ODEI opens paid position to students to talk about challenges to Brandeis

November 8, 2019

The Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) is seeking about 10 to 12 students for a Student Advisory Council, which would inform ODEI programming with their discussions on successes and challenges to the Brandeis campus—like ableism, classism, racism, homophobia, political affiliation, privilege and oppression—and connect students from different backgrounds.

The students would be paid $12.75 an hour and would meet eight times during the Spring 2020 academic year, or twice per month, with an option of extending the position into the fall, said Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Education Training and Development Allyson Livingstone in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot. Livingstone hopes that this will be a long-term project.

The position is paid, said Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas in an interview with The Hoot, so uncompensated time does not pose an obstacle to students getting involved with the council. Brimhall-Vargas has not set a firm cap on the number of positions in case more students want to engage with ODEI, and the office has already received over 20 applications, according to Livingstone.

 “[This comes from] a desire for a place for students to come together to talk about the things they experience and observe in a variety of settings that is a systematic way to communicate about diversity issues,” said Brimhall-Vargas. “We’ve set up one system for communication around diversity and that is protest. And there’s nothing wrong with protest, and we want that to continue, but we want to create something so that our division hears from students on a regular basis about things that they are observing and experiencing.”

The Social Justice Committee on the Student Union has assisted ODEI in recruiting applicants, and Racial Minority Senator Joyce Huang ’22 reported in last week’s senate meeting that 30 people had signed up to apply after the committee tabled in the Shapiro Campus Center.

The group would be a direct line of communication with ODEI and could influence the office’s educational work on campus, said Livingstone, as well as work in the Intercultural Center (ICC), Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center (PARC) and the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC), said Brimhall-Vargas. The group would also provide students with skills to talk to each other about difficult issues, according to Livingstone, which they could then apply to other sectors of their lives.

“Students have so much to offer on how Brandeis can stay relevant and inclusive,” said Livingstone.

The group could also provide students with peer resources to talk about ideas, like bringing controversial art or speakers to campus. Brimhall-Vargas mentioned two examples, when Michael Weller ’65 authored the play “Buyer Beware” which faced student backlash when it was set to be performed at Brandeis because of the use of a racial slur for African Americans and the Undergraduate Theater Collective’s performance of “And Then There Were None,” which faced faculty criticism because of the play’s racist history. Brimhall-Vargas hopes that this group will allow students to discuss how to engage with difficult work in a respectful manner.

“Students are not always talking with each other…[and] not always engaged with other parts of the student body,” said Brimhall-Vargas. “The thought was to get a diverse group of students together who might…surface those points of view before there is a crisis.”

Brimhall-Vargas said that the group could be used to look at how to bring up a controversial topic to Brandeis, how that could be done well and respectfully and how Brandeis could prepare for the aftermath of a challenging speaker or art work, for example. Livingstone suggested that the group could also potentially function as a peer consultancy group, aside from its role to give a student perspective on Brandeis for ODEI programming.

“It is an opportunity we’re seeking to create, where students who have reach and connection to others on campus might come and bring ideas that might be challenging, to test it to see how they move forward,” said Brimhall-Vargas. “We can build the communication of spirited engagement that is still respectful and where diversity is valued.”

ODEI is seeking students of diverse backgrounds, including in race, sexual orientation, ideological beliefs and students who don’t have strong social identities, said Brimhall-Vargas—especially students who want to engage with ODEI and the student body to bring issues forward and discuss them. The students are meant to represent a part of the Brandeis experience.

“We’re not only focusing on marginalized identities. We really, truly want an intersectional, diverse group folks who’ve experienced some privilege as a result of the way their identity has been valued by society and folk who’ve experienced marginalization with regards of being devalued by society,” said Livingstone. “We want to really engage in cross-cultural dialogue and help students develop the skills to connect to each other in this way…It’s about students talking about issues, success and challenges…and engaging with dialogue with folk who are like them in some ways and unlike them in other ways.”

The council is not about building a consensus, said Livingston, but about creating skills for students and informing ODEI practices. 

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