President announces new initiative to address systemic racism at Brandeis

July 8, 2020

UPDATED 7/10/20, 10 am

President Ron Liebowitz announced an initiative where groups of administrative officials will come up with plans over the next 90 days to transform the campus and address systemic racism, according to a June 10 email. Liebowitz followed up on his statement six days later, where he apologized for a lack of clarity about who will make up the groups, writing that community members had reached out to him about his original statement. 

Students on Brandeis’ official Instagram and Facebook pages criticized the statement for centering white administrators in the groups designed to outline new roles and responsibilities for departments including Public Safety, the Department of Community Living, Human Resources and Athletics. They called on Brandeis to center students, faculty and administrators of color, according to several student posts.

Some drew attention to the university’s policies on student protests, which were updated in late August of 2019, according to an earlier Hoot article, and Brandeis’ treatment of the Still Concerned Student protestors, who protested discrimination at Brandeis in May 2019. Brandeis’s protest policies allow the university to limit “the time, place, and manner of demonstrations” and states that the Dean of Students Office (DOSO) must “be notified in writing in advance of any planned demonstrations, and may instruct organizers regarding the guidelines for such activity,” according to the Brandeis Rights and Responsibilities

A majority of the 13 administrators charged with creating these action plans are white, but Liebowitz’s second email on June 16 clarified that membership of each group is not limited to the administrators he listed in his first email. 

“The names listed in the memo are those who will be responsible and accountable for submitting plans to me by September 1,” wrote Liebowitz on June 16. “I had not intended to limit membership to those involved in the reporting process.” He also added that anyone is free to independently submit ideas if they have them.

Recent weeks have seen protests for racial justice across the country and around the world. The protests began as a response to repeated police killings of unarmed African Americans, such as George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY; however, they have grown to encompass opposing systemic racism in police and other American institutions, according to a New York Times article.

Chief diversity officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas wrote that he felt “deep sadness and anger at the recurring examples of racist violence against black people across the United States, made worse at this time by the inequitable impact of COVID-19 on our communities of color” in a May 29 email to the Brandeis community, the first university communication in response to the protests. “[Brandeis’] black and brown students, faculty and staff are carrying the extra weight of systemic racism in addition to the pandemic’s challenge… Equity and respect for people—regardless of the color of their skin, religious beliefs or background—are among our most important foundational values at Brandeis.”

“George Floyd’s killing was cruel, inhumane, and contemptible,” Liebowitz wrote in a June 1 email. “The injustice of violence against black people must stop,” adding that “the history of our great university is intertwined with the pursuit of justice.”

The Board of Trustees also said they are “committed to creating a campus community that is an exemplar of how people of many nationalities, races, ethnicities, and differences can live together comfortably with dignity, respect, and equity, excluding no one,” saying that so far, Brandeis has “not done nearly enough,” according to a June 10 statement. 

Provost Lisa M. Lynch urged members of the Brandeis community to take time to examine systemic racism in the larger society and at Brandeis itself. Lynch announced a panel titled “America’s Racial Reckoning: Black Lives and Black Futures in Historical, Political and Legal Context” on June 12 to discuss systemic racism, moderated by Chad Williams (AAAS), the chair of the African and African American Studies Department. Hoot coverage of the virtual panel can be found here

A previous version of this article capitalized “white” when referring to race.

As of July 10, 2020, the university has updated the protest policy in the Rights and Responsibilities. More coverage coming soon.

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