The Student Union organized a protest on Thursday to express discontent with the administration’s acceptance of a proposal from Student Events, which would give them 17% of the Student Activities Fee with oversight from the Department of Student Activities. Union members and approximately 100 students gathered outside of the administration buildings shouting, “students united will never be defeated,” and “students know what students want.”
The SE proposal, which was accepted by Vice President of Students and Enrollment Jean Eddy over the Thanksgiving break, allows SE to spend its money without reporting to the Student Union Financial Board. Union members claim that this violates the Student Union Constitution and the SAF amendment passed in 2006; meanwhile, SA has said that the administration is not bound by the constitution. After accepting the proposal, Eddy gave the Union eight days in which to formulate a response and said that the proposal will be instituted next semester.
Union President Shreeya Sinha ’09 explained the need for student autonomy and citizenship in a speech delivered to the gathered students. “There are very few moments in a university when the student body unites for a call to action and this is one of those moments,” she said. “This protest is about your right to vote.” The protesters then marched through the administration buildings, dropping letters and signs articulating their grievances and chanting “give us back our money, give us back our rights.”
Following the march, Prof. Gordie Fellman (SOC) then spoke to the crowd encouraging them to exercise their rights as citizens. Fellman commented after his brief speech, “these moments are rare. This is a democratic issue.” He added, “there is a struggle ahead between students and administration [but] rather than confrontation, we should work to find a solution everyone can agree with.”
During Fellman’s speech, President Jehuda Reinharz, Provost Marty Krauss, and other administrators left the building without acknowledging the gathered students. Office of Research Administration staff member Jessica Delargy, meanwhile, supported the protesting students. “I hope it’s not going to be squelched in any way,” she commented. “I hope it’s successful and someone listens to them.”
Student Union members seemed pleased with the outcome of the protest, which is the second event against the proposal that the Union organized this week.
“I think it’s great,” said Director of Union Affairs Jason Gray ’10. “Students aren’t going to accept their rights being taken away, or their money being taken away, and this shows that.”
He added that he hopes the protest will influence Eddy to reevaluate her decision regarding the proposal. “Sometimes people make wrong decisions,” he said. “It’s time to fix that.”
“I am pleasantly surprised by the turnout,” said Senator-at-Large Andrew Brooks ’09. “I think it’s great, a lot of students showing concern for their SAF money. I’m hoping this is one small step toward the administration changing its mind.”
Protesting is the “single strongest thing students can do to express ourselves when there is discontent with people that make decisions,” added Senator for Racial Minority Students Gabe Gaskin ’08.
Former Union president Alison Schwartzbaum ’08 agreed. “This was an empowering experience,” she said.
Some, however, had differences of opinion regarding the Union’s rationale. Dan Lincoln ’09, a member of Student Production Services and a Student Activities employee, said, “the fact that they’re protesting is great but they’re not actually losing anything…there’s an irony, they seem to hate Student Activities but that [public address system] belongs to Student Activities.”
Members of Students Opposing the Decision to Arm also appeared at the protest carrying signs condemning the administration’s arming of campus police. SODA responded to Union chants with “no guns on Brandeis” and “we don’t like getting shot.”
“We’re protesting the same thing [as the Union], not giving students a democratic voice,” explained SODA member Lev Hirschhorn ’11.
“It feels like the Student Union was trying to use students as a mouth piece instead of being a mouth piece for student concern,” said SODA member Matt Lawrence ’10.
SODA organizer Ben Serby ‘10 remarked, “we’ve felt snubbed over the semester by the Union…a lot of people didn’t want us to show up. It is incredibly ironic that the Union basically initiated a protest and tried to take a top-down approach on an issue only they were really concerned about.”
“They’re students too,” responded Gaskin, “to not have them here would be a disservice to what this protest is about.”
Attending students were concerned about the administration’s respect for students. David Brown ’09 said, “this event is about more than money…for me, it’s less that SA has $200,000, it’s that the administration isn’t listening.”
“I heard someone say ‘I’m just doing this so 30 years from now I can say I was part of activism at Brandeis,’” said Alex Fleming ’09. “That upset me because I am here because the administration has consistently ignored the voice of students.” He then cited examples including the arming of Public Safety officers and the removal of the art exhibit “Voices of Palestine” in 2006.
He added, “this is a new example of the administration doing what it has done before – ignore the will of the student body.”