There was a vibrant atmosphere on the patio of the Brandeis Intercultural Center, across from East Quad, the afternoon of Sept. 15. Lively music was playing from the speakers, and students were filling up and down the stairs looking for a bite to eat. Blue Ribbon BBQ, a barbeque chain restaurant in Massachusetts, serviced much of the catering at the ICC Cookout event that ran from noon to 2 p.m. Dishes included barbeque chicken, ribs, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, corn, homemade pickles and baked beans. Besides the main courses, there was also a plate of cookies, bottles of barbeque sauce and hot sauce and a freezer filled with a variety of soft drinks. 

After a year of Zoom meetings and quarantine, the Intercultural Center decided to host the cookout to kick off and welcome students to the new school year. The event featured fun activities for students to partake in. Attendees also had the opportunity to play a game of cornhole and sign up for the listservs of any of the ICC-affiliated cultural clubs. 

The ICC principally serves the Brandeis community through its advocacy of the many cultural clubs and organizations on campus. The center aims to celebrate the diversity of the Brandeis student body, with its main mission being to foster an environment of inclusion and respect on campus. The ICC was founded in 1992 by nine different cultural clubs, most of which remain active organizations on campus.

The Justice spoke with Habiba Braimah, a 4th year Ph.D. student at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and the new director of the ICC, to inquire about upcoming developments and goals over email on Friday, Sept. 17. Before taking on the position of director, she worked at Brandeis as an Assistant Area Coordinator since 2018.

Braimah is determined to reintroduce time-honored in-person events back to Brandeis. At the same time, she acknowledges that this year will be different from the rest — everyone is adjusting to in-person classes, clubs and communal living, among other aspects of on-campus life that were completely altered by the pandemic.

The ICC is providing support to students and faculty alongside this transition. The prolonged physical distancing and virtual communication necessary to abide by COVID-19 protocols has caused many people to feel isolated in the past year. For the ICC, a cookout was a perfect solution to welcome students back in a more communal and interactive way. 

“In the past, the ICC held traditional Open Houses to welcome back our students. This year, we decided to do things a little differently because we recognize the need for in-person [events] that facilitate community building, especially after a year of quarantine,” Braimah said, “While there were some limitations to what we could offer as a result of COVID-19, we worked really hard to create an environment that encouraged face-to-face interactions while adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines.”

The ICC may have started the year off with an exciting opening, but plans for future events that will connect the Brandeis community with cultural life on campus are still being developed.  

“Now that the cookout is behind us, the ICC is gearing up for our annual Indigenous People’s Day,” Braimah said. She explained that they intend to work with a variety of “campus partners, including academic departments, and local community members to offer in-person and virtual programming to honor the legacy of indigenous communities.”

The ICC is simultaneously preparing for an event to commemorate their 30th anniversary, leaving staff with a busy schedule ahead. “We look forward to welcoming back our alumni and celebrating 30 years of community building through cross-cultural connections,” Braimah said.

Braimah’s priority is to strengthen relationships. She has been meeting with the ICC’s affiliated clubs’ leaders to take note of what has helped support students and their respective clubs in the past, brainstorming new ways to support them in the future. Externally, she is dedicated to connecting the ICC with other departments all over Brandeis. She also realizes the potential for improvement. “What I’ve learned in my short time as director is that there is a strong desire to increase collaboration opportunities and improve the student experience, particularly for racially minoritized students,” Braimah said. “While the ICC has played a pivotal role in helping many students of color find their home away from home, there are still quite a number of students who are not connected with our office.”

These unconnected students include graduate students who may be unaware of the ICC’s purpose on campus. Braimah is working to provide equitable access to the ICC’s services to as many students as possible. “We hope to collaborate with more faculty and staff to ensure that our Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian students feel supported, valued and welcomed at Brandeis,” Braimah said.