Profile: UCLA’s Student Body President Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh

In Spring Quarter 2017, Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh was elected to be UCLA’s new USAC President. A senior from Los Angeles, Arielle hopes to go into a career in Public Service. Now that it’s already halfway through the 2017-18 school year, we decided to check in with Arielle and ask about her position as President. 

Her Campus: Were you involved in student government before college?

Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh: I’ve been involved with Student Government since Middle School. Campus leadership and student service have been at the heart of my education since I was a child. 

HC: Why did you decide to run for USAC president?

AYM: I had no intention of getting involved with Student Government when I first enrolled at UCLA. At a school of over 30,000 undergraduates, never in a million years did I think I was worthy or capable of even beginning to understand how to best serve our campus community. I spent much of my first year within the Jewish community. 2014-2015 was a challenging year for Jewish students at UCLA; the phrase “Hitler did nothing wrong” was found etched into a table at Bruin Cafe, a student was initially denied a leadership position in our student government based solely on her Jewish identity and swastikas had appeared on UC campuses across the state. It was during that time that I found my voice, advocating for my community. It is that same voice that I now use to advocate for our entire Bruin community. It wasn’t until I joined Bruins United that I really allowed myself to “go” to UCLA. I spent my first to third years here engaging with our campus community, learning about our diverse student body, working with student leaders to make this campus more inclusive and welcoming. Each experience, each conversation, each relationship, each challenge and each victory helped me recognize my true passion and calling to serve our campus community. I believed our campus needed a USAC President who was willing to practice “Moral Leadership.”

HC: What do you mean by “Moral Leadership”?

AYM: Moral leadership can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To me, it means uniting people, not because they are the same, but because they are different. It means having the courage to stand up and speak and having the discipline to sit down and listen. It means never being 100% sure of yourself. It means exercising your capacity to reconcile conflicting narratives and rendering each to be right and true. It means serving as a facilitator, even when dialoguing across differences. It means doing what’s morally right over what’s politically expedient. It’s about recognizing that once you get to that council table, your job is to serve all students -- not just the 30% who make their opinions (good and bad) known. It means making difficult decisions and always asking questions. It means being you when everyone else wants you to be them. It means recognizing the spark that lies within you and within someone else and sharing that light, without trying to spark someone else’s flame. It means recognizing the walls that exist and maneuvering them until those holding them up are ready to take them down themselves. If I can even begin to do a tenth of that, I’d consider my term a success. 

HC: How did you feel when you were elected USAC president?

AYM: When I first threw my name in the hat, I couldn’t have even begun to imagine the significance of being an Iranian American Jewish woman in this position. In our time of great political tumult and politicization of identities, it is essential that we come together. Being a woman in this seat is not easy. Even on a Council where ten of the fourteen members are women, I still see the discrepancies in the representation, engagement and respect of council members based on their genders. Our work is not yet done, but I have every intention of spending these last few months of my term working to ensure that the next generation of leaders can have it better than we did. 

HC: What has been the hardest part so far?

AYM: The most challenging part of the job is recognizing that you can’t do it all. I came into this position with an extensive list of issues I wanted to address, policies I wanted to change and students I wanted to better engage. While I still have every intention of striving to do all of those things, I am now realistic in recognizing that I can’t do it all. I feel so privileged to be able to serve alongside my fantastic staff— especially my co-Chiefs of Staff, Claire Fieldman and Naren Akurati. 

HC: What is your proudest accomplishment so far?

AYM: My proudest accomplishment so far is having found an incredible staff of over 60 passionate, charismatic, committed students whom I am lucky enough to work with in the Office of the President. Each student has given of themselves to serve our Bruin community, and it has been my honor and pleasure to help support them in their leadership development. 

HC: What do you look forward to most? Any specific project you are excited to work on?

AYM: One thing I’m really looking forward to is a campaign we’re calling, “DYF” or “Declare Your Feminism.” We are working with campus, local and national organizations and movements to create a weeks worth of programing dedicated to discussing, modeling and advocating for women’s empowerment and women’s leadership. We’ve got a great repertoire of programs and events on our list, and we cannot wait to release them. I could not think of a more critical moment for this project.

HC: What do you want to change most about UCLA?

AYM: In my four years at UCLA it has become more and more clear to me that there are deep lines that exist between different communities. One administrator once told me that there are only three days that a Bruin is truly an individual on this campus— days one, two and three— because by day three we’ve found the groups, communities and organizations that fit with our viewpoint of the world. And why wouldn’t we? At a campus of over 30,000 it is natural to want to find our place. But that becomes a dangerous reality when we aren’t given and don’t give ourselves opportunities to step out from behind the shadows of our comfort zones. If there was one thing I’d want to change about UCLA it would be the walls we put up between us. There is nothing wrong with wanting to find community amongst others who look, sound, think and believe like us, but it becomes an issue when we don’t allow ourselves to see beyond ourselves. 

HC: How has this position shaped you as a person/how do you hope it will shape you? 

AYM: Serving as USAC President has taught me of the importance of voicing your truth. Part of the reason why I chose to run was to challenge and check the partisanship that has plagued our student government and rendered it unresponsive and irrelevant for far too long. I had really hoped that this year would be different— unfortunately it hasn’t been. The best advice I can give my successor is to charge his or her council to not allow the status quo of politicking and bullying at the table to be normalized. 

HC: What advice do you have for students who want to become more involved on campus?

AYM: One of my favorite professors at UCLA once told me, “Arielle, never let your schooling get in the way of your education.” UCLA is an incredible place. With 30,000 students, 1,200 student organizations and millions of opportunities to get involved, lead and serve, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to being a Bruin. And there never should be. We each have the opportunity to make this place our home. And we will only ever get out as much as we put in. 

Thank you, Arielle, for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to seeing you do amazing things the rest of the school year!

Photos Courtesy of Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh