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Saturday, May 28, 2016




Student demands limit intellectual discourse on campus




On Thursday, a Facebook group called “Brandeis Students of Color Demands 2015” posted a list of demands that they require Interim President Lisa Lynch and the Board of Trustees to implement by the next academic year. These demands have already been shared far and wide and hailed as necessary to fix an apparently intolerable campus climate. There’s just one problem: the demands are mostly ridiculous and impractical.

Take, for example, their demand that the University “implement educational pedagogies and curriculums that increase racial awareness and inclusion within ALL departments and schools.” 

In essence, this demand requires that the University promote the group’s point of view to every student that will attend Brandeis. Racial awareness is necessary, but not everyone agrees with all this group espouses. To force everyone to take classes that will evince their viewpoint — thereby inciting a stigma against students who do not agree with them — is extreme. Dissenting opinions should not make you feel unsafe; when intellectual diversity is discouraged, the entire foundation of academia comes crumbling down. Moreover, how are administrators expected to implement such a system in every classroom?

Another demand is that Brandeis “increase funding of Black student organizations and programs.” According to the group, black organizations on campus should receive more funding than — and at the expense of — other groups on campus simply because they are black or want to spread greater awareness of their cause. 

According to information put out by the Allocations Board, the Brandeis Black Student Organization received approximately 47 percent of the over 9,000 dollars they requested for this semester. During a semester in which only 60 percent of all student organizations’ funding requests were fulfilled, this constitutes a significant amount. Although the allocations process may be reexamined, black organizations on campus, while important, should be considered equally in the funding process.

The next demand on the list is that the University “increase the admittance of Black students via the general admission process to 15% within both undergraduate and graduate schools.” Affirmative action is a complicated issue, but students should be admitted to this university based on how well they match up with Brandeis’s admissions requirements, not race. Moreover, racial preferences in admissions decisions hurt poor white students who also do not have the means to pay for superior education or SAT preparation and otherwise deserving non-black minority groups. As David Sacks and Peter Thiel wrote in the current issue of Stanford Magazine, “If preferences were truly meant to remedy disadvantage, they would be given on the basis of disadvantage, not on the basis of race.”

Similarly, the group called for the University to “increase the number of tenure tracks for black faculty” — again, this seems impossible to ensure by next year — “across ALL departments and schools.” Affirmative action for black students was originally conceived as a means to redress discrimination against and a lack of educational resources in black communities. Can the members of this group prove that Brandeis has participated in purposeful attempts to prevent the attainment of tenure by black professors? If so, steps should be taken to remedy such actions. Otherwise, they simply believe certain professors should be given tenure over others because of the color of their skin. I would prefer that the most qualified educators, regardless of race, receive tenure so that future students will enjoy the highest level of education possible. 

Brandeis Students of Color Demands 2015 also requires that the University “increase minimum wage for all hourly paid university employees by 15%.” This demand has nothing to do with the environment black students face on campus. These students are merely attempting to include an unrelated desire in a list of demands to which they know the University will have to respond. 

Finally, the group demands the asinine condition that Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel, “issue a public apology to Khadijah Lynch [’16].” An apology for what? For the actions of another student for whom Flagel was not responsible? For not expelling Daniel Mael ’15 for exercising his right to free speech? For the fact that Lynch expressed “no sympathy” for two minority police officers who were murdered, and stated her support for a violent, deadly uprising? If she felt unsafe because people discussed and were irate with what she posted online, she should not have posted it in the first place. In no way does Lynch deserve an apology for her actions.

As a Jew — who immigrated to this country in 1999 — I have experienced racism and discrimination as well. While walking out of my synagogue, I have had people yell “heil Hitler” in my direction. I have been told hundreds of times that the Nazis should have finished the job and that Jews are murderers who control the world, responsible for everything from the Paris attacks to 9/11. On college campuses across the country, my friends and other Jewish students have had pennies thrown at their feet and their houses and dorms defaced with hateful imagery, and have been rejected from leadership positions and participating in student government votes due to their religion. On Nov. 12, protests at Hunter College in New York devolved into a framing of Jews and Israel as responsible for the school’s high tuition. At the University of Missouri, protests started in part because of a swastika drawn in feces; swastikas usually target the Jews. 

These experiences are widespread. A study conducted in the spring of 2014 by Trinity College revealed that over half of Jewish college students have experienced anti-Semitism on campus. In the University of California school system alone, more than 70 percent of Jewish students who participated in an online survey by AMCHA Initiative in October reported witnessing or experiencing anti-Semitism on campus. According to the FBI’s 2014 hate crime statistics, 58.2 percent of all hate crimes last year were against Jews. Even though many Jews have white skin, we, too, are attacked and harassed on a daily basis. We are not a part of “white” culture. In fact, as late as 1987, the United States legally defined Jews as non-white.

All this is not meant to “compare oppression” but to evince that it is fair to say that Jewish students understand how it feels to be unsafe on campus. It might not exist in as systematic a fashion as anti-black discrimination — we might be at a lesser risk for being pulled over, for example  — but it exists and it is pervasive. Yet while we too pressure administrations and governments to take action, I do not demand, and do not wish for others to demand, that universities be turned into echo chambers of a singular ideology that I espouse. I do not request special treatment — more funding for Jewish clubs or an increase in tenured Jewish professors — because of the discrimination we experience. Feeling safe is one thing, preferential treatment is another.

So I implore Interim President Lisa Lynch and the Board of Trustees: do not cave in to these demands. Do not change Brandeis’s already waning culture of intellectual diversity into one of forced unanimity. Do not cease to treat all student organizations and faculty fairly. Black Americans have legitimate grievances, but a significant portion of Brandeis Students of Color Demands 2015’s list of “demands” is misguided — please treat it as such.


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