With the 50th Commemoration Celebration of the African and Afro-American Studies (AAAS) department happening this weekend in conjunction with ’DEIS Impact, it seems appropriate to remember that Jan. 8 marked the 50th anniversary of the original Ford Hall demonstration (1969). The original Ford Hall was an 11-day sit-in in which Brandeis students demanded reconciliation, social and criminal justice for African American students on the Brandeis campus.
An institution founded on principles of inclusivity and equality, Brandeis has yet to fully implement demands from Ford Hall demonstrations in both 1969 and 2015.
In the original 1969 occupation, the demonstrators sent a list of 10 demands to the administration, which included the formation of an African Studies Department with the power to hire and fire, an increased recruitment of black students to campus and hiring of black professors, the establishment of an Afro-American center and the expulsion of a white student who shot a black student with a BB gun.
On Jan. 18, 1969, then-president Abraham Sachar stated that every legitimate demand would be met in good faith. In 1969 AAAS was founded, the Transitional Year Program (TYP) was re-evaluated and a new director named, and Interim President Charles Schottland signed an agreement with the Afro-American Organization to bring 80 additional minority students to Brandeis.
Although a few steps were taken to fulfill the demands of the students in 1969, many were ignored or only partially satisfied. After a year of investigation, all charges were dropped against the white student who shot the BB gun when police could not find substantial evidence to convict. In addition, no Afro-American, black student-designed student center was established at Brandeis.
Continued neglect of these demands and further requests made by African American students and students of color in the decades since along with political factors of the time period led to the second Ford Hall in 2015.
In August of 2014, Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The resulting rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and national frustration with police brutality led to students at universities across the country demonstrating peacefully, protesting campus discrimination and racism.
At Brandeis, this in part contributed to Ford Hall 2015, a 13-day sit-in at Bernstein-Marcus in November that started with a list of 13 demands sent to then-Interim President Lisa Lynch by a group of concerned students. The students required that their demands be met by the start of the Fall 2016 academic semester.
A 2015 demand to “increase the percentage of full-time Black faculty and staff to 10 percent across ALL departments and schools,” has a long way to go; as of Fall 2016, the last reported statistic on Brandeis’ website, full-time instructional black faculty comprised one percent.
Still, there were a few changes. A 2015 call to “Appoint a Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion” was met with the appointment of Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas in January 2017. Additionally, a University Ombuds Office was created, allowing a confidential, independent resource to which concerned members of the community could report without fear of repercussion or reprisal.
But there’s still much to be done. Admittance of black students, according to a 2016 report, is six percent, a far cry from the 15 percent minimum called for in 2015. There is still no “Afro-American center designed by black students,” as demanded in 1969. Yearly diversity and inclusion workshops are not mandated for all faculty and staff by the administration.
On the Heller School’s website about Ford Hall, they note that, “This work continues, and rather than viewing the December 2015 plan as a finite set of checkboxes, new goals and initiatives are being identified all the time.” While this is a fair point, action needs to be taken. In addition to celebrating the past achievements of student protesters, Brandeis should also dedicate time and resources to fulfilling all the demands—as the university originally promised.
The theme of ’DEIS Impact this year is “What is Social Justice?: Consciously Exploring Oppression, Power, and Privilege in our Communities,” which looks to understand the aspects of these different communities. While ’DEIS Impact should be celebrating the anniversary of AAAS, there are larger underlying issues surrounding the formation of the program and the rest of the demands brought up by Ford Hall. By not taking action as promised, Brandeis undercuts its history and undermines its future.