On-campus speech and actions have influenced University
"Writing wall, writing wall, to you we do all speak. Shouldn't we be studying? Alas, our wills are weak."
Anybody who studies in the carrels of Goldfarb Library knows that the oak-wood desks are havens for self-expression. Each year, they are scattered with messages of hope and of hate, obscenities and art, love notes, doodles, shout-outs and debates. No, they don't often relay the most earth-shattering ideas. And I certainly hope that their contents are not indicative of the intellectual quality at Brandeis. Nevertheless, there are some that reflect the greatness of Brandeis, like one note that reads, "Never give up, you can do it!"
At commencement last Sunday, University President Frederick Lawrence noted that places do not belong to people; people belong to places. Graduates would always belong to Brandeis, even though we would no longer be present on its campus after graduating. But if we inherently belong here, why is it that we feel the need to leave our mark, both physically on the desks and figuratively, by immersing ourselves in an endless list of activities and initiatives?
Graduation gives you the opportunity to better understand how you and your peers utilized your college experiences differently. Some may be graduating with the highest academic degrees, some in Phi Beta Kappa, and others with medals for community service. But just because you may not have adornments on your gown also does not mean you have not affected Brandeis in a positive light.
Last year, Daniel Leibman '12 gave the senior commencement speech and he spoke about the "butterfly effect," which prescribes that simply by being at Brandeis you have changed it. You may have started the Quidditch team, the Eco-Reps Rooms for Recovery, the Experiential Learning fellows program, or maybe you revolutionized the inner workings of an already established club. Perhaps the changes will be there 10, 20, 30 years down the line. Possibly, however, the times will call for funding and resources to be channeled somewhere else.
The reality is that changes are difficult, but they are inevitable. While our marks as students are part of the University's history, they are not everlasting in the revolving door of college graduates. Recently, the Justice held its first alumni reunion, in which several generations of the newspaper's editors and contributors returned to campus and spoke about what the newspaper was like at the time. In the early 1950s, for example, the newspaper had a copy editor; somehow by 2003, the position no longer existed.
Over the course of this past semester, we have had several debates of unfettered speech instigate controversy on campus-cases where actions or words have changed campus. The Facebook page "Brandeis Hookups" reflects the new freedom, and concern, for anonymity in the digital age. Student initiatives like Take Back the Night were allegedly countered by hurtful comments shouted out across the quad. Free speech in a small, close-knit community like Brandeis has never been an easy topic, and working on this newspaper, we have learned that all too well.
Campus newspapers, especially posted online, undermine the security and isolation that is our intellectual utopia on a hill. Sometimes it feels like Brandeis is not the real world. We have community advisors looking over our shoulders, academic advisors ensuring that we finish what we are supposed to do, and constant access to an ever-expanding web of friends. Furthermore, we do not have to worry about our clubs' "selling values"-after all, unlike the mainstream American media, student journalists can grapple with different ethical standards and reporting techniques without worrying about ad revenues or subscriptions.
In my four years as an editor on the Justice, we exposed financial student mishaps, covered clashes between police and inebriated students and reviewed theater productions in highly critical ways. Each of these instances led to students mentioned in articles requesting that their names be removed from the Justice website. After all, these trials of young adulthood can often reflect badly on future Google searches by employers. But in the digital age, the impetus is not solely on reporters. At a recent panel held by WGBH in April on "embedded journalism," the reporters agreed that journalists pose less of a threat to national security covering the war effort than the soldiers posting YouTube videos of torture online. In today's world, actions, whether in person or in online forums, speak just as loud as on the record reporting
It seems that the expansion of public access to media has magnified the problems journalists have faced all along. No longer do the Justice and the other campus publications define the history of Brandeis by recording the marks we've left on campus. The responsibility to think about one's actions is placed into the hands of all students.
People make mistakes; they experiment, learn and grow. The Internet requires, both in college and out, that we recognize these human shortcomings, because at some point in our lives we will all inevitably want to hide from something we did or posted.
If there is something inevitable about free speech, we must ask ourselves "how do we respond, especially in the small close-knit community that is Brandeis?" How we do this as a community, as an institution, is what will define us in history.
"I feel lonely at Brandeis," one note writes scribbled in the crevice of the desk before me. Next to it in a fine black print one person writes back, "The counseling center is really helpful." Another chimes in, "I agree, they're really nice." The last note added, "I'll be your friend."
Justice Louis Brandeis advocated for free speech in the Supreme Court because there is an inherent value in public discourse. History is not defined by the erroneous opinions of the people who have lived through it but the places that still stand in contrast to them.