EDITORIAL: Continue campus dialogue on race issues
In 1969, approximately 70 students gathered in Ford Hall to demand greater representation for black students campus-wide, according to the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.
On Friday, students gathered in the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Building as part of the Ford Hall 2015 movement, demanding a swift University response to institutionalized racism on campus, invoking the same imagery and sentiment as those who occupied Ford Hall in 1969. This Editorial Board empathizes with the efforts and concerns of black students on Brandeis’s campus. The need for equality on campus is as great as ever, and the actions of these students are critical to enacting meaningful change.
The movement’s organizers sent a list of 13 demands to Interim President Lisa Lynch on Thursday, later publicizing those demands on Facebook. The organizers called on Lynch and the Board of Trustees to respond to the demands within 24 hours.
According to the protesters, the deadline was not adequately addressed, and the students have been occupying Bernstein-Marcus to pressure the University to meet these demands. In an email sent to the University community, Lynch explained efforts that the University is already undertaking to address these issues and expressed intent to take further substantive action in the future, though she did not lay out any new significant actions that the administration plans to take at this time.
Black students only comprise five percent of the student body, and only one percent of the Brandeis faculty is black. These numbers are telling and underscore the importance of this movement, and it is the president’s responsibility to understand and try to fix these disparities. However, this responsibility does not rest solely on Lynch’s shoulders.
Within the administration, multiple departments and individuals have the responsibility to meet the demands and should develop a clear timetable for meeting them. The Office of the Provost is responsible for academia and teaching at the University — it is up to the provost to help meet the demand for curricula that include topics of racism and inequality.
Admissions and Enrollment must address why black students choose not to attend Brandeis and look at what other schools do to recruit and retain black students. The Center for Teaching and Learning could implement more diversity and cultural sensitivity programs and could help professors design courses about racial inequality for almost any department.
We understand that these demands highlight issues of critical importance within the University community. This Board believes that hiring more black and other racial minority therapists at the Psychological Counseling Center and requiring that faculty attend diversity or sensitivity training should be accomplished by the beginning of the next academic year. Additionally, the Provost should commit to working with individual departments to integrate courses that touch upon issues of race and inequality into the curriculum taken by each student.
While most demands are achievable in a long term capacity, it is still important to recognize that realistically, many may not be complete by Fall 2016. Though increasing student diversity on campus is a necessary and central goal, the fact remains that it will take more than one semester to accomplish. As Lynch points out in her email, it is not only admittance numbers that need to change; enrollment statistics need to change as well.
This Board believes that in order to accomplish this, there needs to be holistic change throughout the University community. Increased black student interest in Brandeis will only come from a fundamental shift in the campus culture, the type of shift which would come from the completion of other student demands.
In order to encourage more diverse enrollment, the culture of the campus must change. This Board hopes that this shift becomes the end goal after the sit-in is completed — not a demand, but an ideal to strive for.
At the same time, increasing the percentage of black faculty from one percent to 10 percent in less than 12 months is unrealistic. The University should present a timeline in which this might be possible and publish regular updates available to the community in order to hold the administration accountable.
In an address to students on Friday night outside of her office, Lynch said that the University is currently hiring for 10 available faculty positions and that even if the University were to hire only black faculty, it would not come close to hitting the 10 percent mark. The University cannot hire solely based on race, and while this Board understands the cognitive diversity that comes from increasing the racial diversity of the faculty, this demand has to be treated as a long-term goal as well.
Lynch’s email is indicative of a larger problem: the student demonstrators and the administration are talking past each other without engaging in a productive and open dialogue. Her email failed to address the students’ concerns head-on. Similarly, when Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel went to discuss enrollment issues with students, they cut the meeting short, according to Flagel.
The responsibility to address these concerns and implement meaningful change goes beyond President Lynch. We commend the University departments that have issued statements addressing the student protests. Many faculty members are acutely aware of and clearly receptive to the student demands focused on altering curricula to address issues of racial inequality and injustice. As Prof. Chad Williams (AAAS) pointed out in speaking to the protesters, the onus to lead these discussions should not rest on the Department of African and Afro-American Studies alone.
This sort of change that works toward addressing problems that are woven into the fabric of our society cannot happen overnight.
But what makes this protest effective is the leverage acted on the University by the student activism, forcing the issue not to be delayed and denied. We commend the protesters, who are working towards an ideal that continues to be one of the major civil rights issues of our time. We can only hope that administrators are willing and able to rise to this challenge.