When I ask high school friends about their weekends at college, I usually hear tales of sporting events, partying and Greek life. In contrast, when I then talk about my weekends at college, I tell my friends about the cultural events, performances and activism I have attended or been a part of.
One of Brandeis’ greatest assets is its student-run clubs. Universities are known for having diverse populations with different talents and abilities, but it is rare for campuses to have students so passionate about their interests to found such a wide variety of programs. I’ve gotten to see the strength of campus organizations firsthand by being involved in the Intercultural Center. The ICC promotes student involvement through a training program for future cultural club leaders, while also acting as a key resource for the promotion and planning of many cultural events. In addition, the center facilitates networking between different clubs. These programs promote both pluralism and cultural understanding between groups that might otherwise be isolated.
In addition to cultural events, I have seen many religious organizations co-host events and reach out to the rest of the Brandeis community. When I attended the Triskelion/Allies breakfast social during my first week here, I was impressed to see chaplains and campus administrators eating along with LGBTQ students and allies. Then, on Thanksgiving, I got a glimpse into Catholic culture when I attended the Catholic Student Association’s Thanksgiving feast. I otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to interact with religious groups outside of services, so I was honored to be able to attend these events. After all, who would have thought that my first experience with a Catholic organization would be at Brandeis? Beyond attending spiritual and cultural events, I’ve also been exposed to unique arts performances, including improvisational comedy, a cappella and step dancing.
While many colleges use faculty who micromanage many of their student activities, Brandeis’ administrative trust to make the school’s clubs run successfully. This trust not only prepares students for real-world projects and tasks, but also incentivizes students to participate more, since individuals can shape each group’s development.
The wide ranges of new and innovative ideas that get proposed through the Brandeis University Sustainability Committee every year are an example of the fruition of this trust. These innovations are possible because the university respects student perspectives, which are oftentimes the most insightful when it comes to the potential for reform. Beyond that, the committee hosts panels for faculty and staff to hear student’s concerns and answer critical questions about the campus movement towards a sustainable future. This type of discussion would not likely be possible at a campus less focused on student participation.
Since coming to Brandeis, I have found the epitome of student participation at Chum’s. In and of itself, this student-run coffee shop is an impressive feature of the administration’s trust for undergraduates. It also functions as an important outlet for clubs to demonstrate those talents and interests that make them unique. Rarely does a weekend go by without a coffeehouse, comedy show or concert to enjoy.
Ultimately, Brandeis is a unique place because students use this freedom to express their diversity in unbelievable ways. While all college experiences are important to campus life, Brandeis clubs and organizations are unusual in how much they allows students to express their individuality. This feature makes Brandeis an exciting place to go to school and always provides me with the distinctive stories to tell with my high school friends.