Interview: Sadia Saifuddin, first Muslim student on UC Board of Regents

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Sadia Saifuddin, the first Muslim student to serve on the UC Board. Photo: Sana Saifuddin

By Mckenna Toston

Sadia Saifuddin, who is in her fourth year at UC Berkeley majoring in social welfare, was appointed in July as the first Muslim student to serve on the UC Board of Regents. She will spend the 2013-2014 school year observing the board and will become a voting member in June 2014. Saifuddin, 21, was born and raised in Fremont. Her parents immigrated from Pakistan in 1986.

Saifuddin is widely admired by many of her peers, although others consider her selection controversial because she co-sponsored a non-binding UC student senate resolution that called on the UC system to divest $14 million from companies that do business in Israel. Saifuddin said she did not want “one cent of my money to go toward fueling the occupation of my brothers and sisters.” Crtitics have called the resolution short sighted and anti-Semitic and have called into question Saifuddin’s ability to represent all students. Berkeleyside contributor McKenna Toston asked Saifuddin about her new position and her goals for her term.

What does your new position on the Board of Regents entail?
I am the representative for over 234,000 students in the UC system. As student-regent, I need to understand the needs and concerns of the students.


Why was there controversy regarding your selection?
I played a large role in the effort to divest from companies that support Israel’s occupation of Palestine. A lot of people think this makes me anti-Semitic, which is absolutely false. I did my job in representing my community in that situation.

Divestment is not something I will be pursuing as student regent. My politics on that particular matter don’t inform my new position. There are more pressing issues, like financial aid reform and campus climate.

What do you want to change about financial aid and campus climate?
Financial aid is a widespread problem on all UC campuses. The policies aren’t student-friendly or efficient. Students feel intimidated by financial aid offices and have to wait in long lines. My goal is to form groups on all UC campuses that will work with financial aid staff to find the best practices. We need system-wide changes that will make the process of receiving financial aid more student-friendly and accessible.

One of the issues I see with campus climate is a huge disconnect between the Board of Regents and student body. The board is passing ineffective policies and we end up with really big gap between the students, administrators and regents. I want to organize groups of students from different communities in the UC system that will meet with regents so they’re more effective for students.

Qur’an 5:51 orders Muslims to “not befriend the Christians and the Jews.” How do you balance the demands of your religion with the demands of your position to represent students of all backgrounds?
My best friend is Catholic; I visit her church and she comes to my mosque. Religion is not a contender in our relationship. I think people cherry-pick a lot of things in the Muslim faith, and this emphasizes Islamophobia. If I looked in the Bible or Torah, I could find quotes that say the same thing. We need to look hard at people who are saying Muslims are intolerant, because it’s the people who are saying these things who are intolerant. My faith is one that preaches love and peace, forgiveness and mercy — these are the ideals that I’ve chosen to embody.

What would you say to somebody who thinks you are anti-Semitic?
I would tell them to talk to somebody who has worked with me before. Anybody who knows me knows I’m not anti-Semitic. I would urge the people who say I’m intolerant to check their own intolerance. I personally think in order to grow we need to have conversations and be okay with other people’s opinions. I’m a person who welcomes dialogue. If the people who think I’m anti-Semitic ever want to talk to me, I’d be happy to.

What kind of projects are you currently working on for Cal?
Sexual assault is really big deal on college campuses. It goes unreported because a lot students don’t know how to deal with it, or what resources are available. Last year I helped organize a sexual assault workshop. We had resource guidance and trainers who helped with self-defense and gave out pepper spray.

Another thing I’ve helped with is addressing student hunger. I know what it’s like to have four jobs and be barely holding on. Berkeley Food Pantry raised $90,000 in funding for students who need food or hygiene items. I’m excited about that project because it addresses a specific need for a lot of students.

What is your main goal as student-regent?
My main goal is to truly understand the experiences of students across the Universities of California so I can better represent them in everything I do. There are a lot of different projects and policies that will be passed in the next year and, through all that, I want to know in my heart that I am representing the students.

How can students be sure that their voices are heard by you?
My email address is publicly available, and I have a page that I check often where people can post, message and comment. Their voices will definitely be heard, especially on social media. (Saifuddin’s email address is: RegentSaifuddin@gmail.com).

Mckenna Toston is a student at the City College of San Francisco where she majors in ethnic studies and journalism. She writes for the campus newspaper, ‘The Guardsman.’

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