EDITORIAL: Standing with Brandeis’ Black and Brown communities amidst police violence and civil unrest
In recent weeks, people all over the United States and around the world have been using their voices in a renewed call for racial justice. This board condemns anti-Black racism, as highlighted by recent incidents of police brutality, and is implementing concrete ways that we can address systemic racial inequity in our own organization.
The blatant, systemic injustices being highlighted right now in the United States are not new. However, the recent deaths of Black people at the hands of police have spurred a critical resurgence in the civil rights movement, highlighting the importance of combating white supremacy in our country. This board urges the University administration and the rest of the Brandeis community to engage with and support this movement and to evaluate the ways we benefit from or contribute to systemic racism. It is our responsibility to combat these issues and to dismantle the systems that uphold them.
This board, first and foremost, asserts that Black lives matter. As University students, we feel it is important to honor the history of combating racial inequity at Brandeis, and to address the ways in which racism manifests in our community. Furthermore, as editors of the Justice, we take seriously our responsibility as a newspaper to be anti-racist and have committed to several steps to improve our organization.
Respecting and uplifting Brandeis’ history of Black activism
Although many predominantly white organizations and institutions across the United States have chosen this moment to listen to and amplify the demands of Black Americans, Black and Brown students have been speaking up for years. The same is true at Brandeis.
1969 was the year of the original Ford Hall protest, in which 60 to 75 Brandeis Afro-American Society members occupied the Ford Hall building for 11 days. After evacuating students and staff and securing the building, the student activists read 10 demands to the University. These demands included the establishment of an African Studies Department and increased recruitment of Black students and professors. “The essentials of all the demands is that they must be controlled by Black people and in the interests of the Black community at Brandeis,” the statement read.
Decades after the first Ford Hall protest, while the University did have an African and African American Studies department, not all of the other demands had been met. Moreover, new demands surfaced as Black and Brown students continued to face discrimination at Brandeis. In 2015, a group of students known as Concerned Students 2015 occupied the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center in a sit-in, the purpose of which was to push the administration to develop an action plan responding to their list of 13 demands.
After 13 days, the students and the administration came to an agreement that would put in place several new policies that addressed some of the demands. Yet, despite the Board of Trustees’ and then-Interim President Lisa Lynch’s support for the movement, many of the demands were not met.
The changes following Ford Hall 2015 were not enough to bring racial justice to Brandeis. Four years later, in May 2019, a group known as #StillConcernedStudents took to the Rabb steps and marched through campus, reading a new set of demands along the way. The demands addressed racial inequality and injustice in areas of student life including community living, mental health services, accessible transportation and police accountability. Protesters asserted that the University was over-policing events led and attended by students of color and asked that Brandeis police officers be required to wear body cameras.
President Ron Liebowitz’s email response took a gradualist approach to the demands, saying several of them needed “to be investigated, understood, and discussed” rather than being implemented immediately. In the same email, he reprimanded the students for how they conducted their peaceful protest, alleging that some students used “loud, vulgar, and threatening tactics.”
This Tuesday, in an email to the community, Liebowitz announced an initiative calling for administrators to submit action plans that include the voices of “Black students, Black student organizations, other students of color, other student organizations, faculty, members of each of the aforementioned departments, and other staff.” As is clear from Brandeis’ history, many members of these communities have already voiced their opinions and suggestions in the past, and although some of these demands have been met, many have not.
This board stands with Black and Brown students and alumni who have been working to improve our University for years, and we call on the administration to address their demands concretely and effectively, now and into the future, as they should have in the past. As the Brandeis community comes together to work toward racial justice at the University, the administration must start by listening to what our Black and Brown peers have already been telling us.
The Justice taking action
While words are important, we recognize the importance of taking action and that anti-racism is a daily practice, not a one-off slogan. The Justice is committed to combating racism and promoting diversity within our organization by taking concrete steps to live up to our ideals.
Justice leadership has been working with the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion to develop a workshop for campus media aimed at helping student journalists engage with DEI frameworks and reflect on our own backgrounds and experiences that we bring to our work. This workshop will be mandatory for all editors. We are also working with the Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center to create a training on trauma-informed reporting. Although our planning was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we intend to host these training sessions in the fall. We will also incorporate the sessions’ materials into every new editor’s training to ensure the lessons are not lost.
This board recognizes that training sessions will not absolve us of our responsibility to craft an actively anti-racist, inclusive organization. We are implementing a series of policies that are aimed at creating a more representative and diverse newspaper staff. We will make our criteria for promoting staff members to become editors more transparent, and introduce the different opportunities for advancement to staff when they first join. This will ensure everyone is aware of ways to become more involved and make our promotion processes more transparent, accountable and accessible.
We also recognize that we will be failing our members if we do not work to support them while they are here. To that end, the Justice will incorporate check-ins with editors and staff members into our regular meetings, making diversity, equity and inclusion commonly discussed topics in our office, rather than subjects raised only during times of upheaval. Justice leadership will also establish an anonymous forum for members to submit concerns or questions about the office culture so that people who do not feel comfortable speaking up during meetings will still be able to have their concerns addressed. In promoting an ongoing conversation about people’s comfort and inclusion in our office, we will also actively track our progress, with an eye to the future about how we can continue to move forward and improve. These steps do not represent the entirety of the work the Justice will be doing to promote anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion within our organization, but they are meant to highlight the direction we are looking to go.
We recognize that our reporting has often harmed the very communities we serve. As we commit to combating systemic racism within our organization, we also commit to improving our journalistic practices and re-earning the trust of the campus communities we cover. We are always looking for ways we can improve our reporting and to address times we have caused harm. Our editor in chief (email@example.com) and managing editor (firstname.lastname@example.org) are always available to talk with community members about how we can take responsibility for past failings, address the harm we caused and change our practices so we can do better in the future.
As we strive to uphold long-lasting anti-racist practices, the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black individuals must not be forgotten. We need to remember that our community must actively and continually combat racism in our lives and here at Brandeis. Acknowledging Brandeis’ Black history and amplifying the voices of Black and Brown students on campus is just the beginning of enacting long-lasting change within the Brandeis community. While the Justice editorial board is committed to examining and rectifying its own practices, we recognize this work is a continuous process requiring both time and dedication in order to effectively address the issues of systemic racism.
As the struggle for civil rights has recently intensified, the board encourages all individuals to support the Black Lives Matter movement in whatever capacity possible. Some useful resources include guidelines for safe protesting, petitions to sign, organizations to donate to, mental health services for Black individuals and a list of educational resources.