The Brandeis Department of Community Service held a volunteer training to prepare University students to engage in the greater Waltham area on Wednesday. The event, titled “Waltham: The More You Know Experience,” was open to current and prospective student volunteers so they could gain a greater understanding of Waltham’s demographics and history through their engagement in community service.  

Student volunteer Maya London ’19, the community engagement ambassador for training and volunteer retention, led the event. 

London started the training with a group ice breaker in which she asked the volunteers three questions: What are two words that come to mind when you think about Waltham? What are some assumptions you have about Brandeis students? What is an assumption you think some non-Brandeis Waltham residents may have about Brandeis students? 

Students wrote their answers on Post-It notes and stuck them to a whiteboard. The group discussed their observations and what prejudices they exposed through their answers. Several students thought of Waltham as a diverse place and saw Brandeis students as economically privileged in comparison.  

After a brief discussion about what students already know and think about Waltham, London showed attendees two YouTube videos. The first was a TEDx Waltham video called “A Monorail in the Median.” In this video, Jeannette McCarthy, mayor of Waltham since 2004, talked about Waltham’s history and how the city’s economy has grown  over the decades, becoming a city in 1884. She highlighted the city’s switch from an agricultural to an industrial economy through innovations such as the building of a railroad, the town’s first paper mill and the first highway. She then talked about how this industrial development led to traffic congestion. In the second YouTube video, Waltham residents from different backgrounds and careers danced together to Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.” 

During the last part of the event, students looked  at and discussed posters that London had hung on the walls of the room. Each poster showed different piece of information about Waltham, including data on Watham’s zoning districts, protected green spaces, crime rates, racial and ethnic diversity, housing statistics and population. According to the data from June 2017, Waltham is 66.9 percent white, 13.3 percent Hispanic, 11.1 percent Asian, 5.9 percent Black. This makes Waltham more racially and ethnically diverse than the surrounding cities of Lexington, Belmont, Newton, Lincoln, Weston and Arlington. 

Another poster with data from April 2017 illustrated that 26.2 percent of the Waltham’s population was born outside the U.S. A final poster presented Waltham’s relatively high crime rates compared to surrounding cities. 

The discussion of the exhibition focused on what the students found interesting, surprising and challenging about the data. One student said that more Waltham residents had healthcare than they would have expected. The group then discussed the way that Brandeis’ focus on social justice can distort facts. For instance, some suggested that University students may be so invested in fixing problems that they overestimate their magnitude and scope. 

The discussion concluded with a brainstorming session on how to make Waltham residents feel that their voices are heard and how to engage with the community more. The group agreed on the importance of acknowledging their privilege as University students and letting residents express their needs before trying to help them.