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Black Action Plan seeks accountability from administration

The Black Action Plan is a list of concerns, demands and reforms to structurally change departments of the university to be more equitable, diverse and inclusive, according to the plan’s text. It hopes to create an anti-racist Brandeis by diversifying the Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC) staff, increasing professional opportunities for students of color, reforming and defunding the Brandeis Police, reimagining the structure of the Department of Community Living (DCL)—which oversees housing at Brandeis—and creating a committee to oversee the implementation process.

Since launching in August, the plan’s Instagram page has gained over 1000 followers, 250 signatures to a solidarity form about the demands for the Black Action Plan and student volunteers have made over 300 calls to the Brandeis administration, according to their Instagram page.

Leaders of the Black Action Plan Sonali Anderson ’22, DeBorah Ault ’22 and Kyra Fraiser ’21, met with President Ron Liebowitz and other members of the senior administration, including Provost Lisa Lynch, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas, Vice President of Student Affairs Raymond Ou and Executive Vice President of Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky, to discuss concerns and the demands set forth by the plan.

“It sounds like you guys [senior administration] are trying to make that change, however, on the ground level nothing has been changed,” Anderson said during the meeting. “I can only emphasize that you can make as many policies as you want but it’s within the structure of who is helping you bridge that gap, if they are not helping you do that then they are not doing their role as a department director.”

The Black Action plan was edited by Black students and students of color at Brandeis who wanted to see structural change in the university administration, according to the plan. The plan seeks reform in DCL, Brandeis Police, the BCC, Academic Services, the Hiatt Career Center and Student Financial Services (SFS), according to their plan

The student representatives discussed with the administration about what various university  departments are doing to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion. Anderson said on behalf of the plan that their purpose is accountability and to have a clear understanding of the administration’s place in the university. Ault added that the plan seeks to protect the experiences of Black students and students of color on campus. 

“We want to ensure that we hold the university accountable to making sustainable strides to ensure that students don’t feel this way,” said Ault in a conversation with the administration that was livestreamed on Instagram. Fraiser explained over the course of her Brandeis career, she’s been disheartened to hear some students’ experiences and hopes that the plan will cause a shift in campus culture. 

“I would love to see Brandeis fully commit and lean into the social justice reputation that we have,” Fraiser said in a conversation with the administration.  

“We recognize that in the past, it was about getting students of color on campus, but also I want to bring to attention that once students of color are here there are still structures that need to be adjusted in order to ensure that we feel welcomed and that we belong here,” Ault explained.  

Ou responded to Ault’s concern saying that—in his experience of dealing with diversity equity and inclusion—he relies on a “gut check.” “If we have completed and addressed all the steps, if Black students still don’t feel comfortable or don’t feel like Brandeis is a welcoming environment then we need to think of something else,” said Ou. In addition to meeting all of the measures outlined in the plan, Ou says the administration must rely on a “gut check” to see if the policies put in place are having the intended impact. 

By the end of the meeting, the student organizers hoped that the administration would have a thorough understanding of what the plan is demanding, as well as a clear timeline for steps to address the complaints, Anderson said during the livestream. The plan also asks the administration to commit to frequent check-ins on the progress made to the plan. Effective immediately, the plan has requested the creation of a task force composed of students, faculty and staff to oversee the implementation of the reforms of the Black Action Plan, said Anderson. 

“This is an opportunity for us to think about how we convey information,” said Ou, when asked about the feasibility of the plan. Ou stated how he wants to come to a consensus between administration and the student representatives to come up with a diagnosis of where the university is at to then begin work. 

He added that he liked the specificity of the demands in the areas it was targeting, though he noted that there may be challenges in areas where administration is doing the work, but it is unseen to the general community, and that there are places where students believe there is more progress than what has actually been completed. Ou suggested past forms of communication which had been considered to share information to the community such as an email, webpage or forum. Ou said he believed they needed a combination of all of these methods of communication in order to get a true sense of where our campus climate is at. 

The Black Action Plan first launched in August with a goal to create an anti-racist Brandeis, according to their Instagram page. It cites the lack of implementation of promises the university made during Ford Hall 2015 and Still Concerned 2019—two earlier student-driven initiatives to demand administrative change for students of color. 

Similar to the Black Action Plan, student activists during Ford Hall 2015 and Still Concerned 2019 staged protests to the administration demanding action be taken to support Black students and students of color on campus, according to the Heller School for Social Policy’s website. Both of these movements were inspired by Ford Hall 1969, where Black students and students of color staged sit-ins in the offices of senior administration with a list of 10 demands. During the 2015 sit-in,  students and administration came to an agreement, ending the sit-in, according to the article. 

“Our mission is to intentionally create structural changes alongside our allies that eliminates racism at Brandeis and leads Black, Brown and People of Color to feel more safe, secure and valued in all spaces they enter,” according to a post on Black Action Plan’s Instagram page

The Black Action Plan now seeks to hold the university accountable to the institution’s 2015 promises—some of which remain unfulfilled—as well as seek reform in their additional demands, according to the plan. 

This is the first part of a series about the Black Action Plan.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Brimhall-Vargas’ last name as “Brimhall-Vargaras”. This article was updated to read, “Brimhall-Vargas”.

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