EDITORIAL: Diversity Redux
We are overwhelmingly white, Jewish and economically secure. A long and intense dialogue has erupted dealing with the tension arising from stumbling blocks to coexistence. But when it comes down to it, Brandeis simply does not attract a wide range of individuals in the numbers necessary to achieve and maintain a more diverse population.While the University is proud to be non-sectarian, its creation by leaders of the American Jewish community created a contradiction that can be felt 55 years later. Just as the University is sensitive to expanding diversity, it is compelled to preserve-perhaps tacitly-its heritage as a school with a strong Jewish identity. Although the school is also compelled to diversify, certainly its historical background cannot be ignored by the administration, donors and the admissions department.Because of this, Brandeis as an institution does not structurally support diversity. This includes-but also goes beyond-issues of ethnicity and religion. Despite programs such as the POSSE program, the Transitional Year Program (TYP) and the Martin Luther King Scholarships, the public perception of Brandeis is not much different from its sectarian counterpart, Yeshiva University. It is puzzling that many people, particularly in predominantly non-Jewish areas, have never heard of a school that is consistently in the top tier ranking for American universities. Those who have heard of Brandeis tend to think it is a Jewish school, hence the slang term "Jew U." Most recent figures show about 55 percent of students at Brandeis are Jewish. This disproportionately high number illustrates not that Jews are simply accepted to the University, but instead that Jews are the ones applying to the University. The difference is crucial. Why are white Jews, often from affluent families, applying here and why are students from diverse backgrounds staying away? Perhaps there is the suspicion that non-Jews are less likely to be accepted, and thus shy away from applying. Admissions, however, seems to be doing what it can in terms of accepting students fairly and responsibly. The root of the problem lies in getting students of diverse backgrounds to apply here.The raw figures illustrate the need to solve this problem. Almost two thirds of all Brandeisians hail from Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, with places such as Long Island, Greater Washington, D.C. and Northern New Jersey figuring prominently. More strikingly, but not surprisingly, nearly 70 percent of students here are Caucasian. Nine percent are Asian, three percent Hispanic and three percent are African-American.It would be foolhardy to not consider the economic aspects that determine the makeup the applicant pool. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Brandeis has the tenth highest tuition in the nation. While it should be noted that financial aid packages help roughly 50 percent of Brandeis families, and substantial merit-based packages are also available to offer incentive to attend the school, the expenses are still enormous. Brandeis is certainly not socio-economically diverse. It seems many students at this University are wealthy or come from wealthy families. Indeed, a disproportionate 30 percent of Brandeis students, according to the Princeton Review, attended private school. While this is not a negative quality, it must be noted that attending Brandeis represents a financial hardship insurmountable to many families. Clearly, diversity cannot simply be defined in terms of race, religion or ethnicity. A range of backgrounds leads to diversity, and economics must be considered as a factor at Brandeis that lacks variation. The limited financial spectrum, exceptions excluded, leads to a deficiency in understanding how people outside of communities such as ours live. To foster this understanding, these diverse backgrounds must actually interact. There is a strong opinion among many students on this campus that Brandeis is not a "real" college. The atmosphere here is calm and projects an aura of strong academics and tame nightlife. There is no Greek life, which both attracts and deters many students to the University. Yet, arguably, this lack of recognized fraternities and sororities hinders the typical college experience. Many students do decide to spend weekend nights enjoying each other's company in one way or another, however there is a large population that chooses to stay in and study or use the weekend to catch up on missed sleep from long, busy weeks. This year, the only list Brandeis made in the Best 351 Colleges Rankings was for "Students Pray on a Regular Basis." We finished 16th. While perhaps preferable to last year's 4th place ranking for "Unhappiest Students," for the prayer statistic to be the only mention of the University in all the lists says something about the image Brandeis projects to the public. While rankings are dubious at best, it must be remembered that this is a measure that prospective students value in their decision-making process.People decide to apply and ultimately attend Brandeis for a variety of reasons. However, the perceived lack of campus vitality may impede our University's quest to attract applicants who could add much needed diversity to this campus.Thus, the word-of-mouth factor may be the most important in the admissions equation. Students hear about colleges from various sources, including high school counselors, parents, students attending the school and alumni. Word of mouth is crucial in the admissions process as students require a high level of trust when talking about a place that could, hypothetically, be a home for four years. People trust those they know and will take very much to heart what is said about the University, especially if the experiences talked about are first-hand. No admissions counselor can have the same impact as an alumni or even a current student.As a relatively new school, the stereotypes, while often having much underlying truth, must be addressed. To be perceived as more fun and dynamic, as well as less homogenous, there must be more interaction between students of diverse backgrounds. It is imperative that we get together not only in our small, sheltered groups, but also as a cohesive school in larger, more varied arenas. For example, we should go to more theater performances and cultural events. We should attend more widely the programming on campus and should support our sports teams. We should have more events like the popular Modfest that get us together in large groups in one spot to interact and enjoy something together as a community. To address diversity, let's first look at ourselves and at our school. Whether we love it, are disappointed with our time here, it is up to the current students of Brandeis to shape how our University will be perceived in the future to other students. We must ensure that people of different backgrounds want to apply to Brandeis by making it a place of which we are proud and of which will be proud to relay to the students of tomorrow.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Justice.