Editorial: The University needs to reevaluate its communication strategies surrounding the anti-racism plan
In June, during the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests after police killed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, University President Ron Liebowitz announced the administration’s intention to create an action plan to address systemic racism on campus. After six months of work, Liebowitz and Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas unveiled the University’s Draft Anti-Racism Action Plan in a Nov. 10 email to the Brandeis community. This board commends this critical step to address long-standing issues of racism on the Brandeis campus and encourages the student body to review and critique the administration’s plans, while also highlighting concerns we have about the way the University presented the action plan to the campus community.
There is no question that a thorough, systemic, action-oriented plan to concretely address anti-Black racism on the Brandeis campus is necessary. In the face of slow-changing or stagnant administrative responses, these student activists have had to repeat many of the same demands year after year, while also raising new issues that need to be addressed. The students who developed the Black Action Plan, organized by DeBorah Ault ’22 and Sonali Anderson ’22, are continuing an important tradition of urging the administration to make necessary, holistic change across campus life. This board applauds the tireless work of the BAP authors, and we support the demands they have gathered from BIPOC students on campus and presented to the University. They deserve much credit for ensuring that the promises the University voiced in June are transforming into real, actionable plans.
The draft action plan for the University, created with input from campus departments, offices and community members, is a massive body of work, with 17 appendices addressing specific areas of reform. The task of creating real, systemic change and uprooting oppressive structures within an institution as large as Brandeis is one that requires thoroughness and complexity, and the length of the draft anti-racism plan is a positive sign that the University recognizes that fact.
In their recent email announcing this plan, Liebowitz and Brimhall-Vargas encouraged community members to review the action plans and provide feedback before the final plan is developed. Being open to critique and suggestion is an important component of any reform plan, of course. However, this is where the length of the draft plan, in conjunction with the decision not to summarize key action items in the announcement email, becomes a barrier to transparency and accountability instead of a benefit.
While a professor or staff member may only need to look at one or two appendices that relate to their specific area of work, students’ lives will be impacted by changes described in the majority of the appendices. The volume of proposed changes and the absence of a comprehensive, condensed summary of concrete action items under consideration makes providing feedback a larger burden on students than it needs to be.
To be clear, the existence of long, comprehensive appendices is not the issue — it is, in fact, critical. But the announcement email is dedicated to a broad overview of the drafting process and condenses potential action items into just keywords. Put simply, the announcement email does not share any proposed change with enough detail for readers to immediately provide feedback. One has no choice but to delve into each appendix in order to learn whether real action is being taken, and then evaluate those proposals and develop a response.
As this process moves forward, this board calls on the University to reevaluate the choices they make about what to include in communications about the anti-racism plan. Students must be included in this development process, and the administration should use emails like the Nov. 10 one as a chance to make that feedback process easier. In emails, the University should center the concrete actions that are being taken so that students can evaluate actions instead of words. This is the only way to ensure transparency and accountability.
Having recognized the potential difficulty of comprehensively reviewing the whole draft anti-racism plan, this board does encourage students to review as much of the plan as possible and provide feedback. This is a critical moment in Brandeis’ history, and we should all use our voices to ensure the University is responding to Black students’ demands and creating real, systemic change. In an effort to facilitate and contribute to this process, this board will use the coming months to summarize the appendices and evaluate the proposed changes in light of the BAP and other student-raised concerns. We hope that those coming editorials will serve as a resource for students. We also recognize, however, that our editorial board is predominantly white, and we will work to ensure that we are not taking space or attention away from the voices of the BIPOC students who are most directly affected by campus racism.