The main focus when it comes time to talk about diversity is people of color, and I agree this is a topic of conversation that students should be having on the Brandeis campus and the many other campuses across the nation. Nonetheless, there is barely any talk about the other marginalized groups that exist, such as people with disabilities, minority religious backgrounds and the LGBTQ community, just to name a few. These are other important identities that should be given space for discussion in order to implement integration in our school setting and the community as a whole.
This past weekend, one of the candidates running for Student Union president was the victim of hateful, homophobic slurs, one of which was scrawled into the grout between tiles in the men’s restroom of the SCC. While there is no evidence of who did it, Andrew Flagel, the senior vice president for Students and Enrollment, issued a response condemning the incident with an email to the Brandeis’ community: “We are so proud to have Brandeis listed among the most LGBTQ-friendly campuses in the nation—a representation of the values of inclusion and support for difference that are at the heart of this university’s founding. With these tiny marks, someone has come into our house and broken that trust.”
While I feel that Brandeis is a welcoming campus to the LGBTQ community, there is not a lot of effort taken further to amplify understanding and acceptance among students. Comments like the ones targeting the candidate on the wall of the restroom demonstrate that there is still prejudice and a lack of understanding among the Brandeis student body. What’s worse is that this candidate was also insulted by another Brandeis student to the candidate’s own face. What, I ask, is the fear? The fear that a student, who just happens to identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, be elected as our president, and therefore become one of the main faces representing the Brandeis student body? Do we not want to be known as LGBTQ friendly? And how are we LGBTQ friendly if we are not or are barely talking about what it means to be queer?
Yet if the comments emerged out of the fear of the candidate potentially becoming the Student Union president, does this imply we are not as progressive as we pride ourselves to be at Brandeis? Are we ready for a student who is openly part of the LGBTQ community to represent us? What do these comments and this student election say about our campus?
In fact, LGBTQ students are mixed among all of us, just like in the world outside Brandeis. However, Brandeis needs to take the following step in integrating and opening the community so that everyone feels comfortable in it regardless of how they identify. Many times, the people included in the LGBTQ community try to assimilate and cover up—concealing their real identity mostly because of fear of the community’s response. Comments like the ones that targeted this year’s Student Union president candidate can only hurt and close our community.
One of the solutions is that we bring this topic into more of the different discussions that the students are having on the Brandeis campus. I also think that Brandeis Admissions should incorporate in the application a question or a series of questions regarding students’ sexual orientation and identity. It could ask questions about how the student identifies, if they are open and comfortable with their sexual orientation or what their pronouns are. It could also ask how they might feel once they are on campus. Would they feel threatened? Comfortable being open? Or would they be compelled to conceal certain parts of themselves?
Needless to say, this should not become a primary aspect when accepting incoming students to Brandeis. But there needs to be a recognition that Admissions does not have regarding LGBTQ students when it comes to increasing diversity in our student body. Not only would it bring a variety of distinct perspectives about life to the campus, but it would also open up the campus to be more accepting and understanding of one another.
Of course, not everything can be included in a newspaper article as this is. There are other solutions that should be looked at, such as improving the diversity discussion during Orientation. But the main idea is that we, as students, start to be aware and talk about this issue that is important for the improvement of our already progressive community.