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Campus renovation and student safety discussed in panel

Several Brandeis buildings, including unrenovated Ziv halls, various first-year residence halls, Einstein’s Bagels and the campus bookstore, will be renovated over the summer, according to Vice President for Operations Jim Gray. Gray informed students of the coming changes at a group panel discussion organized by the Student Union. The panel also featured Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel, Director of Student Activities Stephanie Grimes, the Office of Prevention Service’s Sheila McMahon, Executive Director of Health and Wellness Michael J. LaFarr and Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams. Operating on a theme of transparency between administration and students, the event served as the first of a series of panels regularly conducted by the Student Union.

Gray spoke about the changes and renovations during an extended comment about his prepared five-year plan for renovations at the school. The changes are meant to improve infrastructure and overall student life, with the plan’s beginnings currently visible in the renovations of Usen Castle, and the final plan set to be approved by the Board of Trustees in the near future. While under renovation, the castle will still house students through next year, but its future is unclear after that, Gray and Flagel said.

Gray’s remarks were preceded by a long and in-depth discussion about student safety, particularly in relation to the investigation and prevention of sexual assault and violence on campus. A sensitive issue that has inspired large marches and other demonstrations over the past three years, student activism influenced McMahon’s hiring and the establishment of the soon-to-be-opened Rape Crisis Center. Flagel and the other administrators continually affirmed their dedication to student safety, specifically thanking student activists for their input and ideas.

“All the best ideas have come from [students],” Flagel said. “Students identified the biggest problems with our processes so that we could move to make a safer campus.” The university is currently working to improve overall student life, including considering recommendations reported by Professor Bernadette Brooten (NEJS/CLAS/WMGS). Within the next month, the Office of Prevention Services will be sending out a census-style survey asking students their opinions of the on-campus climate in related to these issues, McMahon said.

Other services the administration is collaborating on includes the Brandeis Care Team, a collection of individuals from around the university led by LaFarr designed as a support net for students dealing with psychological issues. Flagel and McMahon said that despite the rapid development of new programs, interactions and reports will be kept confidential, unless an ethical problem arises, such as the possibility of self-harm. Overall the panel promised the Brandeis administration’s utter commitment to student safety and improving transparency, while encouraging students to continue to bring ideas and problems forward, in order to continue building trust.

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