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From The Hoot Archives: Unite stakeholders

“We founded The Hoot because we believe that what Brandeis needs is a community newspaper. A newspaper written about, by and for members of the Brandeis campus … We shall be neither intimidated by controversy, but neither shall we sink to the level of merely titillating our readership, our mission is to inform, to bring meaningful content into readers’ lives. We are here for our readers, not our resumes.”
-The Hoot Editorial Board, January 14, 2004.

This week, I had the honor of becoming office manager for The Brandeis Hoot and warden of The Hoot archives. I know I’m not normal, but the chance to sort through, organize and preserve our old editions really excites me. In the 100+ editions of The Hoot currently in the archives, there is the collective history of the campus I love, from the exciting to the mundane. I watch over pieces about love, death and intrigue along with tax law, faculty meeting minutes and reviews of restaurants that closed years ago. For some, these collections of our past are boring, and for others interesting if ultimately useless relics of a bygone time. I believe, however, that they can be more than that.

We are university students, and as much as we might love Brandeis it’s only our home for a mere four years. In that time we will build deep friendships (and perhaps rivalries), and come to believe we know everything about this place, but it’s ultimately just not enough time. Few students here today know Brandeis didn’t accept midyears until 2003 and had no business majors until 2009, but these historical facts still influence the way the university functions today. Those who don’t know the story of the courageous students who captured Ford Hall in 1969 could never understand the workings of the AAAS Department today. And without a knowledge of our university’s budget crisis of 2008, we would never understand why they guard our financial safety so stringently today.

There is a power in educating ourselves about the past, because it is the lens that shapes the present. Many of the problems we face, as individuals, a university and a society, are not new but instead lingering, some stretching back to our founding in 1948. We can never understand how the university works with Sodexo without knowledge of the previous contract with Aramark, nor could we ever truly find a way to tackle these issues. It is only through the history that we learn what could (or couldn’t) be a tool to tackle our problems.

To that end, I decided to use my new position to provide that history, both for my own personal engagement and for the health of our student community. Each week, I plan to highlight an important story from The Hoot archives and explain its relevance to our student discourse today. In doing so, I hope I can lend a unique perspective on the issues of our day grounded in the insights of the past students who passed through this little stretch of Waltham.

I thought it only proper to begin this column with another first, the first issue of The Hoot published Jan. 14, 2004. The U.S. had only just begun its nine-year venture in Iraq, George W. Bush was president and Fred Lawrence wasn’t yet a campus name. Against this backdrop, a group of students angry at the lack of participation they felt on campus decided to take a daring step and make their voices heard. Instead of relying on social media (at the time, Myspace) to connect with students, they decided to create a community newspaper, one that would be “about, by and for members of the Brandeis campus.” Instead of simply reporting events, they made a commitment to report the news to provide real information to every interested party at our university. This commitment to diverse opinions is valuable, and has done a lot to improve our campus as a whole.

It’s easy to fall into cynicism and to assume that nothing we as students, faculty, staff or alumni can do will make a difference when facing a multimillion dollar private university, but when united, our commitment to the truth has made our voices heard. When former President Jehuda Reinharz tried to sell the Rose Art collection in 2009, students protested the loss of our artistic heritage and the arbitrary decision of the administration to close a valuable part of our campus. Instead of organizing alone, however, students reached out to others. Working with the museum staff, art enthusiasts and donors, we were able to block the proposed closing, and under the guidance of President Lawrence, the museum opened again in 2011.

This story may be the most prominent reversal of university policy in recent memory, but the truth is that every day students make small changes for the good of our campus. In 2004, Ridgewood hadn’t yet been constructed and our housing problem was acute. Due to technical errors, anyone could vote in Student Union elections and they were generally seen as rigged. On March 21, 2006, the university ran out of funding entirely for course-related activities. Even if we don’t appreciate it, we have made advances from some of our problems of the past.

Still, as much progress as we’ve made as a university in these last 11 years, there are still battles to fight and to win. Recent actions by this administration, even over the past few weeks, show us that student voices can still be ignored. After all, it is easier to avoid the student body than to work with them, and from the arbitrary decision to close Chum’s to DCL failing to provide adequate and accommodating housing on campus, we’re all hurting. Despite all the campus protests, organizing, social media blitzes and angry discussions, the administration often doesn’t change, and probably won’t if we don’t do more.

When Chum’s closed, we should have reached out to the alumni who look back fondly on their nights spent there. When students thought the Women’s Resource Center was closing, they should have reached out to the WGS professors who could advocate with them. If we want the university to divest from fossil fuels, we should unite with graduate students studying sustainability at the Heller School. We become so trapped in our bubbles we forget that we are not just undergraduates but pieces of a larger Brandeis community.

The original editorial board wrote, “We do not hope to accomplish the production of a newspaper alone. We want your help. If you are someone who has expressed some of the sentiment described above, perhaps you too can seize this opportunity.”

There is a reason that The Hoot has invested so much in being a community newspaper. It is because our beliefs can only be realized through the power of our community. Eleven years ago, it set out to unite us behind a common vision of where we wanted to go. Since then, through our successes and failures, our campus has improved by that vision. If we want to make things better, we ought to truly take their creed to heart.

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