Students share vision for future of Brandeis

Students share vision for future of Brandeis

April 24, 2015

In light of President Fred Lawrence’s impending departure from Brandeis, students were invited to join Larry Kanarek, member of the Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee, members of the Board of Trustees and the Student Union this past Thursday to vocalize their concerns and aspirations for Lawrence’s successor and the future of Brandeis.

Among the primary concerns dominating the conversation, students discussed their discontent with the university’s current engagement with social justice and issues of diversity on campus. “People who have different racial backgrounds are very segregated on this campus,” said one student in attendance.

“I don’t really think [it is] an atmosphere that fosters conversations,” another student said in reference to the administration’s response to student activism. This includes recent decisions to remove the signs placed around campus in support of the national Black Lives Matter campaign.

“Students are hurting,” one student said. “We need to have a president that will critically engage with us at a level that feels human.” Pointing to the emails sent by Lawrence in response to controversial topics, the audience member urged the need for physical engagement and dialogue between the administration and the student body.

Exiting Student Union Vice President Charlotte Franco ’15 elaborated on the issue of social justice. “Brandeis should be at the forefront of change. In recent years, it seems like we are reacting instead of being proactive,” Franco said.

Mohamed Sidique ’15, senior representative to the Board of Trustees, raised the potential to tie diversity on campus with funding initiatives on behalf of the university. “By having a diverse pool of people that donate to Brandeis, you can also bring that diversity to Brandeis,” Sidique said, explaining his desire to see a president with the capacity to tap into new and more diverse sources of funding. Broadening the diversity of donors could bring valuable resources to departments such as Women and Gender Studies or African and Afro-American Studies, he noted.

There was also discussion on the relationship between alumni and current students. “I feel as though there is a giant disconnect between how donors and alumni perceive the school and how students perceive the school,” Sarah Margulies ’15 said. She describes what she calls a lack of empathy demonstrated by the public for current students, noting that many alumni feel as though Brandeis is no longer pro-Israel or pro-Jewish enough.

Referring to what he deemed the “paradox of Brandeis,” Kanarek acknowledged the strong Jewish roots upon which the university was founded upon. However, he emphasized that many of the founding principles of Brandeis, such as combating discrimination and championing diversity, are not Jewish concepts, but universal concepts. Likening the need to simultaneously honor Brandeis’ Jewish roots while upholding the ever evolving nature of social justice to a balancing act, he said that one must always move forward.

Franco acknowledged that Brandeis was founded as a home to members of the Jewish faith who may have been barred from accessing higher education elsewhere. She urged the need to serve communities who are facing discrimination today and to continue to provide access to education for marginalized communities, an effort which has been launched by the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program and the Posse Scholar Program.

In addition to raising concerns over diversity on campus, members of the audience discussed their discontent with the lack of dialogue occurring between members of the administration and the student body. “You can see that students care deeply and intimately about the future of the university, but there is a huge cloud of discontent,” Student Union Chief of Staff Flora Wang ’15 said.

“I think the administration needs to accept that we are students, but we are also adults,” Wang urged, emphasizing the need for dialogue between administration and students. “We want a seat at every conversation that this university wants to talk about,” she said, including all major decisions that may affect the student body.

Matthew Kuruvinakunnel ’15 touched upon Sidique’s previous point and said that Lawrence’s successor should be “someone who appeals to enough of the donor pool that future students don’t have to carry an even heavier financial burden for our university’s progress.”

“It’s really heartening to see that maybe we can use this search to bring this community together,” Kanarek remarked, pointing to the commonality expressed for the vision of Brandeis’ future.

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