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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

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Ford Hall: the historic student center

The buildings on Brandeis’ campus are known for being a melting pot of architectural styles. As buildings are constructed and updated over the years, they contribute to a unique landscape. The variation in styles between buildings creates an unusual visual atmosphere that is uncommon in most universities.

One of Brandeis’ most controversial buildings is the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC). It is often criticized for its murky green color and unusual shape. But the SCC lies on the foundation of a building that has seen even more controversy: Ford Hall. Ford Hall was considered the center of campus administration and activities for 51 years after its dedication in 1952. It was named after Joseph Ford, the president of Ford Manufacturing Incorporated and one of the original members of Brandeis’ Board of Trustees. The building was the host of important offices and programs, including the Photography Department and the Heller School’s Sustainable International Development program. The building eventually was torn down to make room for the SCC.

While the architectural style of Brandeis is distinctive, the social and political history that has been made in these buildings in much more significant. In 1969, Ford Hall was the location of one of the most pivotal moments in Brandeis’ history.

Ford Hall was at the heart of a campus-wide controversy when black students occupied Ford and Sydeman halls, refusing to leave until a list of demands intended to improve minority representation on campus were met. Their occupation of Ford Hall was bold, since the building was the center of communication for the Brandeis campus, and overtaking it stalled school activities.

The occupation was met with widespread support from the student body, with several groups of white students participating in hunger strikes to display solidarity with the black activists. Many theorize that the widespread pressure from Brandeis’ students that was stirred by the Ford Hall occupation, rather than the occupation itself, caused the administration to give in to a number of the students’ demands after an 11-day occupation. The concessions included the creation of an African Studies Department and an agreement to admit more students of color. All of the activists were granted amnesty, except for a few women who, dissatisfied with the administration’s actions, remained in the building after the agreement had been made.

The activism of Brandeis’ black students contributed to our school’s reputation as a hub of social justice, with Ford Hall at the center of the action. Ford Hall became more than just administrative center of the school, but also the center of political discourse.

Eventually, Ford Hall—and its vibrant history—faded into obscurity. The building slowly lost its role as the center of campus, and was eventually replaced by the SCC. One can only wonder what interesting historical events students of the future will talk about having happened at the SCC.

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