Instagram account shares ‘unheard stories’ from Brandeis community members, university releases statement about anonymous forums

August 28, 2020

The Unheard Stories at Brandeis Instagram page (@unheard_stories_deis), an account that shares anonymous stories of community members’ experiences on campus, according to an Instagram story highlight, has garnered nearly twenty thousand followers and has posted over two hundred posts about misconduct on campus since its creation on June 27. 

According to the page’s Instagram story highlights, this page was founded as a platform for students to anonymously speak about their experiences as well as start a conversation about the culture at the university.

Many of the posts are alleged negative experiences from students about Brandeis clubs and organizations, courses, faculty and overall culture of the community. Most of the concerns were about either sexual harassment or assault or microaggressions toward a minority community. In an interview with the account over Instagram direct messages, the page revealed that posts are on a three week backlog, as the page’s Google form—which it used to collect stories—was “absolutely flooded with responses.” 

The page told The Brandeis Hoot that they understand that a lot of these issues are “systematically embedded” in these organizations and that holding present members or leaders responsible for their predecessors is not fully fair. “Our naming of the organizations and clubs is to ensure that they do take accountability for the story that emerged,” they wrote. The page made it clear in both early posts and the interview that they are hoping for accountability, but do not support cancel culture, which is typically defined by the public shaming of an entity and loss of support from friends and/or the fanbase. 

“It is no secret that Brandeis has many problems, especially pertaining to race, minorities, and assault. From Ford Hall’s activists to the constant microaggressions, being a Brandeisian means constantly experiencing and/or confronting racism and sexism within the community,” reads the caption of the first post on the Unheard Stories page. “Our voices have power together. Let’s use this space to share our stories and experiences at Brandeis University. Anonymity guaranteed always.” 

Groups that received a lot of criticism were the athletics department, South Asian Student Association (SASA) and Greek Life. Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) and Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternities have been given the most criticism on the page, with several posts alleging sexual violence from members of the institutions. All of the organizations that were mentioned have come forward with apologetic statements and plans for how they intend to improve the culture of their institution in the future in response to the page. 

Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas sent a statement to the entire Brandeis community, on behalf of the administration, regarding sharing stories anonymously and general reporting at Brandeis on July 24.

“It is an integral and important part of being a Brandeisian to speak out for equity and justice,” Vargas wrote in the email. “The university supports and respects students’ right to have their voices heard on issues that are important to them. This is true, even when we share stories anonymously … We encourage all of you to continue speaking out to improve Brandeis.”

The email then said that there are consequences of speaking out. Though no students have been explicitly named in any of the Instagram posts, students have been identifying the people being written about, according to the email. Vargas wrote that these identified students are left “without a way to meaningfully respond, defend themselves, or engage in any form of restorative resolution.” 

This response was unsatisfactory for many followers of the Unheard Stories page. Using the question feature available on Instagram stories, the account asked followers how they felt about this email. Many of the posted replies mentioned that the email focused on protecting those who are being accused of the misconduct, not the students on the receiving end. The page told The Hoot that they tried to post every response to this email.   

At the end of his email, Vargas urged students to report these incidents in the proper Brandeis channels, linking each of the resources, including the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO), Ombuds, and the Dean of Students Office. “Usually when a matter is reported anonymously, the University will not be able to take any action regarding that report,” according to the OEO website. 

“By filling that gap and trying to be as inclusive as possible to all stories and situations, we’ve genuinely created a community where Brandeis was unable to provide one where people can feel comfortable talking about their experiences,” the Instagram page told The Hoot. 

When asked who was running the account, the page responded saying, “who we are is irrelevant.” They wrote that the power does not come from the account itself, but rather by the stories and the amount of engagement the Brandeis community has with them. 

“We have had many individuals reach out who have been harassed by various individuals—specifically in Greek Life—who believe that they are running this page,” the account told The Hoot. “That type of behavior of trying to ‘hunt someone down’ instead of realizing that org[anization]s need to take accountability themselves is disappointing and speaks volumes about how these stories are still being ignored.” 

The OEO website states that when a matter is reported anonymously, the University will usually not be able to take any action regarding that report. There is an increased chance of action, however, when the EthicsPoint online reporting portal is used because it allows the OEO to communicate with anonymous reporters without disclosing their identities. 

“If you choose to report anonymously, it is important that you log back into the portal to follow up on your report,” reads the website. “If you do not follow up on your anonymous report, Brandeis will most likely not be able to take any action in response to that information.” 

A list of confidential and nonconfidential resources to file misconduct on campus can be found under the “Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Resources” section of the OEO webpage.

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