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BAATF gives open letter to Liebowitz

By Abigail Gardener and Elianna Spitzer

Section: News

November 4, 2016

The Brandeis Asian American Task Force (BAATF) delivered an open letter to President Ronald D. Liebowitz at the Inaugural Luncheon on Nov. 3. The letter contained a general statement, personal notes from students and signatures from those supporting the effort.

The letter began circulating online for students to sign or add personal statements on Nov. 1 at 1 p.m. The general statement welcomed President Liebowitz to Brandeis while communicating “the urgent need” for the continued development of AAPI Studies. 

“The letter is mostly driven by the desire to tell the stories of the Asian American and Pacific Islander students on campus, and communicate what people are thinking, where they’re coming from, their experiences at Brandeis,” said Hin Hon (Jamie) Wong ’17, president of BAATF. “It’s a great opportunity to … help create a positive connection between both the president and us as both a community and organization.”

In addition to a general statement of intent, 18 students attached and signed personal letters. 153 students signed their names in support under “All other concerned students and faculty of Brandeis University,” and 37 supporters unaffiliated with Brandeis signed under “All else.”

Wong modeled the open letter after a different letter written by AAPI activists titled, “AAPIs 4 Black Lives Matter.” This letter allowed anyone to edit its general statement. “They drafted a communal letter written in the perspective of the AAPI people to send to their family members, to their community members, to their peers and communicate why Black Lives Matter is so important,” she said.

Wong framed the open letter to Liebowitz in a similar way, letting the Brandeis community know that anyone was welcome to make changes and contribute to the letter. “I wanted to make it communal to really make it a community effort, to make it so that it’s not me writing the letter and only getting my voice out,” said Wong. Edits to the letter were anonymous.

Many of the personal statements not only welcome Liebowitz to Brandeis, but emphasize the importance of AAPI studies at Brandeis and express hope and excitement for the direction that President Liebowitz will take AAPI studies in. 

“AAPI studies helped me better understand my sense of self, my heritage and how I fit in within the complex and racist society. We need to know our own history if we want to leave positive and meaningful changes in the future … As you begin your presidency at Brandeis, I hope you join us in championing the creation of an AAPI Studies department at Brandeis,” said Tony Tran ’17, member of BAATF and the Committee to Establish Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies.

The personal letters are, “not just a couple words, but paragraphs saying why this is important to us. It’s cool to see Asian American students, being open … because a lot of us, as a community we tend to be apolitical,” said Danni Tang ’19, outreach chair for BAATF.

BAATF was able to present the letter and talk with Liebowitz at the Inaugural Luncheon before the ceremony. “We greatly look forward to our meeting between him and the Student-Faculty Working Committee on Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies at Brandeis. We also look forward to meeting the Board of Trustees here at Brandeis University,” they said in a post on their Facebook page. 

BAATF published a letter to the administration through their Facebook page on Dec. 2, 2015. The letter demanded that Brandeis create an Asian American Studies department. 

BAATF’s “Day of Action Rally” and negotiations with administrators last semester culminated in the creation of a faculty-student committee. This committee handles the development and progression of an Asian-American Pacific Islander Studies program at Brandeis. BAATF was influential in creating a course that centered on Asian American History for this semester. The Asian American Experience was the first course of its nature that had been taught since 2011.

The link to the final copy of BAATF’s open letter to President Liebowitz can be found on their Facebook page.

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