Criticize University’s treatment of commuter students
On Jan. 10, Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas sent an email regarding the formalization of the Brandeis Ombuds Office. This will provide a useful means to achieve conflict resolution between students or staff with other members of the University, a long-awaited result of the list of demands created by students of color during the 2015 Ford Hall protest. In the email, Brimhall-Vargas described the ombuds as experienced individuals that “provide alternatives to adversarial dispute resolution not available elsewhere.” This board commends the University for taking the steps needed to foster a sense of security, wellbeing and cooperation on campus, but we urge the University to correct a major oversight in the designation and appointment of the Ombuds Office.
The Ombuds Office is located in Shapiro Campus Center Room 316, which is also the Commuter Lounge. On Nov. 10, 2017, commuter students received an email from Operations Specialist JV Souffrant informing them of the change and listing the tentative hours allocated to ombuds meetings: Tuesday from noon to 5 p.m, Wednesday from noon to 8 p.m. and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. While inconvenient, there were still weekdays that commuter students could have unrestricted access to the lounge. Soon after, an official list of hours was posted outside the lounge door. The current hours of operation for the ombuds are Monday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday from noon to 8 p.m., Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. This leaves little time for commuter students to utilize the lounge as a space to congregate and study in between classes. Undergraduate student Fox Aguirre ’19 was one of many students to object to the change. In an interview with the Justice, he said, “For me, the lounge was a place to find respite between classes in the morning and to study during the afternoon.” Aguirre wrote a letter of opposition to Vice President for Campus Operations Jim Gray which was signed by 11 other commuter students.
According to the International Ombuds Association, the general purpose of an ombuds office is to provide confidential and impartial assistance to individuals and groups. Given this, there are criteria to be met when designating a space as an ombuds office; it is suggested that an ombuds office be located in a building accessible by all members of the community, and in order to protect anonymity, the office should be designed so parties cannot be seen entering or exiting. It is also suggested that the office have a waiting room and soundproof walls to maintain confidentiality. It is understandable why the Commuter Lounge was chosen, since it is connected to the Dharmic prayer space which might be used as an alternate means of exiting.
This board acknowledges these constraints but urges the University to designate a new space for commuter students.
As Aguirre said, “Commuter students are no less deserving of a space in which to congregate and feel safe.” There are several meeting spaces in the SCC that could be used until a more suitable permanent location is assigned, or the commuter lounge could be relocated to the former Dunkin Donuts location in Village Quad.