Following the police killing of George Floyd and the subsequent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the mainstream this past May, the University made a commitment to address systemic racism on campus. After various announcements related to anti-racism, Zoom meetings with community members and guidance from the student organizers of the Black Action Plan, the University released a draft of its anti-racism plan in an email on Nov. 10. President Ron Liebowitz and Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas discussed the draft plan in a Nov. 10 joint interview with the Justice and The Brandeis Hoot.

The draft was released to ensure that the University is transparent about its efforts to make systemic anti-racist changes on campus, Brimhall-Vargas explained. According to the draft’s section, A Proposal to Address Systemic Racism at Brandeis, the plan is based on three pillars: diversity, equity and inclusion. The first pillar, equity, focuses on "everyday justice" on campus. This includes reimagining public safety, examining the financial cost of being a Brandeis student and assessing the experiences of faculty and staff. The second pillar, diversity, works to improve the composition of the University community. For instance, this pillar requires changes to the admissions and hiring process. The third pillar, inclusion, seeks to create a Brandeis community engaged around inclusivity through efforts such as new training and messaging campaigns on campus. 

In September, students and faculty attended a virtual Scholar Strike to discuss the prevalence of racism in higher education. Organizers of the event criticized the University’s use of the DEI model, arguing that it fails to achieve true justice.   

Nearly every school, office and department on campus has its own anti-racism plan. According to Brimhall-Vargas, these developing plans will have a focus on continuity. “We want to make sure we have implemented systems that can continue to work in the absence of any particular person,” he said.

In June, Liebowitz called for key administrators to submit anti-racist action plans by Sept. 1, according to a June 9 email sent to the Brandeis community. “I think we were a little ambitious at the start,” he said. The draft plan was released nearly two months after this initial deadline, but Liebowitz stressed that careful planning and research is crucial in creating systemic change. 

Much of this research came from student organizers of BAP who were crucial in getting “the Brandeis take on this national issue that we are dealing with,” Liebowitz said. Brimhall-Vargas added that these students deserve compensation. In turn, the creators of BAP, Sonali Anderson ’22 and DeBorah Ault ’22, have been hired by the ODEI to continue facilitating engagement between students and administration on the topic of anti-racism. 

In addition to the University’s work with BAP student leaders, Brimhall-Vargas stressed the importance of receiving other student feedback about racism on campus. While the University has not finalized all the ways it plans to interact with the student community, he said that hosting community forums is a start. Students will have the chance to attend a community listening session on Nov. 19 and Nov. 30 to provide feedback regarding the anti-racism plan. 

On Nov. 17 and Dec. 2, the University will also host undergraduate student forums to discuss re-imagining public safety on campus, according to the draft. There will also be separate forums held for graduate students, faculty and staff. The Justice has coverage forthcoming to share more information about the University’s plans for re-imagining public safety. 

The forums will be led by two consultants: professor of public administration in the Institute for Public Service at Suffolk University Brenda Bond-Fortier PhD’15 and Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at Margolis Healy Christi Hurt. A maximum of 50 students who register for the event will be admitted on the Zoom call to allow for individual input, according to a Nov. 12 InBrief email that the Department of Finance and Administration sent to the Brandeis community. 

In a Nov. 10 interview with the Justice, Anderson and Ault expressed their concern regarding the forums’ attendance capacity. They noted that not only has BAP successfully hosted meetings with over 100 people in the past without any disorganization, but the University also hosted an event titled Coming Together to Face Systemic Racism which had over 700 participants. 

In addition to student forums, Brimhall-Vargas said that it is essential for the University to improve online platforms for students to share their concerns, experiences and recommendations. Currently, Brandeis community members can share their thoughts with the University through the Anti-Racism Plan Feedback Form, the Re-Imagining Public Safety Community Input Form, the Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Search Input Form or directly through the DEI website

The University already gathered some student feedback through campus climate surveys, Brimhall-Vargas explained. According to the latest campus climate survey, held in 2019, Black and Latinx students had the lowest rates of positive responses to the statement of “I belong in this campus community” in comparison to other demographics on campus.    

Although all of the information posted in the draft plan has gone through a process of approval, many of the departments are still in the beginning stages of creating plans. However, “It’s not like we are putting this out there and then taking a pause,” Brimhall-Vargas said. As updates continue to be made, Brimhall-Vargas explained, the plan will eventually become a status document, similar to the existing Ford Hall 2015 status document

Ford Hall 2015 was a 12 day sit-in led by a group of Black and Brown students known as Concerned Students 2015, according to a 2015 Justice article. The students had 13 demands, which are currently listed on the status document. In 2019, members of Concerned Students 2015 organized the #StillConcernedStudents rally to protest racialized campus policing practices, among other issues of racism on campus. 

Brimhall-Vargas explained that the creation of this draft plan is a continuation of these movements at Brandeis. “One of the things that's wonderful about Ford Hall, Still Concerned and the Black Action Plan is that the Black student community hasn't given up on Brandeis,” he said. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University has experienced a $35-38 million revenue shortfall, Liebowitz explained in the interview. In response to financial strain, Brimhall-Vargas has asked every department to think about a five-year anti-racism plan with two time frames. The first two years will be financially challenging, but the subsequent three may have more financial freedom. Liebowitz added that the University is constantly looking for reallocations and will be launching a large capital campaign to raise funds. While money may be limited due to the pandemic, Brimhall-Vargas noted that many changes, like departments being more mindful of which speakers they invite and what material they include in their classrooms, “don’t have a dollar sign associated with them.”