Editor’s Note: Withdrawal of Endorsement for AS President

In light of recent circumstances, The Triton Editorial Board withdraws our endorsement of Associated Students Presidential candidate Tara Vahdani and endorses Lesly Figueroa.

We find the photo of Vahdani circulating on Facebook, Twitter, and group chats to be disqualifying of any candidate for student elected office. The photo in question is a Snapchat of Vahdani wearing a charcoal face mask with a caption that said “I’m problematic,” implying blackface. Vahdani claimed it was taken over two years ago. The photo surfaced Monday, Apr. 10.

As the editor-in-chief of The Triton, I find that Vahdani’s behavior was absolutely inappropriate. Blackface has a long history in United States, including on our campus, as a way to ridicule Black folks. Jokes about blackface make light of this racism. It would have been unacceptable anywhere, but at a university with a population of less than two percent Black students, it was in especially poor taste.

In light of situations like 2010’s Compton Cookout, this kind of conduct is sadly something we have grown to expect. Nonetheless, actions like these make it difficult for the student body to be able to trust that Vahdani would truly represent all students. As an Editorial Board, we have decided to pull our endorsement of her for President.

Vahdani officially withdrew from the election this morning.

Given that and Figueroa’s qualifications, we have chosen to endorse Figueroa for AS President. From the remaining three options, we remain concerned about Dennis Yeh’s rhetoric and inexperience and Gus Guerrero’s lack of tangible ways to work with other electeds. Figueroa has done a fantastic job with her work at the Triton Food Pantry, and she plans to bring a strong voice for addressing food and housing insecurity into the conversation. While we remain concerned about issues we brought up earlier, including the nature of Figueroa’s interactions with the press and the vagueness of certain policy proposals, she is the clear choice for AS president.

All of that said, I am concerned that someone waited until now to release a photo of anti-black behavior as a political tool. UCSD Guardian Co-Editors Rosina Garcia and Marcus Thuillier are equally as concerned about the state of campus politics. Despite the differences in our two papers, we are skeptical of the timing and purpose of the photo’s appearance on social media. Several sources have told The Triton the photo was released by AS President Daniel Juarez’s Chief of Staff, Dellanira Alcauter. Alcauter replaced Vahdani on Apr. 5 after Vahdani was fired by Juarez.

While it was important for the student body and our Editorial Board to review the photo, for Alcauter to hold onto it until now, instead of addressing it in the moment or shortly after receiving it, is extremely questionable. If Alcauter, who is not Black, held onto this photo for what sounds like two years, she is also complicit in this type of behavior and seemingly had no problems with this photo until it became a convenient political tool. Why was this photo not released when Alcauter publically campaigned for Vahdani for Marshall Senator or when Vahdani joined the Revelle RA staff along with Alcauter? We reached out to Alcauter for comment and have yet to receive a response.

We are withdrawing our endorsement of Vahdani, but as a news source, we will continue to ask questions. A student government that manages $5.2 million is not a small matter or one to be treated lightly. Whether it be this election season or the next, we will take great pains to ensure accurate and fair coverage of the election cycle.

You can read Vahdani’s full statement below:

I am withdrawing my candidacy for AS President. After having spoken with the rest of THRIVE last night, we have collectively decided that it is no longer appropriate for me to continue as its presidential candidate.

I am truly sorry and although I recognize that my apology does little for the community impacted, I do want to reiterate that I am honestly disappointed in myself for ever thinking that it would be appropriate to send such a photo. I am sorry for the hurt and anger many students feel right now, especially the Black students on our campus, to see a presidential candidate for AS acting in such a way. It is unacceptable, and not what I want to see from any ASUCSD president, hence my withdrawal. I will never be able to understand what it is like to be a Black student on our campus or what it’s like to face systemic racism and anti-blackness on a day-to-day basis. I acknowledge that my actions have added another layer to that, and for that I am sorry.

To the best of my recollection, the snapchat was sent roughly two years ago to a close friend right after I had applied a charcoal face mask. We communicated on this platform daily, and often the nature of our snapchats was to critique systems of oppression through humor. In retrospect, I viewed this as our way of mutually coping with serious social issues.

