Cautious optimism on University promises
Brandeis’ tradition of student protest continued last May when a group of #StillConcerned students—a callback to the Concerned Students 2015 group which led the Ford Hall sit-in—held a protest on the Rabb Steps, per a May 20, 2019 Justice article. These students argued that concerns relating to race on campus in 2015 had not been sufficiently addressed. Among other demands, they expressed a desire for collaboration between activists and offices such as Public Safety, the Department of Community Living, Escort Safety Services and the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, saying they “operate as policing forces that disproportionately impact the on-campus experiences” of marginalized students.
On Aug. 29, University Provost Lisa M. Lynch informed the student body via email of the University’s ongoing response to the concerns raised. While the efforts are commendable, many do not go far enough in responding to the valid demands the #StillConcerned students raise.
This board applauds the University’s improved transportation for students. In the email, Lynch said that DCL and Public Safety will work with students to provide, on a situation-by-situation basis, transportation for students seeking urgent and non-emergency medical care who do not feel comfortable riding in a police cruiser. The University will also provide transportation on campus and within Waltham during breaks — previously, students staying on campus during a recess did not have easy and free transportation options. He University is also beginning to run a shuttle to Market Basket Plaza, a grocery store in Waltham, to reduce food insecurity. Market Basket is known among students for being less expensive than other local stores.
This editorial board is cautiously optimistic about many of the other responses the University outlined, and commends their ongoing attention to students’ expressed needs. However, many of the University’s responses seem ineffective or in need of significant modification, or do not actually guarantee reform. Moreover, many of the responses cited in Lynch’s email do not directly reflect or respond to protestors’ stated demands. While these new initiatives are steps in the right direction, we urge the University to continue listening to students and actively seeking their input in these matters, as well as maintaining transparency about its implementation and reform processes.
Lynch’s email cited a few University projects that are ongoing, but do not directly address student concerns. She discussed the Ombuds Office and Student Conduct Board, but did not discuss how either one is a solution to the 2019 #StillConcerned students’ demands. Without these offices being linked back to student demands, students cannot ensure that they are being heard or discuss whether these groups serve as sufficient responses. This hinders communication between students and administration, as students are not able to understand which concerns are being addressed and which are being brushed off or ignored. This board would like the community to be emailed about clear policies, not vague, long-term University aspirations. We encourage the University to actually explicitly address these concerns with policy changes or by actively working with student advocates on clear priorities.
Lynch’s email was especially vague about the University’s response to demands for an investigation into DCL. Students asked explicitly for a “public and third-party report to investigate potential racial bias among code violation reports by DCL.” Especially given the recent investigation into former basketball coach Brian Meehan, which unearthed systemic racial discrimination issues within the Athletic and Human Resources departments, complaints about racial bias in University departments should be treated as high-priority and responded to seriously. Lynch offered a student panel about reforming the room inspection process, presumably as a response to requests to “informed consent” before standard inspections. While making the process easier for students is nice, a panel does not necessarily mean reform; an investigation, on the other hand, would be a genuine effort to meet students’ demands and unearth deeper problems.
The University plans to conduct a “holistic review of mental health needs and support deficits on our campus,” per the Aug. 29 email. We appreciate this holistic review of mental health needs on campus, but we hope this review is meant to provoke effective change — not to pacify students without cause. We agree that a holistic review will be beneficial in the long run, as long as it is conducted through the lens of previously agreed-upon conditions and formerly raised concerns.
In the email, Lynch announced that any banners must be explicitly approved before being posted, and that protests must approved for timing and location. This board appreciates that this process enhances communication and lessens misunderstanding between students and the administration, but we caution the University to remain transparent about this process. Without an explicit process for approval or disapproval, this policy will provide the University with a means of repressing student speech and targeting groups it disagrees with.This board feels that the Rights and Responsibilities handbook should be the formal metric for determining what is appropriate to express on a poster. Moreover, the entire process of approval or disapproval should be transparent, with students in the room during decision making or given the opportunity to work with the University on making their poster more acceptable. Reasons for accepting or denying posters should be clearly stated and there should also be an appeal process for students whose posters are denied. The policy should also clarify whether it is banners or banner designs which must be approved, so as not to waste hours of student effort. This is an opportunity for better communication between students and the University — but could also lead to further distance and mistrust.
—Jen Geller covered this topic for News and did not contribute to this editorial.