Univ. releases draft plan ‘to address systemic racism’ on campus

UPDATED 11/20/20, 7:40 a.m.

The university’s draft plan to address systemic racism focuses on examining policing at Brandeis, student financial burdens and faculty and staff hiring, salaries and promotions, according to a Nov. 10 email from President Ron Liebowitz. Liebowitz called for feedback to the draft, which intends to increase diversity, education and training on racism to ensure a campus free of discrimination.

The draft plan is a compilation of action plans created across three major parts of campus: public safety and human resources, community living, residential life and athletics and the academic schools, according to the plan’s website. The schools include the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the International Business School, the Rabb School of Continuing Studies and the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Liebowitz announced an initiative to “transform our campus and address systemic racism” in a June 9 email following nationwide protests after the killing of George Floyd. All campus departments were tasked with creating internal action plans to address systemic racism. Chief Diversity Office and Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas has been charged with coordinating with departments to review and share their action plans with Liebowitz and Brandeis. 

Several students of color at Brandeis created the Black Action Plan in the summer of 2020, a report which surveyed concerns and demands of students of color on campus, which they sent to Liebowitz in August. The Black Action Plan builds on previous student activism and protests, like Ford Hall 2015 and Still Concerned 2019, which called for more Black faculty and students, more Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC) staff of color, better transportation and advocates for students of color accused of code violations, among other demands, according to a previous Hoot article.

“One of the things that’s wonderful about Ford Hall [2015], Still Concerned [2019] and the Black Action Plan is that the Black student community hasn’t given up on Brandeis,” Brimhall-Vargas told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview. “The idea that they believe Brandeis can and should be better reveals commitment to the institution.” 

“The goal-setting by Ford Hall [2015] laid the foundation for us to dig deeper and to figure out on the systemic level what are the issues we can address not only in higher education but here specifically at Brandeis,” Liebowitz told The Hoot in an interview. Brimhall-Vargas’s position, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), the Office of Equal Opportunity and the Ombuds program were created as a direct result of the demands set forth by students during Ford Hall 2015, Liebowitz explained. 

Racial Minority Senator in the Student Union, Courtney Thrun ’22, was happy to see the inclusion of the Black Action Plan in implementing the draft anti-racism plan, she wrote to The Hoot in an email. “This shows the student body that our voices are being heard, and that the university is willing to take what we have to say seriously,” she added. “Brandeis implementing measures to promote this student led initiative is definitely a step in the right direction.”

The draft plan is extensive, and includes changes to campus police, mental health services, student finances and potentially a university “letter of atonement.”

The Public Safety department will consider new policies like a “police oversight board” and the room lockout policy. The Department of Community Living (DCL) is working towards being responsible for the lockout process, according to the plan, where students would call DCL rather than the Brandeis police to be let into their rooms if they are locked out.

As Brandeis searches for a new director of Public Safety, after announcing in July that former director Ed Callahan plans to retire, the draft plan calls for expanding a search committee to include students representatives and Black Action Plan representatives. The search committee, which was announced in Sept. in an email by Executive Vice President of Finance and Administration Stew Uretsky, includes undergraduate and graduate students, staff, faculty and Board of Trustees members and is being led by Brandeis Trustee Barbara Dortch-Okara ’71, a retired Massachusetts Superior Court Judge, and Professor Daniel Kryder (AAAS/HIST/POL), chair of the academy committee and the Louis Stulberg Chair in Law and Politics. 

The BCC plans to design a student advisory group to focus on communications between the center and students, and intends to recruit Black students and students of color. The BCC also plans to host weekly trainings on equity, diversity and inclusion.

Brandeis admissions has already started recruiting more diverse students through admissions fairs, according to the plan, and is considering anti-bias training for all new staff hires and eliminating loans for low-income students. The university is also considering eliminating the use of standardized tests in the admissions process.

The university is planning on developing admissions and hiring goals for the next five academic years and requiring search and selection training for individuals that may sit on selection committees for full-time faculty and staff searches. The university will also examine the financial and employment trajectory of all university employees through salary reviews, career promotions and excessive employee turnover. 

“Brandeis must engage in a two-part process of attracting academically qualified underrepresented populations, both establishing an array of academic and career pipelines into the campus and creating accountability systems to measure progress toward these goals,” in order to improve diversity on campus, according to the plan

“We can do more when we know what areas we have not necessarily achieved what we hoped to accomplish there,” Liebowitz told The Hoot regarding the matter of increasing diversity on campus.  

The Dean of Students Office proposed raising a Black Lives Matter flag in the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC) and hosting a community therapist of color in the SCC. The office also proposed that Brandeis author a “letter of atonement” for “shortcomings relative to our BIPOC students, staff and community members.” 

The university is responsible for building a “diverse Brandeis, with a baseline expectation that all faculty, staff, and students can effectively and positively engage that community regardless of their point of entry,” according to the website. The university plans to grow students, staff and faculty’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) knowledge through explicitly anti-racist training, workshops, symposiums and other events, including a first-year experience for both undergraduate and graduate students to help build community. 

The undergraduate first-year experience will create a “Community Living-Learning environment designed to explicitly address anti-oppression topics and learning to navigate a diverse environment,” according to the website. The university also plans to check all physical and virtual spaces on campus to ensure “inclusive imagery and messaging” as well as standardize a minimum level of DEI competencies for all job descriptions and performance reviews. 

The university is planning on monitoring and reporting the progress of university efforts through climate surveys and other assessments surrounding community engagement with all departments, according to their website. ODEI will continue to update a status website related to student protest agreements, create a “diversity” dashboard with the Office of Planning and Institutional Research (OPIR) that shows the diversity of campus and will develop Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) metrics to measure the impact of these initiatives. The Heller School, according to its Our Commitment page, began tracking its progress regarding diversity, equity and inclusion using HEED metrics in 2017 as an “internal dashboard.” 

According to their website, the university will be holding virtual listening sessions for students, faculty and staff. There will be four sessions throughout November, and more information on these sessions can be found on their website.  

Editor’s Note: This is the first part in a series examining the draft anti-racism plan.

UPDATE: A reaction to the draft anti-racism plan by the Racial Minority Senator of the Student Union was added to the original version of this article.

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