Student protest disrupts Rose opening ceremony
At the Rose Art Museum’s annual opening reception on Thursday, the unveiling of the museum’s newest attraction—a newly commissioned outdoor installation called the “Light of Reason”—was delayed by a group of student protesters.
The opening reception, a dedication and lighting ceremony for the “Light of Reason,” an outdoor sculpture installation composed of three rows of Victorian lampposts created by artist Chris Burden, was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. that evening. The student protestors were each dressed in all black and carried handmade signs addressing their own experiences with sexual violence and their outrage at the University’s handling of sexual assault cases.
Some of them wore strips of rainbow or teal-colored duct tape over their mouths.
They began to ascend the lawn in front of the installation at about 6:20 p.m. By 6:30 p.m., between 30 and 35 student protestors had lined up on the lawn, standing in front of the “Light of Reason’s” leftmost row of lanterns.
Members of the Brandeis community who had gathered for the museum’s opening and the dedication and lighting ceremony—including members of the Board of Trustees, the Rose Art Museum’s Board of Advisors, University administrators, faculty and staff, students, family and friends—seemed shocked by the protestors. As some of the attendees who were seated in the reserved section in front of the installation read the protestors’ signs, they began to clap.
Some of the signs addressed personal experiences, like one that read: “I was raped. I was abused. I have PTSD.” while others addressed the University, like one that read: “We respect ART. We don’t respect your silence.”
Around 6:30 p.m., Chair of the Rose Art Museum’s Board of Advisors Lizbeth Krupp approached two students who led the procession of protestors, Allison Callahan ’15 and Joseph Babeu ’15. After Krupp and Callahan spoke for a few moments, University President Frederick Lawrence approached the group.
A student, who was holding a sign addressed to Lawrence, held it up as he neared. It read: “Hey Fred, you seem to be under the impression sexual assault is not a huge problem at Brandeis. I was anally raped my freshman year so I would disagree with you.”
Lawrence, Krupp, Callahan and Babeu—who removed the tape from his mouth to speak to Lawrence—spoke while the crowd looked on, and Christopher Bedford, the Henry and Lois Foster director of the Rose, stood nearby, listening.
Efforts to plan the protest appeared on Facebook the day prior to the opening in a Facebook event created on Wednesday, Sept. 9. The Facebook event was hosted by Babeu, Callahan, Ava Blustein ’15 and Evelyn Milford ’16, and was marked as an “invite-only” event, visible to the profiles of Facebook users who were invited by those hosting or attending it.
A description on the Facebook event states: “It’s time to take action. Too many injustices have been committed, and continue to be committed, by our university.” And in another paragraph in the event description, instructs Facebook users: “The Light of Reason Opening. Wear black. Be silent. Bring a sign. Bring your friends.”
The event description mentions that Brandeis is currently under investigation for potential violations of Title IX rights by the Department of Education.
This was prompted by a student accused of sexual misconduct in a recent case that was first publicized in a June 24 Justice article.
The description continues, “to date, the only thing President Fred Lawrence has said with regard to sexual violence is from an old article in The Hoot: ‘I would say the watch word here should be vigilance but not overkill,’ Lawrence said.
"I don’t think that we have as serious a problem as some other institutions do, which is not to say that we don’t have an issue that we have to focus on as well.’” The quote comes from an Oct. 7, 2011 Hoot article. Regarding Lawrence’s quote in the article, the event description states: “It’s time that we showed him just how horribly wrong he is.”
Babeu, Callahan, Blustein and Milford did not respond to request for comment by press time.
At Thursday’s opening reception, around 6:42 p.m., the planned programming begun, with Perry Traquina ’78, chairman of the Board of Trustees, taking the podium in front of the installation to address the crowd. He spoke of the precept of “being guided by the light of reason,” saying that, “for that I am forever grateful to this institution.”
“When you see these lights this evening and every evening after this, I encourage you to contemplate your own path,” he said, before introducing Krupp.
Krupp welcomed Lawrence and his wife, Kathy Lawrence, and welcomed artists Mark Bradford, Magnus Plessen and Burden—all of whose works are on view at the Rose as part of their new fall 2014 exhibitions.
Krupp called the dedication of Burden’s installation “such an exciting and transformative moment for the Rose Art Museum and the entire campus.”
At about 6:49 p.m., while Krupp was speaking, the protestors joined hands and walked up several feet closer to the center of the lawn toward the podium, eclipsing an entire row of lampposts.
As they moved, Krupp motioned to the installation. “Let it be a backdrop for concerts, campus rallies and protests,” she said.
A few moments later, Krupp welcomed Bedford to the podium, and the protestors continued moving closer to the podium, stopping just short of 20 feet from it and only about five feet from the Lydian String Quartet, whose members were seated in the middle of the installation, preparing to play a piece during the lighting.
Bedford mentioned the August passing of Sam Hunter, the first director of the Rose, sharing that “we have inaugurated a Sam Hunter emerging artist fund” in memory of Hunter’s early work at the Rose, acquiring pieces by emerging artists for the Rose’s first collections.
By 6:55 p.m., the crowd of protestors, which had started out at around 30 students, had grown to over 50 students.
Bedford continued, speaking about Burden, whom he called “perhaps the most important performance artist in the history of art” and said the “Light of Reason” installation has “outstripped my wildest expectations.” Burden followed Bedford, speaking for a few moments about his creation, very excited to see it finally completed.
At 7:05 p.m., Lawrence took to the podium and spoke about the installation, and also addressed the protestors: “I think I might have surprised some of the students holding signs tonight when I said ‘thank you for coming’—and I mean that not ironically, but from the bottom of my heart.”
Lawrence continued: “On the merits of this particular issue let me just say ... That sexual misconduct and sexual violence will never be condoned on this campus and have no place on this campus,” and was answered by someone in the crowd of attendees, who yelled, “What are you gonna do about it?”
After the dedication and lighting ceremony was complete and the installation’s lampposts had been illuminated, Bedford commented on the evening in an interview with the Justice, on both the anticipated and surprise events.
“I thought it was fantastic,” he said. “I thought that the speeches were incredible. The shows are deeply satisfying to me. Even the protest felt exactly right to me. It’s indented as a social sculpture and a space for discourse and expression. And it became that immediately at its birth, so I was very happy.”
On Thursday night, the University provided a press release written by Lawrence to the Justice, which addressed the ongoing Title IX investigation.
In the statement, Lawrence wrote that “The safety and welfare of our students is our most critical responsibility, and higher education has been slow to act on an issue that pervades our culture and our campuses. Brandeis, rather than being immune, shares this burden, and we have a moral obligation to do everything we can in response.”
He went on to note several measures the University has taken to combat sexual violence on campus, including obtaining Violence Against Women Act grant in 2011, instituting the Special Examiner’s Process to investigate reported sexual assault cases in 2013, expanding training during Orientation programming for incoming classes, bringing in external trainers and continuing to have staff members trained by the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and other groups.
The press release states that this week the updated edition of the Rights and Responsibilities handbook will be published and will include a survivors’ bill of rights, increased privacy protection and more specific sanctions.
These include “mandatory removal from campus for any student found responsible for non-consensual intercourse involving physical force, threat or purposeful incapacitation.”
Lawrence continued, writing: “let me be clear—compliance with Title IX is a necessity, but it is by no means sufficient. Brandeis must and will be a leader in combatting sexual violence.”
—Emily Wishingrad contributed reporting.