EDITORIAL: Accountability in crisis
This editorial board has been forced to grapple with the unfortunate reality that what divided students most of last semester originated in our own pages. Indeed, there were many other controversies on campus, but none of them seemed as far-reaching as the "Dusty Baker Incident" in our Oct. 21 issue. That the comment, which alluded to the "N-word" in a spurious quotation, made it to press represents a failure in the editorial process for which we have apologized and for which we will continue to apologize. However, though we showed remorse immediately, we waited too long to assume accountability.
It is possible to express sorrow without assuming accountability. Accountability, unlike regret, should always be the harbinger of change. And we do hold ourselves accountable.
In the wake of the "Dusty Baker Incident," the Justice resolved to address the failures and shortcomings of an editorial process that allowed for a racist column to go to press unnoticed. We revised many of our organization's goals and procedures, streamlining the editorial process and placing a new focus on copyediting.
That this editorial should come on the same day as the return of Stephen Heyman '06 as our Editor-in-Chief is no coincidence and warrants some explanation.
It is important to recognize that the Editorial Board did not consider Heyman's resignation productive. As such, his departure was never thought to be in the best interest of the newspaper for the long term. Rather, it was an attempt at assuming responsibility with clear-cut action that was visible to the University as a whole, and at maintaining a degree of respect for those community members who expressed their concerns so vehemently. Certainly, we felt that Heyman's position of authority made him responsible for correcting whatever failures persisted in the editorial process. However, we felt that that he would have been better able to fulfill this obligation by remaining Editor in Chief.
Understandably, the leaders of the Brandeis Black Student Organization (BBSO) saw things differently. We admire their conviction, even if we did not see eye-to-eye at the time.
And while we too were appalled at the words that appeared in our paper, our pain was not enough to convince the community we understood the wrong that had been committed and that we were prepared to take responsibility.
It has taken four months for the Justice-under the leadership of Meredith Glansberg '05, now our managing editor and with the assistance of Coordinator of Diversity Services Rev. Nathaniel Mays-to strike up dialogue again with BBSO's leadership. In addition, the Justice remains committed to opening similar channels with the entire community.
It is nearly impossible for groups to be held accountable when they believe they are completely in the right. Indeed, the biggest concern raised by our readers and fellow students since the incident occurred was that we had yet to hold ourselves accountable for what happened in our pages. But for us, the issues were more clear-cut, at least in principle: The Justice had no reservations about admitting error after the Oct. 21 issue.
Clearly, understanding accountability and how it should be assigned is a complex endeavor. This is especially true on a campus filled with young, excited, smart and wildly dedicated personalities, many of whom protest loudly when they believe an injustice is being committed and demand immediate recourse.
But when it comes to assigning accountability for these incidents, value judgments become pitfalls. Everyone perceives each act differently, and no single interpretation is necessarily correct.
As shocked as we were to see a racial epithet in our pages, perhaps we were incapable of imagining how raw it would leave the feelings of black students, minority students and our community on the whole.
Similarly, as offensive a symbol as the swastika is, should its recent haphazard and backwards appearance on campus have warranted as impassioned a response from the Jewish community as last semester's anti-Muslim fliers did from the Muslim community?
And was the controversy over Daniel Pipes' visit in November merely a clash of ideologies, or should his invitation from the Middle East Forum at Brandeis be viewed as an insult to all Muslim Brandeisians?
You can argue on principle all you wish, but you can't delegitimize someone's feelings. This remains our greatest lesson and one that has hopefully reached all community members as well.
Indeed, students at Brandeis should not to be expected to know the appropriate course of action in every difficult situation.
This is not for lack of trying. Walking around the student center reveals the seriousness with which members of student organizations operate.
The cynic may dismiss this as worthless playacting of no consequence outside Brandeis' borders. But in reality, this "acting" is critical preparation for the real world. We would be hard pressed to find other schools in which their representatives take their responsibilities so seriously.
Despite this diligence, we are still students. Brandeis is a serious university, but when mistakes are made, it is important to not exact retribution, but to allow these mistakes to become part of a vital learning experience. The Justice made grave mistakes as it tried to handle an unforeseen situation. But we are learning from these mistakes, and we are using this knowledge to change both ourselves and our editorial processes to ensure that a similar situation never happens again.
Assuming antagonistic postures cannot help us further the goals of our community or fulfill the mission of our University. That said, we firmly believe that accountability-in the form of progress, responsibility and maturity-is necessary to bring about positive change.