Student Union holds forum
Administrators answered students’ questions and concerns regarding sexual assault and dining services at a roundtable discussion last Wednesday night. The Student Union hosted this discussion with members of the Brandeis administration so students could openly address issues around campus.
Administrators also addressed a number of concerns regarding sustainability and budget decisions. The administrators in attendance included Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel, Dean of Students Jamele Adams, Assistant Dean and Director of Student Activities Stephanie Grimes, Vice President for Operations James Gray, Director of Community Living Tim Touchette and newly appointed Provost Lisa Lynch.
The meeting began with introductions of the administrators and was then opened up for questions from students. The first question was posed by Samantha Rockey ’17, organizer of the recent Sodexo protest, and addressed the meal plan requirement—specifically, whether a rumor about off-campus meal plan requirements was true. Gray said that, while some meal plan changes are being discussed, there is no plan to make off-campus students purchase meal plans.
Andrew Nguyen '15 from the Brandeis Labor Coalition continued on this topic, addressing the alleged mistreatment of Sodexo workers. He asked “what mechanisms” were in place for Brandeis to try to improve this. Gray said that Sodexo has a specific contract addressing the treatment of workers, and Brandeis monitors Sodexo to make sure they are complying with these terms. He stressed that there are “two sides to every story.” Gray added that if students feel there is an issue, they should continue to communicate with Sodexo, the administration and the Union in order to make their concerns heard.
Class of 2017 Senator and Dining Committee co-chair Ben Margolin then asked about the increase in the number of students this year and how it will affect housing and financial aid.
Flagel responded by saying that the University did not intend to grow its student population, but the incoming first-year class ended up larger than expected due to a high number of both applicants and accepted offers. He stressed that the University’s commitment to financial aid is still strong, and “more students means more revenue.” He said that the “current model” is that class sizes will return back to their average.
Michael Frederikse ’15 switched gears to discuss sexual assault, asking about the Office of Prevention Services and the recently-introduced Active Bystander Program as well as what changes will be made in the upcoming year.
Flagel first emphasized that Sexual Assault Services and Prevention Specialist Sheila McMahon will soon return. He also discussed increased bystander training both for students and for faculty and staff and the creation of a Rape Crisis Center on campus. Other creations include a “campus-wide task force of students and faculty” to further provide prevention and support as well as the idea of collaborative support systems throughout Boston-area universities, which could potentially “be more powerful” than on-campus resources alone.
Sustainability was also a widely discussed issue at the forum, with students bringing up topics like campus lighting, disposable silverware in Sherman Dining Hall and composting. One student pointed out that many lights across campus are on all throughout the night, which wastes energy.
Gray said that a “turn-off-the-lights campaign” to turn off more lights in academic buildings at night is something he has considered in his efforts to improve sustainability on campus, and the hiring of a new sustainability manager this winter will help address issues like this.
Director of Community Living Tim Touchette added that thousands of LED light bulbs will be installed in several dormitories in the spring.
In response to concern about the disposable silverware currently used in Sherman Dining Hall, Gray said that the dishwasher is broken and that the University is waiting to replace it with a more environmentally-friendly machine. He said that the University is actually saving money by using plastic silverware and waiting on the installation rather than installing the new machine as soon as possible.
Students for Environmental Action Secretary Jay Feinstein ’17 stated concerns about the lack of composting at the Usdan Student Center dining facilities due to “congestion at the Usdan loading dock,” which limits the ability to effectively transport food waste out of the dining hall. Gray reassured him that the University will install “compacting technology” over Thanksgiving Break in order to be able to compost food waste more efficiently.
Junior Representative to the Board of Trustees Grady Ward, who attended a recent Board meeting in late October, questioned why students do not have more of a voice in Board decisions.
Another student agreed, citing lack of transparency in budget decisions and the lack of community involvement in these decisions. Flagel stated that the board is made up largely of alumni, who “care very deeply about this institution” and are always open to forums to discuss this issue.
Lynch also said that in prior years, briefings were held to inform the Student Union on the budget, and while that stopped within the past few years, she plans to start it up again.
Other topics discussed at the roundtable included the desire for further funding of club sports teams, lack of disability accommodations in certain classes, the mislabeling of food in the dining halls and the need for more gender-inclusive bathrooms across campus.
The meeting concluded with a small speech by Flagel regarding the proposed creation of a new “graphic image” or seal to represent the University.