Ford Hall 2015 ends in agreement after 12 days
Twelve days after it began, the Ford Hall 2015 protest came to a close last Tuesday, with administrators agreeing to institute several new policies to address racial injustice on campus. Of the original 13 demands the demonstrators made, all but one were addressed in the agreement.
The Ford Hall 2015 movement — named after the similar 11-day student takeover of Ford Hall in 1969 — began when a group of students, calling themselves Concerned Students 2015, sent a list of 13 demands to Interim University President Lisa Lynch, which included increasing the number of black students and faculty at Brandeis as well as training faculty on racial sensitivity. 24 hours after issuing the demands, the students then held a rally on the Rabb steps on Friday, Nov. 20. After the rally, the demonstrators marched to Lynch’s office in the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center, and announced that they would hold a sit-in, occupying the building until their demands were met. The sit-in continued over the Thanksgiving break.
At a Nov. 24 faculty meeting, Lynch spoke about the timeline of the protest and what the administration and Board of Trustees had done to address the demands. At the time, this included supporting Lynch’s Nov. 22 email to the community, which affirmed the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity without promising new initiatives. She also urged faculty members to support their students and colleagues and recognize that students of color carry a great burden both on and off campus. “This is not a frivolous moment, this is not a situation of a handful of disgruntled students who are … crybabies, to use some of the language that has been in the press,” Lynch said. “These are students who have had the courage to stand in public forums. … This is, these are situations that none of us in this room would wish on anyone in this room. Not on our children, not on our friends, not on our colleagues.”
Last Monday night, Concerned Students 2015 created a Facebook event called “Unity Day,” which called for all supporters of the movement to meet at Rabb steps at noon the following afternoon to “stand together in unity.” The demonstrators then marched to the Fellow’s Garden outside the Shapiro Campus Center, alternating between chants and personal narratives of racial injustice. Initially, the student leaders said that administrators would be making a public announcement to the group at 12:30. When the administrators did not show up, the demonstrators marched to the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Admissions Center, where members of the administration were meeting with the Ford Hall 2015 negotiations team.
An email from administrators stating that they would not have a statement ready at 12:30 did not reach the student body, due to what Vice Provost, Chief Information Officer and University Librarian John Unsworth later called an “email bottleneck” that interfered with incoming emails, according to an email he sent to the student body later that day. “I am especially sorry that this outage interfered with important communications on campus today, in particular the discussions between the administration and the students involved in the sit-in at Bernstein Marcus,” Unsworth wrote. He also noted that the Library and Technology Services department is working on a more permanent solution to the issue.
At approximately 2:30 p.m., Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel and Lynch exited the admissions building, and Flagel and Lynch addressed the demonstrators present at Admissions.
Lynch spoke first, reading aloud from the joint statement on Brandeis' commitment to diversity, inclusion and racial justice, which she later emailed to the community. The statement featured the Draft Implementation Plan for Diversity and Inclusion at Brandeis University, which Lynch summarized into four categories of goals and strategies to implement. Notable policies from the agreement include a School of Arts and Sciences Task Force to review degree requirements and suggest ways to incorporate race into the classroom, an additional staff member of color in the Psychological Counseling Center and a new initiative focused on community college recruitment of underrepresented minorities. The University was already scheduled to begin a review of degree requirements over the next few years.
Lynch noted that “these actions need to be sustained over time and we realize that changing institutional practices and culture is a complex process that will generate resistance and conflict. But, given the widespread support I have seen across our campus community over the past week, I am optimistic that we have the capacity to achieve our goals.”
She also stated that the University has a commitment to protect students from discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality and gender expression, religion, nationality and other forms of identity. She added that the University recognizes that certain individuals on campus — especially Black women — sit at an “intersection of certain forms of violence, threats, intimidation, and harm.”
Students in the crowd then urged Flagel to make a statement addressing one of the 13 demands, which stipulated that he issue a public apology to Khadijah Lynch ’16. In January, Lynch tweeted that she had “no sympathy” for two New York Police Department officers who were killed. The tweets were later published in an article by Daniel Mael ’15 on conservative news website Truth Revolt, which lead to Lynch becoming the target of online rape and death threats. Lynch has since stated that Flagel failed to provide her with sufficient support throughout the controversy.
During his address, Flagel declined to mention Lynch by name or speak specifically on his interactions with her, stating that he would not make any student a “further target” of controversy, especially without having the student’s permission to address personal matters in public. He told the group of demonstrators that he “will gladly … apologize for those feelings of safety on our campus. It’s our responsibility to make everyone on this campus — as the agreement we all negotiated says — feel a part of our Brandeis family.”
One attendee asked if Flagel planned on emailing Lynch or talking to her individually, to which Flagel answered, “To talk about communications with an individual without their permission is irresponsible.” He concluded by inviting students to talk with him individually if they had further concerns. At the faculty meeting, Flagel made a similar statement, apologizing for anything he or his team had done to make students feel less safe on campus. However, he added that “the last thing that any of us wanted is to have a situation where a student is reintroduced as a target of the kind of hatred and threats that occurred last winter, off or inside this campus, and so I am not inclined to speak for any student in terms of their statement or status or want to introduce their names in to the press, and I maintain that stance.”
The group of accumulated students and community members, accompanied by Flagel and Lynch, then made its way to Bernstein-Marcus, where the Ford Hall 2015 movement had been stationed. More students also waited outside the administrative buildings, and volunteers passed around snacks and rain ponchos.Lynch read the joint statement again. As she read, the crowd was silent, with the exception of a brief and quiet chant of “ancestors watching, I know they’re watching, ancestors watching, I know I know.”
In a Tuesday night press release on Medium.com, Concerned Students 2015 wrote, “The students of #FordHall2015 who have occupied the Bernstein-Administrative Marcus [sic] building for the past 12 days, since November 20th, 2015, are now a part of history. We are a part of Brandeis’ history, Black History, and American History. We are overjoyed to pave the way for future Brandeis students and hope that our actions are inspirations to other university students demanding a positive change.”
The Faculty Senate also issued a resolution in support of the Ford Hall 2015 movement and the resulting agreement on Wednesday morning, which was held up by the same error that prevented administrators from releasing their announcement time, according to Senate Chair, Prof. Susan P. Curnan (Heller) in the email.
In the resolution, the Senate resolved to implement strategies to increase its own diversity; encouraging curricula that discusses race; advocating for diversifying the Board of Trustees; and developing an equity fellows program, which would have fellows whose purpose would be to champion diversity and race discussions in different departments and public areas of the University.
— Emily Wishingrad, Max Moran and Avi Gold contributed reporting.