On Nov. 29, in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot, Student Union President Peyton Gillespie ’25 and Student Union Vice President Lia Bergen ’25 spoke about the recent shuttle crash. They spoke on the sense of togetherness that swept the community in the wake of the crash, the administration’s response to the incident and more.
Editor’s Note: This article is centered around a tragic shuttle crash that took the life of one Brandeis student and injured numerous others. This article does not contain details about the crash itself, but may still be emotionally difficult for some readers. This article is not a newsbreaker, and contains no new facts about the tragedy.
What student union led initiatives were available to support the community after the crash?
We first started with organizing the Sunday morning event where I believe the numbers were 100 gathered in person and 300 students on our Instagram Live. We had university executives from the administration, like Andrea Dine and Ron Liebowitz, BEMCo, some members of public safety, Spiritual Life and the counseling center was also there. We helped [to] lead the organizing of that to get students in the same room together the morning after the incident. Leah’s idea was to create a banner and she, while I was writing my remarks for that morning, was creating the [Brandeis Strong] banner.
[We’ve] been working hand-in-hand with the administration to ensure that there are events that are put on throughout the week. They have been doing a significant amount of organizing; everything that’s going on in the SCC for the most part is organized by the administration and provided by the administration. Right now we are working with them to, this is our idea and we’re putting this together, organize a “Holding Space” event. … It’ll be this Monday [This event is a “de-stress” event with snacks, arts & crafts and more. It is not a dialogue or reflection on the crash, but a community relaxation event]. Further details to follow on our Instagram account.
We’ve been focusing on providing students with information. I think that is a very valuable thing for students during a time like this, when you’re getting all these different emails from different departments and everybody wants to (and should be) saying something about what’s happening, but you want students to find grounding in … information from a credible source. We’ve been working with the administration to ensure that the information we put out is credible and accurate.
On the more logistical side, we have our director of accessibility working a lot with different students trying, especially the ones impacted by the crash, to get them classroom accommodations and academic accommodations. So she’s been meeting with parents and students which has been awesome.
Do you have any updates on BranVans and student-led transportation?
We have been told that there is going to be a formal investigation by state police into the incident and what happened and what the causes were, pending that report and the cause of the incident, we’ll be working hand-in-hand with the administration to ensure that something like this is prevented moving forward. In the months prior to the incident, [we were] working with Public Safety Chief Matt Rushton on transportation. Our contract with Joseph’s shuttles actually expired … Very recently, and we’re looking at just a holistic transportation [revamp]. … This incident does come at an interesting time because it comes at a time when we … are looking at reforming transportation on campus already. So I think this incident reinforces the importance of redoing transportation and looking at ways we can improve it.
Do you have any timeline on when we’ll receive more information on the crash?
I don’t think anybody really knows how long the report is going to take. I think that really just depends on the state police. I think, initially, from what I understand, it was initially local police and they did … what they needed to do. Now it’s in the hands of state police and they will be conducting a thorough report and we’ll hear about that as soon as that is released.
In what ways have alumni supported the community after the crash?
The response from alumni has been phenomenal. They were one of the first groups, if not the first group, in my understanding to reach out to families, to reach out to the university and to reach out to our community. They’ve really reached out their hand and reached out the resources and said, “if you need anything, you let us know.” I heard from the Crisis Team in the administration who we’ve been in contact with that a former president of the student union reached out, and said, “hey, if you need anything, let me know.” That makes me proud of our community: Just knowing that the Brandeis community has so much reach, not just in students who are currently enrolled at the school, but [also in] those who have attended the school before. We also just posted the information about the Brandeis Emergency Fund and that information [was] also shared with alumni.
What is the status of the emergency fund?
I would encourage students who want information about that to go to our Instagram and check that out. We just posted today about the emergency fund. … We’ve been in contact with the administration to make sure that this fund is being used for victims of the incident and that it is able to cover the different needs of families. It is my understanding that the administration’s been very flexible with that and will continue to be very flexible with that to provide families with the financial support that they need.
As long as students are able to donate, we encourage them to do so… to help support those families who are impacted and those who continue to be impacted.
That fund is something that Brandeis has had for many years. It wasn’t something that was created specifically for this [incident]. It’s going to remain open for the foreseeable future. Admin has been reaching out to parents [of victims] to see [about] connecting the money that’s been donated to them. … Admin’s been very accommodating of the situation.
Do you know if the model of bus that was involved in this crash is being used anywhere else that Joseph partners with?
I do not. But [we] did want to mention the Logan Shuttle program. [We] had a lot of students reaching out to [us] about, “is this still happening?,” worried about being on a bus. Totally fair, totally understandable. With regard to the model of bus, the Department of Student Engagement and Chief Rushton helped us with this. Chief Rushton has done a ton to help the community during this time, so huge thank you to him and his team. We worked with Joseph’s to ensure that we were not using larger buses. Which, by the way, were not the same model as the one involved in the crash. But we used mini buses for the Logan shuttles and we also used the newer Mercedes vans that Joseph’s just got. We are keeping that program in place for winter break and they will still be using those same smaller vehicles, both of which have seat belts, which students are encouraged to wear, and they are different models of buses.
To be clear, it’s those buses (the larger ones) including the model that was used in the crash, that are no longer in use on Brandeis’ campus?
They have been using a larger model of bus that’s not the same model as the one that was involved in the crash. It is a newer model, it says “limousine” on the side.
Do all of those have safety features like seat belts on them?
I’m not sure about the bigger ones, I haven’t been on them yet. But I know that the smaller vans that they use for the Logan Shuttle and Waltham/Campus shuttles … have seat belts and everything like that.
How are you?
We’re stressed, but the support from the community has been very encouraging. We’re both honored to be in elected positions, to be those who are given the opportunity to represent the community in a time like this. And to be the ones that students look to in a time like this and trust with information and organizing. It’s obviously a lot [to deal with] and it’s stressful, but it is very rewarding in the sense that we get to give back to our community and we get to experience the community come together in a way that we don’t even really need to facilitate. The community was going to come together regardless, because we have a smaller community but I think Brandeis students truly love one another. It’s also shown us that our community is bigger than we thought. Although it’s been a lot [to deal with], we have never felt alone. There’s support from admin, parents, alumni, fellow students and students at other student governments. We have heard stuff from Bentley, Northeastern, BU [Boston University] and the Boston Intercollegiate Government. We heard from student governments all around Boston reaching out, asking “if you need anything, let us know.” They’re very supportive and helpful, so although it’s stressful, it doesn’t feel defeating. It feels like we’re moving in a good direction because we’re all working together. We have the support of all these people … behind us.
The Hoot also conducted a separate interview with a Brandeis student who survived the shuttle crash.
When asked about how the Brandeis community has supported them, this student mentioned that “Brandeis has reached out to me through multiple channels. My academic advisor has been in contact with me, and so has Student accessibility services in working out a plan for finishing the semester. Also, campus spiritual life has been in touch with me and has checked in, which I have appreciated.” They also mentioned that they “don’t think I’ve been contacted by anyone high up at Brandeis.”
This student said that they’re “very grateful to my professors for being flexible about assignments and deadlines, which has helped a lot.”
“Overall, Brandeis needs to make sure they are supporting Vanessa’s family and any students with serious injuries or medical issues as a result of the crash,” the student added, “that should be their first priority.”
“Mostly, I hope that campus doesn’t have to experience something like this again in the future,” they added, “and that Brandeis can ensure a safe campus environment.”