Staff member resigns citing racial injustices as part of decision

September 11, 2020

Former Area Coordinator Elijah Warren HS’19 resigned from Brandeis in mid-June citing “unjust practices” against Black and Brown people as a part of his decision in his resignation letter, which he also posted on his LinkedIn. 

Warren said that he sent the letter to “upper administration,” capturing his and other Black and Brown people’s experiences on campus, as well as “calling out injustices happening daily on campus,” according to the letter. Warren said that he had an exit interview with the Department of Community Living (DCL)’s senior leadership team.

Warren said that as an Area Coordinator, he was privy to certain information about racial misconduct and that he was also put in difficult situations himself. Warren gave examples in his letter of personally experiencing and hearing about students being surveilled as well as racist encounters with the Brandeis Police. He recalled several incidences in which he was called the name of another Black co-worker, and then after correcting the officer, hearing the officer say, “Oh, that’s right, there are two of you,” according to the resignation letter.

“The students I have connected with, and have been blessed to hear their stories, are amazing and are brave enough to journey through spaces where they are not necessarily seen or heard,” writes Warren in the letter. “There is no space for us to truly be seen and heard because we are constantly being faced with opposition and are expected to help White staff and faculty process their own guilt and White tears.”

Warren said that he told DCL about his letter before he submitted it to the senior administration and that DCL was fully supportive. He told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview that after he submitted his resignation, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas and Vice President of Student Affairs Raymond Lu-Ming Ou reached out to Warren. Warren said that he believes that too much responsibility is being put on these two administrators, particularly because they are new and hold a lot of responsibility. Brimhall-Vargas started at Brandeis in 2017 and Ou started at Brandeis in 2019.

“My letter was not necessarily addressing DCL,” Warren told The Hoot. “My letter was addressed to senior administration for not owning their complicity in the issues that are at hand.” 

President Ron Liebowitz emailed the community on June 9 and June 16 about anti-racism initiatives that would be started at Brandeis. He emailed the community again on Aug. 24 to update the community on new initiatives such as holding meetings with the students who crafted the Black Action Plan, holding meetings to discuss critical feedback, and releasing a plan later in the fall about how the university will re-image public safety on campus. 

“I think it is good that conversations are being had, but I would be cautiously optimistic,” Warren told The Hoot. “Many institutions have had a history of placating and stonewalling students in their progress in terms of what they’re actually doing. I think it’s a great first step in terms of having conversations about this, but I think that what is important is that the need is to move beyond that first step.”

Warren continued, “Particularly in Brandeis’ context, there have been many conversations that have been had about public safety, about DCL, about minority students on campus and yet there hasn’t been as much progress on campus in terms of change. So the questions for students, staff and faculty is what is actually being done and is this new action plan going to actually lead to change or is it going to be the continued cycle of talking about the issue, making minor changes that aren’t necessarily being felt and reverberated around campus, and then the having the issues still persist.”

Warren told The Hoot that students need to realize that they have control over how the institution is run since the university is dependent on students to bring in money and the optics of the university to bring in more students.

“To my #Brandeis students: continue to press, shape, and challenge the institution in ways unimaginable; your body, your whole identity matters,” reads Warren’s LinkedIn post.

Warren told The Hoot that it is important that there is minority representation on the faculty and administration because staff members aren’t tenured and therefore might have to worry about their job security if they want to call out injustices on campus. 

“I urge all my allies and leaders who are considering or have decided to resign from their position in support of #BlackLivesMatter and because of the injustices happening within your respective institutions/organizations, to request #ExitInterview AND to share your experience and what has led you to leave through expressed and written words,” read Warren’s LinkedIn post. “Words have power, especially when you hold #privilege and a voice that can be heard over marginalized voices. Standing in #solidarity is important. Speaking truth to power is equally as important.”

Warren said that he hadn’t planned on working at Brandeis long-term, but that “a great deal” of the decision to leave was ultimately based on his negative experiences and the experiences of so many others. Warren was a graduate student at the Heller School from 2018 to 2019 and then began working for the Department of Orientation and DCL. 

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