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Brandeis Bridges encourages students to connect culturally

By Dor Cohen

Section: News

September 13, 2013

A diverse group of Brandeis University undergraduates seeks to bridge divisions between the Jewish and black communities on campus. As part of a new initiative called Brandeis Bridges, 10 students—five black and five Jewish undergraduates representing their respective communities—will be chosen to participate in an ambitious intercultural leadership training program.

The 10 Brandeis Bridges fellows, selected by the Dean of Student Life and the Director of Hillel, will program events for the Brandeis community throughout the academic year and will return from the intercultural trip to Israel with a renewed understanding of each other’s communities.

Brandeis Bridges is a collaboration between three prominent organizations on the Brandeis campus: Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC), Brandeis Black Student Organization (BBSO) and Martin Luther King & Friends. The fellowship was founded in November 2012 by the leaders of these three organizations, Ryan Yuffe ’15, Alex Thomson ’15, Amaris Brown ’16 and Cynthia Jackson ’16, with help from Amanda Dryer ’13. These founding coordinators mapped out an extensive program that includes a 10-day intercultural trip to Israel that will take place in January 2014. The coordinators met with donors and organizations to raise $50,000 to fully fund the trip, rendering it free of cost for all participants.

According to the program’s website, its founders believe that the black and Jewish communities on campus have so far been “distant,” and according to Yuffe, this trip is meant to “fill the gap between the two communities,” “cross cultural boundaries” and bond over similar interests.

“Students from non-Jewish descent [at Brandeis] feel that they are at a disadvantage because they are not fully aware of Brandeis’ Jewish roots and the campus culture that emanates from those foundations. The Jewish community at Brandeis has generally seen little organized interaction with black students and therefore has not been exposed to the community’s passions, ideas and culture,” Yuffe said.

“Dating back to before the civil rights movement, there was a robust bond between the black and Jewish communities. Leaders of both communities marched together at Selma and fought alongside on many other issues. Brandeis Bridges looks back to this period as a sign of great achievements that can be had through cooperation and mutual understanding,” Brandeis Bridges’ Facebook page states. “We believe strongly that Brandeis Bridges can begin to transform the campus environment between the two communities.”

“This is a landmark opportunity for these communities to interact and discover their common pasts,” said Jackson. “I am really proud to be working on such an initiative.”

The Office of the President, the Office of Student Life, Hillel at Brandeis and the Department of African and Afro-American Studies have expressed their support for the program, which received funding from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Israel Campus Roundtable, the Jacobson Family Foundation, Brandeis University, Students Organized Against Racism and private donors.

First-year Megi Belegu said, “Brandeis Bridges seems like such an amazing opportunity. If there was a program like this for [me] I would definitely go on it myself!”

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