my identity and experiences, looking through the profiles of the strangers who seemed to know me without ever trying. As I read lies and rumors about myself and my peers, the numbing ache in my stomach grew, but I was unable to tear my eyes away.
It’s not like I’ve never received any sort of backlash before. As an outspoken advocate for my community, and someone who’s been “through the wringer” in Associated Students at UCSB, I’ve certainly experienced and witnessed more than my fair share of toxicity and (usually indirect) harassment.
I am the daughter of Iranian immigrants. My parents and most of my family, like thousands of others, left Iran for fear of being persecuted as part of a Jewish minority when the Islamic regime violently came to power. I’m also white-passing, and I have publicly acknowledged the immense privilege I carry because of that. I deeply understand the harmful potentials of equating my experiences with those of other brown folks, experiences I will never truly know myself. I am a first-generation college student. English was my second language. The most common question I’m asked is, “Persian Jews exist?”
There. Now you know a little bit more about me ー more than the author of that tweet does, and likely more than the people behind the 50+ anonymous comments left on my Nexus endorsement article. I do not need to justify or be performative about my lived experiences to appease those who want to doubt, discredit and invalidate me.
These things are all essential parts of my identity. They are all valid. They are not up for debate.
They will not be erased. I will not be erased.
For years, Jewish students have been speaking out about anti-Semitism and our experiences on this campus. Yet in my experience, we are often harassed, bullied and excluded from progressive spaces on campus for our beliefs. The author of the tweet does not know me and yet felt like it was appropriate to erase and dismiss every single thing about me. In their eyes, nothing — not my years of dedication to progressive causes, my personal experiences or struggles or any of the work I have done on this campus — none of that is valid because of their preconceived notions of who I am.
Whether it’s the anonymous comments; or that at last year’s divestment resolution hearing, a former A.S. Senate candidate stated that “Jewish students shouldn’t have as much power as they do on this campus”; or that a current candidate alluded to age-old anti-Semitic tropes in their Nexus questionnaire response by implying that pro-Israel students “truly own the school,” harm against our community continues to be brushed under the rug.
I am being targeted because I am a public figure at this school. I am not afraid to speak my truth about issues that are important to me, and I am putting myself out there to run this campaign. I knew that displaying vulnerability would open the door for attacks on my character. However, the rest of my community, those who do not run for office or are hesitant to express themselves and those who just simply want to be accepted members of the student body, are just as affected by incidents like this. They witness this rhetoric and are made to feel fearful of their peers. Which is exactly the objective: People like this want us to be scared. They want to silence us.
In today’s society, it’s increasingly easy to pick a side hyper-fast and stick to it. To reference a saying I heard recently, conversation has become either meaningless or impossible. We embolden ourselves within the comfort of our self-constructed echo chambers, “cancelling” anyone or anything that would make us question our ways.
To my peers in A.S.: Why do you think the student body is fed up with us? When Senate meetings run for hours, Daily Nexus articles are flooded with anonymous comments full of slurs and baseless accusations and social media feeds are cluttered with ruthless campaigning and (not-so) subtle jabs at competitors, their faith in our ability to serve them dwindles.
We’ve turned into a reality show. At best, we’re the laughing stock of this campus; at worst, a waste of student fees. And when it comes to supporting our friends when it’s their turn to take the stage, we tear each other down. When elections come around, some of the most vocal people in our organization, who promise to uplift marginalized communities and uphold progressive values, are the ones who engage in this harmful behavior, stripping people of their complexities in their attempt to make them fit into their binary definitions of “good” or “bad.” Instead of fairly criticizing platform points and ideals, this has become a competition of whose identity is the most valid.
When we expend so much energy fighting each other, we distract and become distracted from the fights that really matter — our graduate students are calling on us to support them, our balconies are collapsing while our landlords stay silent and the lawsuits against our UCPD are still stalled. Where is our solidarity?
Are these the hands we want to leave the fate of our campus in? Will these be the people to create tangible change at UCSB, or will A.S. revert to its divisive, unproductive ways?
To the UCSB student body: You each pay over $600 to Associated Students. It is my hope that you will elect honest, focused and principled leaders who are capable of this responsibility.
It’s up to you, Gauchos.
Lea Toubian is disappointed that students are tearing each other down during this already difficult time and hopes we can start to treat each other with respect.