During the public forum portion of ASUCR’s April 4 senate meeting, UCR student and UCSA external affairs committee member David Castillo read a letter which implicated ASUCR senators Esther Hwang and Albert Yum for allegedly neglecting their responsibilities as UCR delegates at last March’s USSA Legislative Conference in Washington D.C. The letter, written anonymously but later attributed to fourth-year student and Leg Con delegate Reema Moosa, cites, “…the physical absence and lack of active participation, dedication, and concern for the students during the Legislative Conference by our appointed ASUCR leaders” and calls for disciplinary action against the senators.
Castillo, while stating that he had no part in writing the letter, shared his own take on the allegations from his experience at Leg Con. “We shouldn’t play the blame game here. It’s just a matter of principle. If you’re a senator, if you’ve got a position in which you’re meant to represent the students and advocate on their behalf, and you’re clearly not doing that job, then I can understand why these students brought up that concern. It is a slap in the face to a lot of students,” he told the senate after reading the letter.
Immediately after Castillo’s comments, ASUCR President Stephen Lee stated that ASUCR would look into the situation, pointing out that there had been no report or update on what happened at Leg Con. It was then determined that the allegations would be addressed in the next ASUCR senate meeting.
In an interview with the Highlander, Moosa described Hwang and Yum’s actions, saying, “Esther clearly felt this conference was not productive at all and most of us did. She would not attend workshops and the workshops she did show up at she was always 20 minutes [late] because David Castillo would have to text her, or people from her former slate would tell her people were mad about her absence so she would rush over. Albert never came with her. Every workshop I attended he was not there.”
The focal point of Moosa’s concerns revolve around the senators’ lack of participation in Lobby Day at the Capitol. In what she deemed as “disrespectful,” she alleges that the senators left the march on Sallie Mae early and did not lobby, which was what the weekend was meant to prepare students for. The senators left the march in order to catch a train to New York, where they vacationed for Spring Break.
The reason Yum and Hwang provide for not lobbying is the lack of organization on USSA’s part and not being given the time of their lobbying appointment until the night before. The two senators had booked their train tickets that afternoon, and asked Kevin Jo to fill in for them during the conflicting lobby visit.
Since the letter’s release, questions have been raised regarding commitment by Hwang and Yum to the conference and whether their trip to New York conflicted with their responsibilities as delegates.
Hwang and Yum confirmed that they signed the required ASUCR travel contract for participating in Leg Con. The contract explicitly states, “As an accepted UC Riverside delegate, I will participate fully in ANY and ALL activities associated with this particular event with the complete UCR Delegation.”
A common thread across all accounts of the conference is the general disorganization among USSA and UCR in planning the conference.
Yum currently serves as the ASUCR vice president of finance and assumed the role of vice president of external affairs last year. Along with Santa Barbara’s EVP, Yum had previously asked the UCSA board to stop its investment in USSA and dedicate those funds elsewhere. This year, USSA slashed its student participation in the conference from 400 to 300, and UC Irvine did not attend.
UCR Leg Con delegate Kevin Jo offered a different perspective on the events. “None of the UCR students knew what time and who the lobby visits were until the night before we had the visits. In addition, even up till the morning of lobbying, [a] couple more visits were still being planned and confirmed. The scheduling of lobby visits were clearly unorganized and the leadership responsible for this were both from UCR and USSA,” Jo stated in an interview with the Highlander. Jo went on to say, “Due to the fact that no one knew Esther and Albert were missing the visit until the day of, it could appear as if Esther and Albert ‘ditched’ the situation but they found a replacement (me) in advance for their absence.”
When asked about the letter’s allegations, Hwang acknowledged not participating in lobbying but maintained her involvement in the rest of the conference’s activities, claiming hard evidence. She told the Highlander, “I have a written letter signed by the Merced executive vice president. I talked to Santa Cruz’ vice president because I want to slowly, bit by bit, show evidence that these allegations are false. I have pictures on my phone of me being at the dinners, at the workshop, I have a video of me marching at the rally, so I don’t understand why they wrote this letter and why they would blast me on the spot…”
Hwang supplied the Highlander with the letter from External Vice President of ASUCM Jonathan Ly, in which he writes, “In my capacity as an attendee, I participated in a workshop with Esther with regard to the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community… I mention this specifically to refute claims that both Albert and Ester did not actively participate in the Legislative Conference from numerous sources.”
She also claimed that every member of the delegation did not completely fulfill their responsibilities at the conference, but she and Yum had been unfairly targeted. Hwang also said UC Santa Cruz did not directly complain about any particular individuals, but the UCR delegation as a whole.
The release of the letter in close proximity to the ASUCR elections has raised concerns over an ulterior motive. “My take on the reason why this letter was written to address us was the elections and the politics involved. Esther made it known that she wanted to be president, but half the delegation didn’t feel that she was fit for it. They wrote this to put a negative image on her and bring her down from running her candidacy,” said Yum.
Moosa’s letter concludes with a set of disciplinary demands. It reads, “…we demand that Esther Hwang and Albert Yum compensate the cost of the trip which our student fees paid for. We also have two other demands: (1) that her position as [Campus Organizer Director] is terminated and (2) that her candidacy as an ASUCR Senator is revoked.”
In the days following the letter’s release, Hwang’s candidacy fell apart. Jo, an ASUCR senate candidate on the [YOU]CR party, provided some insight, stating, “She was removed from our party due to the open letter and couple days later she dropped out of the race.”
Yum told the Highlander that if the ASUCR senate concludes that he and Hwang had done something wrong, they would pay the cost for their trip to Leg Con.
The allegations will be addressed at this week’s ASUCR meeting on April 18. Several Leg Con delegates are expected to share further information during the public forum period.