Editor’s Note: This article may be emotionally challenging to read as it concerns a recent Boston/Cambridge shuttle crash. While this article’s primary focus is the response of the community, reader discretion is advised.
The Brandeis community experienced a shocking tragedy when the Joseph’s Transportation Boston/Cambridge shuttle carrying 27 students crashed on a routine route down South Street on Saturday, Nov. 15. Passengers were injured to varying degrees during the accident and undergraduate student Vanessa Mark tragically passed away.
Following the accident, Brandeis hosted campus events and made academic changes aimed at helping members of the community connect, seek counseling and promote healthy healing. Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz communicated plans to use university transportation reports and the ongoing investigation of the crash to prompt updates to existing transportation options. A memorial service for Mark will occur in the near future where members of the community will have the opportunity to gather to mourn her loss and celebrate her impact.
The morning after the accident, Liebowitz, Student Union President Peyton Gillespie ’25 and Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Andrea Dine held a community gathering expressing condolences for the sad news and connecting students to representatives of the Brandeis Counseling Center, Public Safety, Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) and religious and spiritual leaders for support. In an interview with The Hoot, Gillespie cites that approximately 100 community members were gathered in person and another 300 joined via Instagram Live.
Vice President of the Student Union Lia Bergen ’25 created the #BrandeisStrong banner that was in the Shapiro Campus Center where students were encouraged to write messages on Post-Its to spread kindness and support those most closely affected by the accident.
In the days following the accident, university administration worked with student leaders to make the Shapiro Campus Center a space where students had access to de-stressing activities such as painting, writing notes, making friendship bracelets, coloring and making origami. Furthermore, the university worked with a volunteering organization called Dog Building Opportunities for Nurturing and Emotional Support (B.O.N.E.S) to bring therapy dogs for students to visit. The full list of community care activities for this week can be found on the Health and Wellness Promotion page of Brandeis’ website.
In addition to campus events, the Center of Spiritual Life organized an evening vigil at the Harlan Chapel titled “Gathering and Reflection.” Associate Director of the Center for Spiritual Life Lara Ericson shared the goals of this event and other similar initiatives with The Hoot, saying the center wanted to “respond to the community’s instinctive desire to gather together.” Each event was open to members of all religious backgrounds and featured not only traditional spiritual elements such as singing and lighting candles, but also simply opportunities to converse and connect. The Center of Spiritual Life encouraged students to schedule one-on-one confidential conversations with trained chaplains if they desired the support. “Our hope was that these gatherings would help students to feel that they are not alone,” Ericson added.
Support for students extended beyond the campus initiatives; Brandeis alumni were one of the first groups to reach out to families and members of the Brandeis community, according to Gillespie. “…The Brandeis community has so much reach, not just in students who are currently enrolled at the school, but [also in] those that have attended the school before,” he said. Furthermore, institutions in the Greater Boston area have acknowledged the recent tragedy and have offered help. Bergen explained how Brandeis leaders have never felt alone in the days following the accident. “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,’” Bergen shared. “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.”
The university made several academic amendments to the fall semester in light of the shuttle crash. All remaining classes before Thanksgiving Break were canceled in order to give students the opportunity to return home early if possible. Furthermore, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Fierke sent a university email extending the Pass/Fail deadline to accommodate for student performance and health following the shuttle incident. Faculty have been encouraged to extend assignment deadlines and enable remote work options. Bergen added that the Director of Student Accessibility Support Cara Streit played a prominent role in advocating for student academic accommodations for those closely affected by the crash and has been in communication with parents and students during this time.
Furthermore, Brandeis addressed students’ financial concerns following the accident and travel during Thanksgiving break by focusing emergency funding resources on needs for impacted students. The Office of Student Financial Services implemented the Emergency Fund for undergraduate students experiencing extenuating circumstances. The Student Union shared information on how to donate to the Emergency Fund and how to apply for funding on their Instagram page.
The Brandeis community has the challenging task of recovering from a senseless and saddening event. However, student and administrative leaders express hope for the future through methodological transportation planning and extensive community support. Ultimately, what emerged from the days following the accident were symbols of compassion and resilience, from the #BrandeisStrong banner to community gatherings.