Greater autonomy for student resources needed

March 27, 2015

Writing a thesis doesn’t give you a lot of time for anything else, and I’ve missed out. Now that I’ve caught up, however, I heard about two issues on campus that violate ideals both near and dear to my heart: religious expression and student autonomy. Having previously written about the rights of religious freedom and expression, I espoused Dharmic students’ struggles to find a space as a sign of “the innate religious tensions that happen at Brandeis as well as the lack of religious knowledge and understanding on campus.” My pleas expressed a desire for them to find a place to worship on campus. Apparently, the idea was more widespread than I thought, and the university opened a Dharmic prayer center in the SCC. Or at least attempted to.

The problems of student space resurrected itself when the space to be used for the Dharmic prayer space was taken from Students Talking About Resources (STAR) and the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA), who occupied the former Women’s Resource Center, attempting to displace those two groups. Similarly, due to renovations or an outright firing (depending on who you ask), the popular student cafe Chum’s was closed without student consent. Both displaced groups have taken to social media claiming their issues were the result of oppressive ideals that show the university does not care about “social justice.” The displacement of all three groups, whether they be political, supportive or just social, does not justify the methods they underwent. It does not mean that the Dharmic prayer center must be scrapped to placify those who would rather keep a status quo and the Dharmic community in limbo. All four groups need a space, and Brandeis remains unwillinging to distribute space equally to them. Our campus, in its efforts to highlight student roles in clubs, does not desire student-run spaces, because despite the student presence, campus administration lacks trust in them.

Brandeis does not like the concept of student space in general, preferring administration oversight. Spaces for clubs on campus are rare: other than the Hillel and Christian lounges, the places on campus that are club-specific are rare. Even in those aforementioned places, Chaplaincy figures are present. Other than Chum’s, I cannot think of any student run area on campus that remains free of Brandeisian governmental oversight in one way or form. The rooms in the SCC and Usdan are subject to those buildings’ regulations. Places in dorms are subject to the Department of Community Living. Clubs such as STAR and FMLA are subject to Student Activities and the Student Union. Every club space and club is regulated by the Student Union or another Brandeis governmental department, restricting access to supplies or what one can do. While putting on an event earlier in the year for a club I run, I had to get three signatures and visit four departments to get approval for the event. I received it less than six hours before said event was held, even though I started three months in advance. My delay was due to a bureaucratic system which decides who succeeds and who fails based on their own biases, marking each club irrationally.

This oversight devalues the student aspects of the club and space, making the space less special. I know it sounds cliche, but people are two-faced: they act differently around superiors and peers. Concerning Chum’s, no more events are being scheduled and the events being held there must be done with non-student supervision, effectively adding for the first time administrative power over the area.

The administration is renovating the area surrounding and including Chum’s, which they must to maintain structural integrity, and that will mean that Chum’s will have to close. Events should fade away to allow the construction work to happen. What irks me is the question of why the events are being supervised. Although I do not believe the idea that Chum’s is being oppressed as the sole reason, the administration’s arguments and actions do not align.

Therefore, I am skeptical and believe that Student Events’ actions are reprehensible. Repair and secure the building, yes, but do not use the situation to control the space. The moment one controls a student space, the space is no longer safe due to fear of Brandeisian repercussions. FMLA and STAR remain independent, but the former order to “move out or else” shames me as a Brandeisian. I understand the Dharmic faiths need a place to worship; I believe the former WRC would be a great place to have it. Yet, those groups provide valuable services to campus. If Brandeis converted the Alumni Lounge into a Dharmic community center, none of this turmoil would have happened. Campus space must be more efficiently used. The Brandeis bureaucracy wants to suppress all student autonomy because it weakens their power. It is a natural instinct to want autonomy; student-run spaces are the only points of rebellion against an overbearing college bureaucracy.

Just recently, an email about weekend activities was sent out by Student Activities. Headlining this email were comments about this issue. The email stated that the administration’s “miscommunication was at the core of this unfortunate misunderstanding.” Had the administration allowed the rare cases of student autonomy on campus, this “miscommunication” would not have happened. Secondly, the email apologized to the Dharmic faith community here, as is appropriate. A needless conflict between campus groups was created over space, and they were right to apologize for causing the kerfuffle. Finally, the administration is again committing the same mistakes of isolating already rare club spaces by adding the SCC Art Gallery to the realm of controlled space, only now being “scheduled for use through the Chaplaincy.” I currently attend weekly club meetings in the Art Gallery. Why does Brandeis think the solution to student space problems is to restrict more student space? The Alumni Lounge, or the one right above Levin Ballroom, is rarely used, if used at all. It could be converted into a lovely center for all those who need it for worship. But Brandeis believes the solution is more of the problem.

All in all, Brandeis should repair Chum’s (and the Castle) as soon as possible, place the Dharmic prayer center in the Alumni Lounge in Usdan and let STAR and WRC run themselves without Brandeis administrational interference in the SCC. Brandeis organizations and spaces already have regulatory agencies in their members: The people’s rule prevent the tyranny of the few leaders. In the world outside of Brandeis’ campus, the rule of law regulates itself. On campus, an unapproachable and faceless bureaucracy demands complete and utter compliance. In the cases of Chum’s and the WRC, the areas on campus were threats to the desire of overreaching control. In the real world, adults are free to organize and find organizations that deal with issues in spaces they deem acceptable without a regulator. As college students, we are nearly all over 18 years of age. Why does that power of maturity, and its responsibilities, change when entering 415 South Street? We are adults and must be treated as such.

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