International Center for Ethics celebrates its 20th anniversary

The International Center for Ethics celebrated its 20th anniversary on Monday, March 12, with the event “A Powerful Fire: Performances to Energize Our Next 20 Years,” which contained a variety of performers, panelists and a symposium.

Seventeen Brandeis students, faculty, administrators and guests gathered for the symposium: “Democracies in Peril: The Role of the University.” Panelists addressed issues such as anti-intellectualism and its threat to higher education, the role of colleges and universities in both widening and closing gaps of inequality and whether educators have a duty to instill democratic values and knowledge into their students. The panel also touched on key issues including the debate on free speech and safe spaces.

“A Powerful Fire” was hosted by Dean of Students, Jamele Adams, and celebrated those involved in the International Center. Performers of the night included Voices of Today, Marcelo Brociner ’18, Elizabeth Bradfield and Germaine Ingram. Dr. Babu Ayindo was scheduled to perform but was unable to due to the impending snow storm.

Jay Kaufman, a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, brought up the negative effects of fear, including those of “international terrorism, rising sea levels, and climate change.”

“We’re profoundly threatened as a way of life that we have known, is a way of life no more,” Kaufman said, “and it is not unprecedented to go crouch in cover in the face of that global threat.”

Another panelist, the president of Wheelock College, David Chard, responded by bringing up the importance of discontent in democracy and in inciting general progress.

After a short break, the panel reconvened, and began with addressing the role of universities in engaging students in the democratic process. Elaine Wong, Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, mentioned the recent changes to Brandeis’ General Education requirements that were intended to include skills for civic engagement in the curriculum as an integral part of a Brandeis education.

“[The university’s] biggest resource is the students,” said Ángela María Pérez Mejía, a member of the Ethics Center’s International Advisory Board and the Chief Cultural Manager of Banco de la República, Bogotá, Colombia. “And the students have a lot of answers, and have a connection with the outside world that can be very helpful.”

The panel went on to discuss the need for student agency over their own education and the creation of opportunities for students to get involved and have their voices heard.

Panelists referenced Brandeis’ history of social justice and the continuation of that legacy through the 2015 Ford Hall student movement and student involvement in the national #NeverAgain movement for gun control. The panel concluded with a question and answer session.

After each panelist gave a short closing remark, everyone was invited to attend the reception in Shapiro Academic Complex Atrium, after which they would attend the next event, “A Powerful Fire: Performances to Energize Our Next 20 Years.”

Adams gave a brief introduction, saying, “one of the wonderful reasons we’re here this evening is to celebrate 20 years of majesty… 20 years of whole movement, progression, and doing the unexpected and making it expected.”

Voices of Today opened and closed the event. Jane Sapp, a musician who specializes in gospel music in the southern United States and music of the Civil Rights Movement, was joined by two of her former students, Michael Carter and OJ Martori, to form the trio. As a musician who travels all across the United States, many of Sapp’s lyrics come from students she has worked with over the years, merely adding music to the lyrics.

Their first piece was “I’m gonna let it shine,” and the audience joined in at the chorus. The next song, “If I had the world in my hands,” was inspired by the comments of fifth, sixth and seventh graders whom Sapp had met in one of her classes. The layout of the song revolved around the students’ responses to the prompt: “If I had the world in my hands…” Students responded with phrases like “I would want to keep it for myself,” or “I’d respect it like my mother.”

Sapp will be releasing a collection of stories and songs through Brandeis University Press in Spring 2019, written by young people across the U.S. as a resource for music educators and activists. “The Ethics center has welcomed us. Given us a platform to be heard and learn from the work we’re doing,” said Sapp during her performance.

The next performer, Brociner, has been involved with the Ethics Center since his first semester at Brandeis. “Freshman year I took an introductory class for the Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation (CAST) Minor, which is housed within the Ethics center,” Brociner said. “The most concrete way that the Ethics Center has been pivotal for me was through the Sorensen Fellowship, an amazing opportunity for me to pursue a huge dream of mine, doing an exhibition in Vietnam. The Ethics center was amazing in helping me preparing me for that journey as well as unpacking that journey afterwards with the book that my cohort wrote. They really helped me digest that experience of being abroad as an artist and activist.” Brociner performed two poems that related to his experiences in Vietnam, presenting an art exhibition of his Cuban grandfather’s depictions of the Vietnam war.

Next, Bradfield, who is an author and environmentalist, recited a few poems revolving around issues of environmental confusion. Her first poem, entitled “Misapprehensions of Nature,” told an anecdote about a video that came out in 2008 that speaks about two men who released their pet tiger into the wild, and upon contacting the tiger years later, it remembered them.

The next performer, Ingram, is a member of the International Advisory Board of International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life (IMPACT) and on the steering committee. Ingram performed an interpretive dance piece, representing the detrimental effects of the water crisis within the U.S. and the world. Ingram also referenced the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and Cape Town, South Africa to highlight the need for change.

Ayindo, the current artist-in-residence at the Ethics center, was unable to attend due to the snow storm. Voices of Today was the final performance. They concluded the ceremony with three songs, “There is a bright side somewhere,” “One note won’t make harmony” and “There’s a river flowing in my soul.”

The final piece included all of the audience members singing a piece in a round of three. The whole atrium was filled with voices singing, “We have come too far, we won’t turn around, we’ll fund the streets with justice. We are freedom bound.”

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