At this moment in time, however, I understand that it wasn’t appropriate for someone with my privilege to provide this kind of commentary. Since my first year, I have genuinely tried to deepen my understanding of social justice, and I recognize now especially that there is a lot more growing for me to do. Since the photo was taken, the depth of the systemic injustices that Black people face has been brought to my attention, and I can better understand how my actions can have an impact on the lived experiences of Black students on this campus

I began participating in this campaign roughly 5 months ago because I thought that there was a lot that I could contribute to UC San Diego. At this moment in time, my contributions as President would not be meaningful (even to me) because it would be further hurting an important and underrepresented community on our campus.

Sending the snapchat was a mistake that I made before I truly got to know anyone who is currently on THRIVE. It has become clear to me that my actions do not reflect them or their work, and I take full responsibility.

The AS Elections Manager has been notified of my intentions, and I will make every effort to remove my campaigning materials today.

Gabe Schneider is the editor-in-chief of The Triton.

We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.

  • Art Porter

    This is sad because Tara was the best candidate for president hands down and for a person to leak this photo during elections proves that they know she would have won. I cannot believe that students on our campus would stoop so low as to ruin an extremely qualified and determined student leader from winning office. I suppose comradery and playing fair is not something that our university promotes, how disheartening. Congrats to whomever leaked the photo (they shall remain nameless), you got what you wanted at the expense of another humans reputation, I hope you are happy and can live with yourself because any person with an ounce of morality could not.

  • Sidney Yerger

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/82995b4b6eb4805c1b10f566397ce46b5cf1c16d2e75c73a0d4c076bff3e8467.jpg

    Here’s the photo just for context. No matter how good of a person you think she is, this is NOT okay.

  • disqus_rdVGSi2srK

    Wanna stay anonymous here
    Something she said over a private messaging app, which also wasn’t racist if you listen to the back story, is now ruining her life. She has been branded and forced to apologize for something she did 2 years ago and sent a picture to her trusted friends who has now back stabbed her. Tomorrow when she goes to find jobs, this incident is going haunt her and why? Because some people decided to play dirty politics for campus elections. SMH BIG TIME.
    She shouldn’t be called upon for this at all and it’s being hyped for no reason whatsoever! Look at her accomplishments and ask various people in the past who have worked with her and find out if she was racist or not! Then we can continue this argument

  • mechmorph

    Two words: slander and blackmail — both of them are crimes.

    At the very least, this is a slandering of an innocent person. If there was any implication at all that Tara was threatened with the release of this photo if she didn’t resign, then that is blackmail.

    How the school and its various organizations, including the Triton News, can sit back and pretend this is OK because “privilege” and “safe spaces” is reprehensible. If it had been done to me, the people involved, including the AS and the university would find themselves answering questions at the police station, then in my lawyer’s office in one very expensive lawsuit.

    • GovernorWatts

      How is this slander? Being mean isn’t slanderous. (Nor is slander a crime.)

    • mechmorph

      “slander. n. oral defamation, in which someone tells one or more persons an untruth about another, which untruth will harm the reputation of the person defamed. Slander is a civil wrong (tort) and can be the basis for a lawsuit. In some civil law jurisdictions, defamation is treated as a crime rather than a civil wrong.” Spreading the lie that Tara is some sort of racist just because she was wearing a charcoal beauty mask is slanderous, the effect of said lie being that it has permanently damaged her reputation and possibly future career.

    • GovernorWatts

      Sharing a photograph isn’t an oral communication, nor is it “spreading the lie that Tara is some sort of racist.” Even if this were an oral communication, not all “oral communications” are defamatory. Statements of opinion, for example, are never defamatory. If the actual facts are true – i.e. she took a photo in blackface – then the facts aren’t defamatory. Nor are opinions based on those facts defamatory.

    • GovernorWatts

      You probably shouldn’t get your legal advice from the dictionary, either. Dictionaries aren’t law. There are a lot of problems with the definition you posted, since the contours of torts and crimes are different in every state. In California, slander isn’t a crime. And everywhere in the country, opinions – as opposed to false statements of fact – are not slanderous.

    • mechmorph

      “If the actual facts are true – i.e. she took a photo in blackface – then the facts aren’t defamatory. Nor are opinions based on those facts defamatory.”
      That wasn’t “blackface” — it was a cosmetic beauty mask. You’re facts are incorrect, i.e., defamatory.