Students: get involved
“How does the residential life system foster a feeling of belonging at Brandeis?”
If your gut reaction to hearing this question was to burst into uncontrollable laughter — or uncontrollable tears — you’re probably not alone. The Department of Community Living is the least popular branch of the Brandeis administration; its name is often thrown around as shorthand for how out of touch the Brandeis administration is with the community. Of all the comments on Brandeis Confessions, usually a pretty good barometer of public opinion, I don’t think I’ve seen a single positive one about the job that DCL has been doing. Instead, there is a litany of complaints ranging from loud noise late at night and students smoking in residence halls to nonfunctioning showers and expensive laundry cycles, most of which fall under DCL’s authority.
In short, it’s very easy to complain about DCL, and there’s a fair amount to complain about. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the administration regularly does reach out to try and do better. If the question I posed earlier seems hilarious to you, Assistant Dean of Students Stephanie Grimes asked it last Monday at a community meeting. Apparently, she wants to help us! Who could have possibly seen this coming?
A lot of people should have, because the Student Union advertised the meeting pretty heavily through Facebook and sent out emails well in advance. Despite this, only a dozen or so students showed up. The ones who did had issues they cared about, which translated to things to talk about, and the conversation that followed was lively and interesting. As it was happening, though, I couldn’t take my mind off the small number of people that came.
In this, we see the problem. There’s a lot that various groups — administrators, DCL, the Student Union — can do to improve students’ lives. But, because they can’t hear people who don’t speak up, they don’t enact the change that most people would like, and there develops a reputation that they don’t do anything useful.
I don’t think there exists a better microcosm for this than the Student Union itself. The Senate has a benchmark budget of $50,000 per semester, the overwhelming majority of which is spent in ways that directly benefit students. One of the most popular events every semester, the Midnight Buffet, is paid for by those funds. Midnight Buffet is a little crowded, and sometimes the food runs out too quickly, but it’s something that makes life at Brandeis better. So do Turkey Shuttles. Hell, so do Alex Chang’s pianos.
For all this, though, the Student Union gets very little attention from the student body at large. Senate meetings are open to everyone, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone from the general public at one. I’m sure part of that is because they’re on Sunday evenings, but I think it’s more that we don’t do a good enough job of convincing people they should care.
The end result of this is that people don’t. The vice-presidential election between Aaron Finkel and Guillermo Caballero, the most heated election we’re ever likely to see at Brandeis, only had around 1000 votes cast in total. Most of our contests are much, much less interesting, including mine; in my election, 37 people out of a class of 900 voted for me. (For reference, more people signed Alex Chang’s piano petition last fall.) My “opponent,” Tom Alger, did slightly better at 49 votes cast, but it’s hard to argue that either of us elicited much of a reaction from anyone. To be frank, I’m a Class of 2020 Senator now because I was one of two people interested in the two-position job. If I had not run, there would probably be an empty seat on the Union right now.
On the topic of Alex Chang, he’s actually a good example for people to emulate. I criticized him last year for diverting Student Union funds for what I saw as a vanity project, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for him in this context. He’s a highly motivated individual who wanted to accomplish something that would benefit his base, and he was willing and able to use the University’s resources to do it. If there’s any good lesson to take away from the piano debacle last year, it’s that you, too, can get something real done if you’re willing to speak up about it. Keep that in mind as you go through your college career.
For the short term, get involved! If you have things you want to be addressed, make them known. If you want new couches in your residence hall, make some noise. If you’re disappointed that your club didn’t get funding, make even more noise. If you want the Branvan to run on time, make a whole lot of noise.
And when an election rolls around, find a candidate that’s promising to do things that you want to accomplish. Or find a candidate that doesn’t and cajole them into doing so. Or, if you can’t do either, run for the position yourself. But if you sit back and don’t do anything, you shouldn’t be surprised when the Union reflects your apathy. Get involved.
For instance, there’s a perfectly good election happening today. Why not go out and vote?