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Faculty come together to support student activism

Twenty-six graduate and undergraduate programs issued statements proclaiming their support for students involved with Ford Hall 2015, including the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, the Faculty Senate, the Division of Science and various academic departments. With a majority of undergraduate departments having issued statements, the faculty have been consistent in support of a more diverse and inclusive Brandeis.

On Tuesday, Nov. 24, Interim President Lisa Lynch sent an email calling an emergency faculty meeting. Lynch said in the email that she hoped “to update the faculty on the events of the weekend, the board meeting on Sunday and the work that we have been doing this week.” She urged the faculty to share what they had already done in response to the sit-in and hoped to provide an opportunity for faculty to voice their support.

At the start of the meeting, a few faculty members invited their peers to leave the meeting and hold signs reading “hugs,” “we love you” and “we’re listening” outside of Bernstein-Marcus. A few other faculty members left their seats to support the students sitting in.

Following the close of the meeting, over 30 faculty members stood outside to show their support. Students responded with a sign that read “we [heart] our supporters.”

Director of Legal Studies Richard Gaskins said that at the meeting, Lynch expressed her sympathy toward the students. The meeting was called for the purpose of lending support and served as a moment to underscore the importance of the students’ goals. Gaskins noted that Lynch believed expressing sympathy was the appropriate thing to do. Everyone was trying to express goodwill without knowing the specific details of the situation, he said.

The following Tuesday, Dec. 1, faculty received an email from the Office of Communications about the students’ move-out of Bernstein-Marcus and the end of the sit-in. The email was sent a little after midnight, and the agreement was signed around 3 p.m. the next day.

Most faculty statements were published before Thanksgiving break, and all are posted in Appendix B of the Draft Implementation Plan for Diversity and Inclusion at Brandeis University on the Office of the President’s website.

The statements of support range in content. Thirteen statements included the phrase “stand in solidarity” with the students involved in Ford Hall, while others simply state that they agree with the students’ vision.

Almost all departments called for “greater diversity” in their statements and discussed the need to respond to the students with short- and long-term goals. Some departments pledged activism; both the departments of economics and politics included plans to increase staff and curriculum diversity within their departments specifically.

“What we have to do is keep doing what we’re doing but more of it and see if we can make it more effective, try in more places to recruit, work with the minority students that are here and in the sciences,” Division of Science Head John Wardle said. He believes the department can do a much better job of tracking and mentoring the minority students already present in the department.

Many departments worked hard to get their statements out in a timely manner in order to ensure students felt their support. “It took a couple of hours to write the initial draft, and then about 60 emails among the faculty to get it just right. We posted Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving. We thought posting before Thanksgiving was especially important so that students remaining over the break would feel supported,” said Chair of the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies (NEJS) Department Jonathan Decter in an email to The Brandeis Hoot.

Program of Religious Studies Chair Bernadette Brooten said that their statement took several days to write as well; the faculty wanted to make sure that their views were adequately expressed. Some statements included signatories, mainly to make sure all faculty members associated with the statement agreed with the views reflected in it.

“Our department prefers not to take collective stances on political or social issues whether they are on- or off-campus. In general, we voice our opinions publicly as individuals; some elect to share their views with individuals only while others prefer to keep them private altogether. We made an exception for #ford2015 because of the importance and timeliness of the issues and because there were curricular implications. Still, we don’t believe that the majority, even the great majority, should speak for the whole. Some may not have signed because they disagreed with the statement either in whole or in part. Other faculty members, including some on sabbatical, did not participate in the discussion and we didn’t want to speak for them,” said Decter.

“As Brandeis faculty, it is imperative that we listen to and address claims of injustice expressed by members of our university community,” Politics Department faculty wrote in their statement.

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