Working toward a more inclusive Brandeis

Last week during her keynote address, Dr. Blanca Vega ’98 called Brandeis a “white space” that does not acknowledge minority groups. Brandeis’ founding in 1948 is rooted in a set of Jewish history and experiences. During this time, the university stood out as a space which hoped to educate all students, regardless of religious affiliation or race. Decades later, as a non-sectarian university founded on Jewish ideals, Brandeis still prides itself as a university for all, despite a largely white and Jewish population. 

According to the Brandeis website, as of fall 2018, 46.1 percent of undergraduate students identified as white, 14 percent as Asian American, 8.3 percent as Hispanic and 5.2 percent as black or African American. 

Throughout the university’s short history, Brandeis has seen examples of racism, followed by outcry from both the student body and the surrounding community. Whether it be African American students on campus walking out in protest during Ford Hall 1969 for the creation of an African and African American Studies (AAAS) program or the petition for an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) program on campus, our university’s values to social justice have been strongly advocated for by the student body. 

As a university with a strong focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion, our editorial board cannot help but notice the resonating inequity that still exists on campus. The Steinhardt Social Research Institution released a report in May 2016 that said, “Social interactions among members of different racial/ethnic groups are limited despite the increased diversity of the student body. White, Asian and especially Black students, were more likely to form friendships with others of their same group than would be expected based on how frequently they appear in the population.” We as Brandeis students need to create a space where we are comfortable and striving towards true diversity. 

The report added that 60 percent of African American students at least “somewhat” agree that there is a hostile environment toward people of color at Brandeis, which was a higher percentage of students than in other racial/ethnic groups. 

Three-quarters of all students also reported that they ‘somewhat’ belong at Brandeis. However, almost 60 percent of Jewish students felt that they ‘very much’ belong at Brandeis, compared to 44 percent of non-Jewish white students, 30 percent of East Asian and Hispanic students and only 13 percent of black students. 

It is also important to note that “more than half of students (54 percent) disagreed with the statements that unpopular opinions can be expressed freely at Brandeis,” per the May 2016 Steinhardt report. The report suggests that many minority groups “feel that they cannot express their views on campus, including Black and Hispanic students, non-Jewish White students, and politically moderate and conservative students,” as seen in responses to questions about free expression of unpopular opinions and the use of trigger warnings. Part of belonging is feeling free to express your views without fear of retribution, and every student at Brandeis deserves to have a space where they can do this as well as be exposed to other points of view. 

The university has made efforts to increase this sense of belonging on campus. This can be seen in the dramatic decline in the proportion of black students who feel that they did not belong at Brandeis at all since 2016, according to a follow-up news report “Race, Community, and Belonging: Revisiting Student Concerns at Brandeis University” published by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute in February 2019. Despite these improvements, the research showed that “the proportion of Black students who felt that they somewhat or very much belonged on campus also declined.”

While we reflect on the diversity that surrounds our campus, we also recognize that The Brandeis Hoot’s personal organization is also not that diverse. The majority of our editorial board and staff are white women, with only three members of our editorial board that identify as non-white. As a newspaper, we strive to make all voices of the Brandeis community heard, regardless of their ethnicity, race or gender. But we, too, find difficulty in increasing the diversity that is within our club. 

Even though it is difficult for any institution to identify and correct its flaws that marginalize various groups, we believe that to unify the community, clubs and the university as a whole should focus on including marginalized groups in conversations about improving on-campus experiences. The burden of making Brandeis a more diverse community should not be placed on minority students, but rather all of us. The administration is making efforts to be more inclusive, but many clubs and groups at the school still remain fairly segregated and don’t often evaluate their role in including students from diverse backgrounds.

We hope that Brandeis continues to work toward making the school more inclusive and welcoming to all students, and we will continue to do our best to contribute toward that effort.

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