This Thursday afternoon, Nov. 12 African American Brandeis students and their supporters (or “accomplices” as some called themselves) marched from the Rabb Steps to the Shapiro Campus Center, where they sat for over two hours. Their purpose was clear: to stand in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri who have been threatened with racist violence for standing up to systems of oppression and anti-blackness. More than 100 students, undergraduate and graduate alike, gathered together in a sense of community not always seen at Brandeis to protest racial inequality and unfair treatment that affect our fellow Brandeisians every day.
Students spoke of feeling unwanted, experiencing individual racism and erasure of their life experiences through microaggressions and other offenses. They also lamented that the African and Afro-American Studies (AAAS) is the only curriculum on campus where they felt they could discuss black history and culture, and feeling as if the administration did not care enough to address their needs. Students called out specific administrators, including Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel and Dean of Students Jamele Adams—the latter of whom addressed the crowd—and the Board of Trustees, who like with every other issue, have not spoken to students directly.
For Brandeis University, a school that proclaims itself to be representative of social justice, to create an atmosphere that generates such unrest is shameful. For a school that is named after Louis D. Brandeis, a man who had to fight anti-Semitism and was a staunch supporter of the rights of minorities, to have only one percent of its faculty be of color is to actively spit on the legacy of its namesake. Brandeis is known in many circles for its Jewish background, which is something to be proud of. But as one student said at Thursday’s protest, “We do not want to reduce Jewishness on campus, we want to promote other voices as well.”
This editorial board has time and time again called on the administration to meet Brandeis students halfway, but it is time for further action. A significant percentage of the Brandeis student population feels as if they are not wanted here, that their lives and experiences do not matter to this institution. As the above quote indicates, they do not want pity or to be coddled; they just want to be raised up and given the same opportunities as their white peers. As peers, friends, teammates and “accomplices,” all white, Jewish and otherwise non-black students must advocate for this.
And if the administration and Board of Trustees do care about Brandeis’ students, then they have to show it. The former cannot politick and distract from the issue, and the latter can no longer be absent and ignore students who feel as if Brandeis dehumanizes them. To do so is oppressive. It is wrong. It is not the Brandeis that this board believes in, and it is not something that anyone who believes in this school should stand for. Black students have to stand against it the moment they arrive, the least we can do is give them something to stand on.