Students and faculty gathered to celebrate the accomplishments and voices of the Brandeis community through “I Am a Voice,” which marked the 50th Anniversary of the federal establishment of Student Support Services Program (SSSP). “I Am a Voice” was held April 10 and featured remarks from students and faculty, awards and performances.
Hosted by Bill Chau ’19 and Irma Zamarripa ’21, members of SSSP’s student leadership board, the event began with remarks from Elena Lewis, the SSSP Director, and Provost Lisa Lynch. Lynch addressed the role of student voices in the aftermath of student complaints against the head coach of the men’s basketball team. She expressed her admiration for the members of the community that stood up throughout the investigation and particularly for those against the senior faculty member.
“This year’s theme for the SSSP celebration ‘I Am A Voice’ could not be more appropriate or more timely at a moment when so many across our country, around the world, and on our own campus, feel that their voices are being silenced, manipulated, or dismissed. It’s heartening to see that students at Brandeis understand the power of coming together and raising your voices,” Lynch said.
“Yesterday on our campus was a prime example of speaking truth to power on our campus. Confronted by a senior faculty member who recklessly attacked the excellence of our staff across the board, who denied the existence of racism on our campus and said that eliminating racism on our campus was not a goal worthy to pursue,” Lynch said in regard to comments Professor Michael Rosbach (NBIO) made at the community meeting.
“I saw the traumatic impact of those words especially on our students, staff, and faculty of color on our campus. I, as a senior administrator, did not stand as forcibly as I should have that moment,” she said. “But I’m also so proud of those who did,” concluded Lynch, ending on a warming note by voicing her support for SSSP’s mission to open conversations.
More remarks followed with a keynote address by Michelle Dennis ’18, this year’s SSSP Leadership Award recipient. Sticking to this year’s theme of voice, Dennis spoke of the impact of her own uncle’s voice in her life. She spoke about the power and meaning of a single voice and how it taught her how one voice can inspire, encourage and carry others.
One of three student performances of the night was by LatinXtreme, a dance group under Brandeis Latinx Student Organization. SSSP scholars Carmen Lopez-Landaverde ’19, Phillix Esquea ’18 and Irma Reyes ’18 performed Baile de Palos, a form of dance traditionally played at religious ceremonies.
The final address was given by Cely de Barros’ 18, this year’s SSSP Citizenship Award recipient. De Barros shared her immigration experience and personal story on perseverance. Praising the social justice culture at Brandeis, she encouraged students to explore different paths and spoke about her passion for law enforcement. De Barros, currently preparing to attend the state trooper academy, will be one of the few female troopers in the field and the third black female state trooper in Rhode Island.
In celebration of the accomplishments of the community, the Student Leadership Board was recognized for their work on the night’s event, the documentary and the accumulation of the year’s work in enhancing the academic experience of students. Different from past events, this year’s event also recognized the work of tutors, graduate assistants and peer mentors.
The final closing of the event was a student performance by SSSP scholar Angela Mendez ’18. Mendez shared two of her own pieces which focused on the Chicana perspective of her bilingual and educational journey.
The Student Support Services Program works under the Office of Academic Services and offers resources to undergraduates who are first-generation students or have overcome significant barriers to attend Brandeis. One of 23 programs in Massachusetts, Brandeis’ program has helped over 600 students. The “I Am A Voice” event was sponsored by TRiO SSSP and Academic Services.