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.
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