Last Monday, three members of the Brandeis administration stood before a town hall of students, professors, faculty, staff and alumni of Brandeis University to discuss the investigation of basketball coach Brian Meehan, in the wake of an April 5 Deadspin article that revealed numerous derogatory practices. This town hall’s efficacy was as dubious as any town hall, but it has opened the floor to a nuanced discussion about what Brandeis stands for and the value of diverse voices on campus.

Town halls have the potential to be powerful tools for members of a given community to have a voice. They provide a platform that allows marginalized groups to bring their issues to mainstream attention. The public nature of a town hall demands accountability from those who sit on stage to answer questions. The fact that Brandeis administration would hold a town hall to discuss this and leave their offices to engage in direct discourse with the community is a profound statement. It speaks to the character of an administration that has a sincere willingness to listen to the issues and work toward change. 

Conversely, town halls can be fruitless and counterproductive. They can open the door to a vitriolic breed of discourse. Well-warranted attacks on individual administrators can do the job of holding administrators accountable to all of their past wrongdoings, but crowd out alternative discussion about the potential for change from the present. Furthermore, the flames of discontent here are only fanned by apathetic administrative responses. As people in the audience pour their hearts out into microphones, they feel ignored and further discouraged from speaking out when they feel that every response is political and prewritten. This often manifests as questions going unanswered after a series of qualified, sterile statements having more to do with maintaining the integrity of the image of Brandeis than providing redress for the aggrieved parties.

That being said, Provost Lisa Lynch made a crucial point in saying that the issues that Brandeis faces are “problems with the culture, not the policy.” Her point was that the policies are not the problem, but the people executing them. This is false, and the reasons are twofold. One of the first questions that I posed during the town hall was about the clandestine nature of the investigation itself. The policy is to establish a lack of transparency about who the investigators are, what their qualifications are, and why — to Shaquan McDowell ’18’s point — they are more qualified to adjudicate the truth of the students’ claims than the affected students themselves. 

Second, even if it is true that culture is the problem, culture is nothing more than a combination of individuals. Given that the problem is about the individuals, the solution is to find more equipped people to fill these roles on campus. The question then becomes, “What are the criteria by which Brandeis hires and fires workers to ensure quality?” to which I was met again with no response.  A better Brandeis and a better world is one where everyone questions themselves and their intentions in a way that opens up honest discourse. The first step to that is having an open discussion about practices which welcome everyone. 

At one point, Nobel Prize winning Prof. Michael Rosbash (BIOL) stood up, and after delivering several germane comments impugning the nature of the investigation and the process that lead up to it, he said “Brandeis really doesn’t really have a problem with racism.” The illiberal reaction is to try to silence sentiments like this. I think that it is better to analyze how we define racism through each of our individual lenses. Given every person’s unique life experience, I think that it is impossible to expect everyone to have the same understanding of racism.

Racism is a system of standards. It places people that appear differently into categories so that an observer can interpret the world around them without having to engage in a meandering dialogue. The institution of racism arbitrarily assigns value to people based off of these categories. The issues facing the men of color at Brandeis are not worthy of mainstream attention solely on the grounds that they are athletes. Division III athletes stand on a pedestal because they are the epitome of scholar-athletes. They come to a school like Brandeis not because of their capacity to entertain people with their athleticism, but because of their erudition. To say that the fight here is for basketball players is to completely disregard all the things that these young men have strived for their entire lives just to get to this point, and furthermore, the boundless potential they have to affect the future not only for themselves, but for people like Brian Meehan who treated them with all the contempt that a person could muster.

The narrative of the minority on this campus is corrupted. The corruption starts when scholarship award letters are given to incoming freshmen. The letters are phrased as if students were accepted from a special pool of applicants, rather than having earned their acceptance to Brandeis University of their own merits. Many persons of color on campus are assigned brand names based on their scholarships. These brand names are not a problem in and of themselves. They represent a greater purpose beyond the individual student. The names of the scholarships, and the presence of the scholars themselves indicate that Brandeis is an institution that values diversity for the right reasons. 

Universities are institutions of higher learning. They exist to advance society and equip their constituents to be engines for change. Diversity is crucial to this effort because it provides for a two-way exchange. To import diversity is to adhere to the belief that the inherent differences between people offer space for a dialogue. On a college campus, this creates a unique mechanism for societal advancement, because the more voices that participate in framing what change should look like, the more effective the given change is. 

In conclusion, the movement for change first requires a recognition of the wrongs of the past. Nostalgia blinds people to the qualms of the good old days. This is because the good old days were when people were too young, too inexperienced, too immature — or whatever disqualification applies — to question the world around them. No one in their complacence would take responsibility for the ills of a world they did not create in the first place. This selfishness is both pernicious and exclusive, and the burden to fight against it is evenly distributed for every person that would dare to be the change that they want to see in the world. Majority communities have the burden of questioning thoughts, words and actions that they do not understand. Minority communities have the burden of providing the answers to these questions. This means communities of color have to attend town halls if they want the students and faculty of the administration to acknowledge their perspective. I say that it is not the burden of communities of color on campus to make people listen, but to give them the chance to hear their point. A better world and a better Brandeis is not one where white people perpetually walk on eggshells in shame of their privilege, nor is it a world where minorities constantly have to pray for reparations for their oppression. A better world is where we leave these pernicious vestiges behind, not by ignoring them, but by calling them out for what they are: the fruits of ignorance and intolerance.