It was the day of commencement and Abby Kulawitz '12, a recent graduate, was relaxing on campus with her parents, Carrie and Harvey Kulawitz. It was a beautiful summer day, but surprisingly, there were few places to sit outside. "We were walking around campus and thought, wow, this place could really use some benches," Mr. Kulawitz said.
Out of this need, the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Bench Program was founded by the Kulawitzes as a way to raise money for the school in a way that also brings new outdoor social spaces to campus.
When the Kulawitzes introduced the idea for the program to some people in the Brandeis community, the idea received a lot of positive feedback from the start.
"We were having dinner with President Fred Lawrence and his wife and a group of parents and trustees at the house of Bruce and Susan Pollack. I mentioned it to them and everyone thought it was a great idea," Kulawitz said in an interview with the Justice.
Harvey and Carrie Kulawitz decided to cleverly name the initiative after Louis Brandeis, who served "on the bench" as a Supreme Court justice for over 25 years.
The program was devised toward the end of last year, with the help and support of Gayle Gordon '08, the advocate director of parent giving. "It was quite easy on my end," said Gordon. "They [the Kulawitzes] had a vision for the project and were passionate about the project and wanted to take the lead."
With a minimum donation of $10,000, a bench on campus and a personalized plaque is installed in honor of a person or group of the donor's choice for the enjoyment of students, faculty and anyone else visiting campus. The plaque can include an inscription in remembrance of a loved one, or in dedication to a student or faculty member. For $25,000, a premium bench can be donated.
The goal of the project is to get 50 donors, which would, in total, raise about half a million dollars. All the money from the project will go to the Brandeis Parent Bench Project Fund, a fund that "supports the universities greatest needs," including student scholarship, faculty salaries and extracurricular programs, according to Gordon.
Kulawitz hopes the benches will, "Contribute to communication on campus [and become] a place to relax in the middle of everyone's busy and crazy day," he said.
The Kulawitz family donated the first bench in honor of Abby. The bench is located on the path leading across the Great Lawn. The location holds special significance to Abby, who requested that the bench be placed there, having had some of her greatest memories on the Lawn as an Orientation Leader.
Abby hopes that the benches will make students think of Brandeis as a place where memorable experiences, like hers, can occur anywhere on campus. "I want students to be aware, be aware of their surroundings as they walk outside and utilize the space outside of the classroom," Abby said.
The benches on campus have campured the interest of the student body. As it turns out, they are a more divisive topic than one might imagine.
Some students seem happy with their ability to socialize outdoors. Harrison Goldspiel '13 explained that to the justice "the campus really shines during the spring and fall, when hundreds of students are out and about in their quads, on grassy fields and in Sachar Woods," he said.
Gathering outdoors is not perfect. Elior Moskowitz '16 explained that while she enjoys laying out a blanket on Chapels Field while socializing or doing homework, she thinks the campus could benefit from more designated sitting places. "Picnic tables or maybe even social congregating spots that could also contribute to the aesthetic nature of campus, such as a fountain with seating."
Susannah Stern '16 also commented on her disappointment with some the structured outdoor seating on campus. "I do however find that the benches are a bit randomly placed and out of the way," she said.
The bench program is intended to address a growing need on campus for more outdoor seating. The culminating desire for more outdoor living spaces has resulted in the installation of numerous new benches within the last few months.
Vice President for Planning and Institutional Research Dan Feldman has worked with the Facilities department initiative to place benches in areas such as the patio in front of Goldfarb Library and modern-looking wooden benches on the Fellows Garden between the Shapiro Science Center and Shapiro Campus Center.
Gordon explained that because so many new benches have already been installed because of the facilities initiative, many of these already existing benches will be given plaques. "We are lucky to have a beautiful campus. "There are a lot of great indoor spaces and it is nice to improve them," said Gordon.
Harvey Kulawitz hopes more people will come forward and make this generous contribution to the bench program that enhances the campus atmosphere.
"It's nice siting on the grass sometimes, but it is also really nice to have a bench," he said.