Condemn intolerance and exclusivity on Brandeis campus
Two of the central goals on which Brandeis was founded are open inquiry and cultural diversity. In its , our University mentions that it seeks to renew the American heritage of cultural diversity, equal access to opportunity and freedom of expression. This is what we advertise to prospective students. It is what we tell students in their first week here“This is our house,” a message of unity and equality. However, the events which have been uncovered in the last week shed a new light on how our University actually carries out these goals.
On Thursday, April 5, University President Ron Liebowitz announced that Brian Meehan, the men’s basketball coach, was dismissed after multiple complaints were lodged against him last year and revived again this year. Later that day, Deadspin, a sports news website, published a lengthy exposé detailing repeated instances of racially discriminatory behavior, including one instance in which Meehan told a Black player, “,” and another occasion in which he told a Black player that wearing a white jersey must have been a “” for him. These comments contributed to a culture in which only three of the 20 Black players who have been on the team since 2011 remained on the team for all four years of college.
Only making this matter worse is Brandeis’ investigation. Multiple players reported Meehan’s behavior to Title IX Coordinator Linda Shinomoto in May of 2017, hoping to reach a verdict before the next season started. However, it took five months of hearing nothing before Vice President of Student Affairs Sheryl Sousa “made a decision on the matter.” Then, soon after this decision, Shinomoto left Brandeis without explanation. Ultimately, the six players who filed this complaint never learned what action was taken against Meehan, and they sat powerless as Meehan continued to coach through the next season. As a result of this story being released, Liebowitz placed Lynne Dempsey, the athletic director, on administrative leave. According to the Deadspin article, Dempsey, who is friends with Meehan, witnessed multiple events of misconduct at games and refused to meet with Dean of Students Jamele Adams after one player approached Adams with his complaints.
Coach Meehan’s behavior, and the administration’s response to it, have been appalling. Time after time, the University has failed to recognize the seriousness of this problem. It took the release of this article for President Liebowitz to hire independent investigators to look into how the University handled the situation. All of this comes on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. King was the spokesperson for a generation of civil rights leaders who fought to end segregation and defeat policies that prevented African Americans from competing on an even playing field. It is evident, in light of this story, that the fight King waged is still continuing today. America continues to have a problem with race.
What makes this story all the more shocking is that it happened here. This school was founded by the American Jewish community to be a university where students who were excluded by racial quotas could achieve a world-class education. Yet the University did not uphold its values when handling this situation. Coach Meehan’s actions do not live up the “heritage of cultural diversity.” His statements and actions represent a disregard for the value of diversity in America and an ignorance of any sensitivity. His actions resulted in Black players being more likely to be cut from the team, denying them the equal opportunity to succeed. And the administration's actions were not conducted in a fashion befitting of “open inquiry.” Instead, they relied on the advice of Meehan’s friends and failed to disclose to anyone what action had been taken against this coach.
None of this can be accepted here. But I believe there is more than can be done.
Brandeis, for all its efforts to be a model of diversity, fails to reach its potential as a truly integrated community. Many people will tell you that Brandeis tends to be “cliquey,” with people staying close to their groups of friends and occasionally reaching out to others outside of those groups. In the last month, some of this insularity among groups has come into the spotlight in the form of Brandeis Confessions, a Facebook page where anonymous students can post their thoughts on anything. Two comments in particular have focused on this aspect of Brandeis social life. One states, “As a person of color, I am considering threating [sic] because the presence of Orthodox Jewish men makes me feel uncomfortable.” The other states, “If Brandeis really cared about diversity, then Bethel would be performing at Springfest instead of two frat boys.” Both comments, to be clear, are wrong and should be denounced. But what if the sentiment behind these comments, that Brandeis doesn’t care about diversity, is real?
I’m not saying that Brandeis is completely segregated, or that this problem is unique to Brandeis. But I believe that more can be done to alleviate tensions between the groups mentioned in these posts. If we had more contact between each other, we would be able to understand each other’s beliefs more and not feel resentment or distrust toward each other. These conversations are important to have because they allow us to reach common ground and understand each other’s point of view. Most Brandeis students who are Jewish tend to lean liberal, and many assisted in the Ford Hall 2015 movement. I also believe that most Black students at our school respect the rights of Jews to pray and oppose anti-Semitism. However, our cliqueyness is preventing us from achieving the goals of our school: to form a cooperative, multicultural community based on pluralism and equality. As I write this, I look back at an interview with Lauren Nickell and Akunna Eneh, two students who participated in the 2015 Ford Hall protest, in : “But then you see that the people of color party with the people of color and the white people party with the white people, and there's this dynamic that's uncomfortable.”
In light of recent actions, I think we, as students, need to ask ourselves: “Is this the best that we can do?” The answer is no.
The administration can make some change, but it is on us, as members of the community, to rise up and talk to our neighbors, our peers, our fellow students and talk about our place on this campus. It’s time for us to define what this University means to us. This is our house.