Fighting systemic racism on campus: From the 1965 Ford Hall sit-in to the University’s current anti-racism plan
To celebrate BLM’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination, the Justice compiled some of the landmark events against systemic racism on campus
Every year the Norwegian Nobel Committee, a five-member panel, votes to award an individual or organization the Nobel Peace Prize. Part of Alfred Nobel’s legacy, the award aims to recognize the “person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” per the Nobel Peace Prize website. The nomination process is moderately accessible. Professors, politicians and previous Nobel Peace Prize winners can submit the name of an individual or organization that they deem worthy of the award. While hundreds of submissions are received each year, only between 20 and 30 are chosen and announced by the NNC in early February. The committee meets again multiple times between the months of April and September to review and eventually choose a winner. The award ceremony takes place in October and the winner receives a medal, 10 million Swedish crowns, the title of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a diploma. The shortlist for 2021 was released earlier this month, and included teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and the Black Lives Matter Movement. In celebration of the BLM nomination for its work to address and combat systemic racism in the United States and abroad, the Justice compiled some of the historic anti-racism protests held on the Brandeis campus, along with the University’s latest plan to address systemic racism.
The history of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement
#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 after the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black teenager from Florida at the hands of a police officer. After six years of diligent work to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes,” the Black Lives Matter Global Foundation Inc. continues to advocate for racial equality in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, per its website. The BLM hashtag, which was first used on social media in 2013, gained large public recognition in May 2020 following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. A series of protests erupted in multiple cities across the United States, and even abroad, in demand for justice for Floyd and thousands of other Black individuals killed by law enforcement officers. The movement continues to bring attention to the effects of systemic racism, provide resources for those directly affected by it and inform the general public about the roots of many of these issues. In response to the Jan. 7 attack on the Capitol, the Foundation updated its list of seven demands, four of which are in response to the failed insurrection.
Ford Hall 1969
On Jan. 8, 1969, a group of 70 Black students, led by members of the Brandeis Afro-American Organization, occupied Ford Hall and issued a list of 10 non-negotiable demands. Among the demands were: the creation of an African Studies Department with the power to hire and fire, immediate action on the part of the administration to have Black professors added to various departments and Black directors for the Upward Bound and Transitional Year Program. The students also petitioned complete amnesty for those involved in the protest and called on white students on campus to support the cause in whatever way they saw fit. The administration responded that evening after an emergency faculty meeting. A statement from then-University President Morris B. Abram “condemned the action of the black students and noted the fact that the demands were never formally presented in their present form to an administrator,” per University Archives. Over 400 students met the next day to draft a formal petition. The majority of the students agreed to keep channels of communication open and avoid the takeover of buildings and the use of violence. The occupation of the Ford Hall building officially ended on Jan. 18, and Abram agreed to address all feasible demands. The African and Afro-American Department, now known as the Department of African and African American Studies, was officially approved on April 24 and Ronald Walters, then-professor at Howard University and the University of Maryland, was appointed head of the department on April 30.
In March of 1970, Abram stepped down as University President and Charles Schottland assumed the position. Schottland agreed to bring 80 minority students to campus in order to increase diversity.
More than 50 years later, the 1969 Ford Hall Student Occupation is remembered as a landmark for greater diversity and inclusion on the Brandeis campus.
Ford Hall 2015
On Nov. 19, 2015, students drafted a list of demands to address racial injustice on campus. The demands were posted on Facebook and sent to the interim University President Lisa Lynch. The email demanded a response which had to include a detailed plan of action addressing the demands from the administration in 24 hours. Upon not receiving an action plan in the set time period, students met on the Rabb steps where they were greeted by Lynch. Following the protest at the Rabb steps, students walked to the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center and started a sit-in that took place over the weekend. On Nov. 22, Lynch sent an email to inform all students, faculty and staff that she had set up a meeting with the Board of Trustees to discuss the demands issued by the students. Unhappy with the administration’s response, students continued to occupy the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center.
On Nov. 25 the students once again met with Lynch and the rest of the negotiating committee. On Dec. 1 the occupation officially ended after Lynch released a detailed plan to increase diversity and inclusion on campus. The plan included increasing the minimum wage for Brandeis employees, increasing the applicant pool of underrepresented students of color, hiring counseling staff of diverse backgrounds and doubling underrepresented faculty of color by 2021.
On May 1, 2019, students involved in the 2015 Ford Hall sit-in gathered on the Rabb steps and issued five demands to the administration. The demands included: increased transparency in all Department of Community Living processes and policies, fulfillment and implementation of the goals put forth by the University after the 2015 Ford Hall sit-in (with a particular emphasis on hiring a more diverse counseling staff) and an end to excessive policing of students of color by DCL and the Department of Public Safety. Students marched around campus, stopping at DCL, the Department of Public Safety, the Shapiro Campus Center and the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center. President Liebowitz addressed the Brandeis community on May 3, reassuring protesters that some of the demands were already being addressed and the others “need[ed] to be investigated, understood, and discussed,” per the official email. He also expressed concern over the way in which the protest was carried out, stating that some members of the community did not comply with Section 7 of the University’s Rights and Responsibilities, which outlines the rules for campus protests and demonstrations.
The Black Action Plan
Following last summer’s events and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, DeBorah Ault ’22 and Sonali Anderson ’22 met with students to “discuss their concerns within each department at the school, as well as speaking with administration and seeking advice from professors,” per a Sept. 22 Justice article. Ault and Anderson drafted the Black Action Plan, which reflects the demands issued during the 2015 Ford Hall sit-in and the 2019 #StillConcernedStudents Protest, as well as proposals for long-term structural changes. The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion hired Anderson and Ault to help implement the changes proposed in their drafted plan.
Based on the demands compiled in the BAP, Liebowitz and Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of DEI Mark Brimhall-Vargas unveiled a draft of the University’s plan to address systemic racism on campus. The plan is divided into appendices that outline each department and office’s goals to meet BAP demands, as well as a timeline for each goal. While some of the appendices are well structured and detailed, many are vague and unclear. Additionally, most goals have not been updated since last September, which makes it difficult to determine whether the departments and offices are actively working on meeting BAP demands.
The BLM’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination serves both as a reminder of the progress we have made and the challenges that are left to overcome in regard to systemic racism. As a University built to promote inclusion and diversity, Brandeis continues to work on addressing the issues faced by minority students, faculty and staff on campus.