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Brandeis hosts 4th annual ‘DEIS Impact festival

The fourth annual ’DEIS Impact festival, where students, staff and faculty gather to discuss social justice issues, began this year on Jan. 30 and continued until Feb. 9. This year’s ’DEIS Impact featured keynote Speaker Alan Khazei, co-founder of City Year and CEO of Be The Change, Inc. The week began with the “’DEIS Impact 2015 Kickoff” in the SCC atrium and a Shabbat dinner, along with a program sponsored by Brandeis Hillel. Though many popular events, like “Brandeis Unites in Service,” had to be postponed due to the snow, the festival proved successful.

’DEIS Impact began in 2011 as a collaborative project sponsored by the Brandeis Undergraduate Student Union and the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. It was created as an opportunity for the Brandeis community to explore social justice topics and discuss ways to implement change on campus and throughout the world. It is organized and run by a Core Committee, chaired by Alina Pokhrel ’15, as well as several other committees with student and faculty members.

Alan Khazei’s keynote speech, “Social Change through Civic Engagement and Pragmatic Idealism,” was held in Levin Ballroom. He talked about his connections to Brandeis and specifically the Heller School, whose dean he approached for advice when starting City Year. Khazei discussed his work and what inspired him to pursue social justice and education. He offered advice to students at the end of his talk, saying, “There’s a lot riding on your generation, but I’m convinced you will be the best generation yet. You have that energy. It has always been young people on the forefront of change.”

Khazei wrote the book “Big Citizenship: How Pragmatic Idealism Can Bring Out the Best in America” and has run for U.S. Senate twice. He has spoken at Brandeis previously on social justice related topics. His keynote address was co-sponsored by the Eli J. Segal Citizen leadership program.

’DEIS Impact events this year spanned a diverse array of topics and were organized and sponsored by different clubs and academic departments. Several multi-day events were held, including an interactive exhibit on the lives of women in high-conflict areas titled “A Day in the Life of Women in Regions of Conflict.” Groups put on performances and held debates and screenings that highlighted social justice issues. The Brandeis Immigration Education Initiative put on one such performance, titled “Dream Monologues—Moments of Transition.” Held in Chum’s Coffee House, the event featured spoken-word poetry, storytelling and dance on topics including race-consciousness, systematic oppression and immigration.

Starting in 2014, ’DEIS Impact has sponsored an event called “’DEIS Impact College” which offers open sessions of courses in various disciplines. These classes all share a social justice theme and this year included classes in sociology, American Studies and history. All classes were held in Sherman’s Hassenfeld Conference Center.

One of this year’s most successful events was “Coffee, Cupcakes and Condoms: Controversy in Reproductive Justice” hosted by Brandeis University Students for NARAL. One of the event’s organizers, Sophia Warren ’18, described her club’s ’DEIS Impact event, saying, “In this wave of social justice from so many different voices, we’re grateful to have found our own. We can’t believe the numbers and variation of voices we were so honored to have at our event in particular. We are so grateful for the space ’DEIS Impact allows, to define our own understanding of social justice as a group of students to, and with, our peers.” This event was just one of many hosted by student clubs appealing to a wide variety of interests and audiences.

Heather Spector ’17 served as vice chair for this year’s ’DEIS Impact and discussed in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot some of the ways ’DEIS Impact has changed since its founding. She said, “This year was the first year we actively tried to get other colleges to be involved in ’DEIS Impact. In the future, I hope to have every aspect of campus represented during ’DEIS Impact through an event, multiple events planned by members of the local community in collaboration with Brandeis groups and multiple events that involve collaboration between Brandeis students and other college students.” Spector explained that the Intercollegiate Subcommittee instituted this year will serve to expand ’DEIS Impact to other area colleges.

Assistant Director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life Marci McPhee coordinates the festival with the help of the Student Union. McPhee wrote about ’DEIS Impact’s growth and effect on the Brandeis community in an email with The Hoot. “’DEIS Impact is an example of synergy of effort, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Devoting this entire 10-day period to social justice makes each endeavor build on the other … Sweeping down oppression is what we’re about at Brandeis, and this concentrated festival of social justice is an important way we do that,” said McPhee.

The weeklong festival ended with a party at Chum’s Coffee House where the all-inclusive a cappella group “No Singer Clef Behind” performed. Students were encouraged to make buttons pledging to further social justice in the world.

McPhee described her hopes for the future of ’DEIS Impact, saying “I hope future ’DEIS Impact festivals will include even more involvement from other parts of campus, including athletics and the sciences, and increased off-campus engagement as well … In ’DEIS Impact 2016 I’d like to see many more events planned by partnerships that already exist between Brandeis students and community organizations, working together for social justice.” Next year’s ’DEIS Impact will take place between Jan. 29 and Feb. 8, 2016.

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