Students protest ‘racist’ policies
A group of students rallied to demand changes to DCL and Public Safety policing practices.
Brandeis students gathered on the Rabb Steps on May 1 to protest racialized policing practices on campus, marching from Rabb to the Department of Community Living office, the Department of Public Safety office, the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center and the Shapiro Campus Center, reading their demands of the University at each location. The rally was coordinated by students who were part of Concerned Students 2015, the group that led the Ford Hall 2015 sit-in.
Signs at the protest read, “DCL operates as a policing organization,” “The concerned students are still concerned,” “It’s our duty 2 fight for freedom” and more. Many of the participants wore all black to the demonstration, as the organizers had encouraged via Instagram and Facebook.
Toward the end of the protest, students crowded into University President Ron Liebowitz’s office to read the demands again, before moving on to their final destination in the SCC atrium. An organizer told the march participants, “This is the end of our long and grueling protest — but it’s not.”
The leaders of the rally listed thefive demands at each stop of the march. The first called for “transparency and direct action on community living.” With this demand, protesters asked DCL to reveal whether there is a quota system for student conduct and punishment, to mandate informed consent for room inspections, to provide independent advocates to inform students of color of their rights if they are accused of violating the code of conduct and to compile a public, third-party report investigating racial bias in DCL code violation reports.
The second demand urged the University to “fulfill mental health priorities established and approved” by the University during the 2015 Ford Hall protests. According to a Brandeis Magazine article, in response to the 2015 demands, the University released an implementation plan that said they would work on increasing the number of counselors of color at the Brandeis Counseling Center “to provide culturally relevant support to students.”
In light of this demand, a group of BCC staff members marched on May 13 “in solidarity” with the initial protest, according to a statement they put out after their demonstration. In the statement, they referred to themselves as #StillConcernedClinicians and said they “feel it is [their] duty and [their] role to amplify the voices of these students” and are working to “understand the role that systems of oppression can have on the mental health of the students [they] serve.”
The organizers of the May 1 rally and march also asked for increased “transportation equitability and accessibility for students of color” through the establishment of transportation options for students without the financial ability to go home for breaks, as well as expansion of transportation routes to Market Basket Plaza for low-income students. They also asked for use of “more sensitive” transportation options than a police cruiser for student emergency situations.
The fourth demand pushed for DCL and Public Safety to stop excessive policing of students of color, require Brandeis police officers to wear body cameras and “strengthen community engagement methods with students of color.”
A student who read the demands at the Public Safety office said, “You want us to trust y’all, but we don’t, because we don’t know y’all. Y’all are just like white people on this campus with guns.” Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan did not respond to request for comment from the Justice.
The final demand urged Liebowitz to issue a statement in solidarity with “students at John Hopkins University organizing against the funding of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] contracts, and those at Yale University organizing against racialized police brutality in their local community.” The organizers said that they “expect a clear statement of action” to be publicly issued by the administration by May 14 at 12:00 p.m.
Liebowitz responded to the demands in an email to the Brandeis community on May 3. He wrote that some of the demands brought up at the rally had been raised by students before and were already being addressed, and that other demands “need[ed] to be investigated, understood, and discussed.” Liebowitz added that he asked University Provost Lisa Lynch and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stew Uretsky to work with the Division of Student Affairs and the Department of Public Safety, respectively, on negotiating with the student organizers. “It will be through meeting and discussion, rather than through demands and deadlines, that we can make progress,” Liebowitz wrote.
In the same email, Liebowitz criticized the way the protest was conducted. He wrote that some of the protestors used “loud, vulgar, and threatening tactics,” such as using a bullhorn and shouting obscenities, and that he “expects all protests to be done in a manner that is respectful of other individuals.”
Liebowitz wrote that some of the behavior at the protest violated Section 7 of the University’s Rights and Responsibilities student code. He quoted Section 7: “Though the campus must be open to the free exchange of ideas, the University may limit the time, place, and manner of demonstrations. All members of the community are expected to conduct dialogues with dignity and courtesy.”
Liebowitz and Dean of Students Jamele Adams did not respond to requests for comment from the Justice. Director of Media Relations Julie Jette did not comment on the May 1 rally or the protesters’ demands.
The five core organizers of the rally, who requested that the Justice identify them by their first and last initials and class years, held a forum on May 2. One organizer, MR ’20, said that their criticism of DCL and Public Safety was not targeted at any individual staff members or incidents, but rather at the institution. “I want people to be honest with themselves about ways they are [complicit] in … racism,” CC ’19 added.
CC explained that many of DCL’s actions and policies made her feel uncomfortable on campus, saying, “I don’t feel safe.” She said that DCL policies were created largely by white communities and that people outside of those communities felt isolated. “Our ways of life are separated,” she said.
CC specifically named DCL’s policy regarding religious candles as an example of a policy that was not equitably implemented. She said that DCL had granted permission for students to use Shabbat candles, but not candles associated with African and indigenous religions. CC also cited her experiences with social gatherings led by students of color being more heavily policed — even when they had been approved by DCL — as one example of of racialized policing.
The organizers also talked about how the rally was in solidarity with students at Johns Hopkins University and Yale University, who were engaged in similar efforts to better the campus experiences of Black and Brown students.
DF ’19 said that she received an email from Johns Hopkins students asking other universities to stand in solidarity with their efforts to stop their administration from creating a private police force and to push them not to have contracts with ICE.
CC talked about the rally’s connection to Yale University. According to an April 24 CNN article, on April 23, a Yale police officer stopped a car, believing that the Black man in the driver’s seat was the perpetrator of a recent armed robbery. A Hamden County police officer shot into the vehicle multiple times. The woman in the passenger’s seat was injured, neither she nor the man were arrested and no gun was found in the vehicle. “Solidarity is necessary for all Black Lives Matter movements,” CC said.
Several of the students also expressed how exhausting it was for them to keep fighting. “It feels like running on a hamster wheel,” MR said, explaining how she felt like she was constantly putting in energy and not seeing substantial change. CC added, “I’m sick of it. I take pride in knowing that people fight for me, but people shouldn’t have to fight to get an education.”
CC continued, “I’m so eternally grateful for my ancestors and the work that they’ve done, but why are we still fighting?”