Students hold sit-in in President's office
Students began occupying the hallways in the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center leading to the President’s Office in a sit-in on Friday afternoon that has been ongoing since. The students do not plan on leaving the building until Interim President Lisa Lynch and the Board of Trustees develop an action plan for addressing the 13 demands issued by the sit-in’s organizers on Thursday, who call themselves Concerned Students 2015 and are referring to their sit-in as Ford Hall 2015. This title invokes an 11-day occupation held in January 1969 in Ford and Sydeman Halls by black students who presented a list of 10 demands to the administration.
Protest on Rabb Steps
The student leaders of Concerned Students 2015 sent the demands to Lynch and posted them on Facebook on Thursday afternoon, including a demand that Lynch release an action plan for addressing the concerns within 24 hours. Though Lynch sent an email to the University community on Friday morning acknowledging that she had received the letter from Concerned Students 2015, the email did not include an action plan. Lynch wrote that this was because she planned to attend a rally being held on the Rabb Steps on Friday afternoon to “hear directly from our community on their concerns” and that she would continue working on a more detailed response after.
The email from Concerned Students 2015 read, “As a University we have failed. We have failed our Black students. We have failed our Black professors. We have failed our Black staff members. We have failed our Black community. ... We, as concerned students, need our university to stand with us and to work with us on addressing issues of injustice, as they unfold on our own campus.”
Students rallied on Rabb Steps at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, exactly 24 hours after the initial email was sent to Lynch. Along with Interim Provost Irving Epstein, Lynch met and shook hands with several organizers of the event. Students then came forward delivering impromptu addresses about their personal experiences with racism on campus and throughout their lives. Students across the board praised the African and Afro-American Studies department but said that the burden of educating about racial injustice cannot fall on this one department alone and that Lynch’s initial email acknowledging the demands was insufficient.
At 2 p.m., the students marched to Lynch’s office in Bernstein-Marcus. Lynch went ahead and met them there. In the hallway, students restated their demands to her, and the organizers announced that the event was now a sit-in, which would not end until the demands were met. Lynch then delivered an unscripted address responding to the concerns.
Stating that she appreciated the list of demands and students’ deep concern on the issue, Lynch explained that she was working with her senior administrators and staff to address the demands as soon as
possible. She said that many of the demands “quite rightly” focus on representation within the student body, faculty and staff, but said that she would add administrators of color as another area of personal focus. “We can’t assume or presume to be a university of excellence if we’re not a university that reflects our society as a whole,” Lynch said.
She also talked about meeting Roy DeBerry ’70 MA ’78 PhD ’79, one of the leaders of the 1969 Ford Hall Takeover, when he received an alumni achievement award last month.
Lynch said that she “loved listening” to the support for AAAS on the steps, but that “we can’t have this problem [be addressed by] one department on campus. That’s not addressing systematic racial injustice. To put it in a — and I’ll use this word purposely — in a ‘ghetto’ on the campus, not to denigrate the quality of that department, but to tick a box and say it’s solved because we have a fabulous AAAS department is not enough.”
Lynch said that she worries about the burden her faculty of color face, which prompted students to ask her what she planned to do about it. Lynch said that she was looking into ways of accelerating hiring faculty of color across the University, but that there are currently only ten faculty positions to fill. Even if all ten of those positions were filled by black faculty, she said, it would not meet the 10 percent goal established by the student demands. Lynch said that she has launched a search for the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion position, which the administration has been developing since last semester and whose filling is one of the student demands. When students asked when they could expect a full response to their demands, Lynch said that she had been planning to send out a note later that afternoon, but first wanted to hear students at the Rabb steps. At this point, several students interrupted Lynch, with a chant of “Hey hey! Ho ho! White supremacy has got to go!” This chant continued for about 45 seconds.
A student then said that she did not plan to leave until a clear action plan was developed to meet the demands, saying, “I’ve lived my whole life as a woman of color hearing great things from great people and having those things be undelivered. ... I know that some of y’all want to hear President Lynch speak, but at the same time, what does she have to say that we haven’t already heard before?”
Lynch said that she would begin drafting a response, which would be a recommendation to the Board of Trustees that she would send to both the student body and the trustees. When students demanded that the Trustees speak to Lynch immediately, Lynch noted that there are 40 members of the Board who live across the country.
Email on Sunday
Over the weekend Lynch was not in her office, but the sit-in continued. In a Saturday interview with the Justice, Student Union President Nyah Macklin ’16 said that the initial negotiations with Lynch on Friday afternoon and evening had ended with establishing that Lynch would send students a draft of a proposal to senior administrators and the Board of Trustees for addressing the demands. Ford Hall 2015 leaders would then approve the proposal, which would be sent out to the trustees and administrators.
However, at 11:26 on Sunday night, Lynch sent an email to students, faculty and staff, which had not been sent to the Ford Hall 2015 leaders beforehand, according to a press release from the students on Medium.com. The email stated that the sit-in was the subject of a weekend meeting of the Board of Trustees, which “fully supports this letter.”
Lynch did not announce any major new initiatives or policies in response to the demands and the protest, but did propose using town halls, teach-ins and existing University structures “to identify additional ways to accelerate our current efforts to increase diversity and inclusion on our campus.”
“Brandeis has a long history of taking action to support diversity and inclusion and it continues in earnest to this day,” Lynch wrote. “But we recognize that we must go further to fulfill our founding ideals. However, reacting to immediate timetables and ultimata is not something that is productive or does justice to the work that needs to be done.”
At a town hall address to the Heller School, Interim Dean of the Heller School Marty Krauss told faculty and students in attendance on Monday that the Board had met via a conference call, and that several academic deans and administrators were part of the call. However, the final draft of Lynch’s email was composed by Lynch and the Board.
“The board made it clear that they wanted to approve whatever Lisa said,” Krauss explained. “The point is that the board is fully behind Lisa and fully supportive of the kinds of commitments and the kinds of processes that she’s trying to put into place, which is a terrific statement because … the board of trustees is a cantankerous group. … They are solidly behind her and I think that she’s able now to do her job.”
At 8 a.m. on Monday morning, about 30 students stood outside of Bernstein-Marcus chanting loudly enough to be heard from outside the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Admissions Building across Loop Road. They then formed a cluster on the concrete bridge leading into Bernstein-Marcus to prevent administrators from entering. Locks and chains had been placed on the adjoining Gryzmish Center doors. Stating that Lynch’s email did not address student demands and was not sent to them beforehand, as per their agreement on Monday, Alex Montgomery HS ’17 said that students planned to peacefully protest. The student cluster eventually went back inside the building.
Around noon on Monday, several demonstrators marched across campus to the Heller School and interrupted the aforementioned town hall at Heller that Krauss had called about Ford Hall 2015. The students called on Heller faculty and staff in attendance to demonstrate their support by standing with them, prompting several faculty to join the group. Students shared their experiences: Christian Nunez ’18 said “people don’t sit — people don’t sleep — on hard floors because they want [to]. I am not frustrated of nature. I had to tell my little brother that he cannot be a cop when he grows up. I had to teach him at six years old how to defend [himself].”
Executive Director for Integrated Media Bill Schaller did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
— Abby Patkin, Morgan Brill and Hannah Wulkan contributed reporting.