December 13, 2018

Avi Oved: A new Jewish student leader

Abraham “Avi” Oved, a Jewish student at UCLA, ” target=”_blank”>a time of heated debate over Israel-Palestine issues on UC campuses.

Oved is 21, a third-year economics student and an Encino native. He’s active in student government, as well as groups such as UCLA Jewish Student Union, Bruins for Israel and Hillel at UCLA. He’s also the campus relations chair of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi.

If voted in, Oved will serve a two-year term. For the first year, he would be the student regent-designate, while Sadia Saifuddin, 22, a Muslim graduate of UC Berkeley, would be the voting student regent. 

Saifuddin attracted media attention when she was appointed a year ago to the Board of Regents because she had co-sponsored a bill that urged the board to divest from three companies that do business with Israel’s military. 

Oved’s parents immigrated to the United States from Israel, and he said he does not support the aims of divestment from Israel. But, he said, he and his new colleague can overcome those differences. 

“We’ve acknowledged the fact that we have different opinions on these types of geopolitical issues,” Oved told the Journal. “I think it’s a beautiful statement on behalf of the UC to have a Jewish student and a Muslim student work together, regardless of political or cultural differences, in bettering higher education.”

Saifuddin, for her part, still supports divestment efforts. But she said in an interview she looks forward to working with Oved on issues such as raising awareness of sexual assault on campus, food insecurity and mental illness among students, and the rising cost of tuition.

“For us, it’s really not about our faith, or our political ideas when it comes to international affairs,” Saifuddin said. “We’re joining forces because we see ourselves as agents for change to students whose lives we are directly impacting.”

Oved has short, wavy brown hair and a 5 o’clock shadow. He smiles easily and laughs often, and acknowledges without hesitation that he’s “super excited” to work with the other UC regents.

Oved attended fourth through 12th grades at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, a magnet public school in the San Fernando Valley. He was raised in a single-parent home by his mother Lillian, a real-estate agent, along with two older sisters.

Oved is one of 38 students from nine UC campuses who applied for the student regent position. He said his decision was an impulsive one. “I applied on a whim, the day the application was due,” he said, laughing.

Now that he’s made the cut, he said, he has three major goals for his tenure on the Board of Regents. He’d like to increase the student representation on the board. There are currently 26 board members, with just one voting student regent and a student regent-designate who attends meetings but cannot vote. He’d like to see one graduate and one undergraduate student regent, each with voting rights and their own accompanying student regent-designate. 

Such a change has been under discussion for years, and has received support from UC President Janet Napolitano and former UC President Mark Yudof. But it would require a constitutional amendment be placed on the 2016 state ballot, and that would require a massive mobilization of students, Oved said, similar to the one that helped pass Proposition 30 in 2012, a tax increase intended to avoid $6 billion in cuts to California schools.

“I think this is a perfect opportunity to engage students who aren’t typically engaged with the student regents themselves, and hopefully this will tackle the apathy that we’re experiencing on individual college campuses,” Oved said.

Oved’s second goal as student regent would be to raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses. The federal government announced it is currently investigating 55 colleges and universities nationwide, including UC Berkeley and three others in California, over how those schools have handled sexual violence and harassment complaints. 

Oved, in his role as internal vice president at UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council, worked to raise funds to create a mobile panic button application. The local version of the “Circle of 6” app would let users quickly call and text UCLA’s emergency contacts.

“A safety app may be the answer at UCLA, but it may not necessarily be the answer for Berkeley. So it’s really important for me to work with the different student leaders and administrative heads, to see what we need to do to heighten safety resources and make it more relevant and useful for students,” Oved said. “It all goes back to retention. If there are students that don’t feel safe on their campus, how are they going to have an effective education?”

Oved’s third goal is to revisit the California Master Plan for Higher Education, developed by the regents in 1960 to define the roles of the state’s three-tiered UC, California State University and community college systems, and to remove barriers to entry for lower-income students.

The plan has gone through several revisions, and Oved said California has witnessed enough changes that it’s time for another overhaul. “The diversification of the student population, online education, better technology, that’s restructuring the entire education system. The lack of state support … is probably the biggest issue the UC is facing,” Oved said.

Saifuddin said she supports Oved’s ambitions and is excited to work with him on those goals. But she cautioned that being a student regent can be a full-time job.

“I think the biggest thing to be a designate is to be open to learn, and to learn with humility, because it’s a really steep learning curve,” she said. “We all come from all these different experiences in our lives, but there’s nothing that can prepare you to be a representative of over 200,000 students in California.”

Oved said he’s received the same advice from previous student regents: Spend time with your family and friends now, because a month from now, free time will be a thing of the past.

“That’s really frightening,” he said. “But I’m so excited.”