Professors highlight 70 years of achievements
Members of the Brandeis community celebrated the 70th anniversary of the University’s founding at this year’s family weekend. University professors gave TED Talk-style presentations on their work at Brandeis and the school’s history, showcasing the University’s “notable successes,” according to the event’s website. They discussed topics such as student protests over the decades, projects at the Women’s Studies Research Center and Brandeis’ environmental impact.
Prof. Dalia Wassner (NEJS) presented first, teaching the assembled families about “women warriors of Latin America,” Jewish Argentinian women in the 1970s and 1980s who used humor and writing to resist the dictatorial administration. Drawing on collective memories of the Holocaust, these women contributed to the resistance movement with subversive stories and poems. In these stories, “the moral imperative to remember becomes an activist tool,” said Wassner. Bortnik currently teaches a class called “Jews in Latin America” and is the head of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s Project in Latin American Jewish and Gender Studies.
The next presenter, Prof. Shreida Soleimani (FA), spoke about using photography to express frustration on power imbalances and contemporary politics. Soleimani creates a variety of scenes, using photographs of diverse backgrounds, props and models to send her messages. A vocal opponent of the oil industry, Soleimani presented many such photographs of human rights violations and corruption in the global oil trade. “When I think about the G-20 summit, I’m thinking about politicians on their hands and knees drinking out of [an] oil bong,” she said, referring to the annual economic conference of the world’s 20 leading economies. Soleimani closed by showing a collage meant to “remind [us] that the U.S. is complicit in human rights violations in Yemen.”
Prof. Gordon Fellman (SOC) took to the stage to discuss Brandeis’ activist past through sharing personal anecdotes. Fellman expressed his pride in how Brandeis has changed over the years, saying that when he began teaching at the University, only one percent of faculty were women. Now, the ratio of male to female faculty members is almost even. Having taught at Brandeis since 1964, Fellman has first-hand knowledge of anti-war protests in the 1970s and the Ford Hall protests in 1969 and 2015, which protested the lack of campus support and academic research dedicated to Black students. As he described these activist movements, Fellman admitted, “We’re supposed to be nonpartisan, but not really.”
Last to present, Prof. Sabine von Mering (ENVS/WGS) explained what she sees as “the good news about climate change.” She began by presenting on recent environmental disasters, commenting, “I give this talk regularly, and can always use new slides,” to demonstrate that these catastrophes keep happening. However, von Mering then reminded the audience that there is hope. According to von Mering, scientists understand exactly what must be done to halt climate disaster — it is the fossil fuel industry, not technological barriers, that allows climate change to continue. She implored the audience to “join the movement, eat less meat … decarbonize your transport, divest from fossil fuels and vote for change.”
The event’s emcee suggested this event would occur next year as well, becoming a new Family Weekend tradition.
A previous version of this article misstated Dalia Wassner's title. She is head of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute's Project in Latin American Jewish and Gender Studies, not a research associate.