Admin, please create a safe environment for protestors
Brandeis University as an institution is constantly encouraging students to think beyond their comfort zone and to speak their mind. The University is supposed to be a safe and comfortable space for students to share their experiences and thoughts on things they are passionate about. However, these alleged values held by the University are in direct opposition to its actions against student protesters.
During this semester alone, student protestors have faced hostility, such as those participating in the recent protest organized by Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine in response to the killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces earlier this year.
This hostility not only comes from student counter-protestors’ insulting behavior toward the student protesters, such as laughing while speakers described family and friends being killed and discussed racism and police brutality, but also the biased response from the University’s administration following the protest and its negligence regarding protesters safety. This occurred in spite of the fact that after the protest students recieved negative attention that could have put their safety at risk.
This board is also concerned by the lack of response from the University regarding videos of protestors being sent to outside social media accounts with large followings. We understand that a number of Jewish students were made uncomfortable by the language used by the pro-Palestinian protestors. However, these accounts (@stopantisemetism and @challahbackgirls) which frequently post pro-Israel content have tens of thousands of followers. Videos of students being posted on the Zionist accounts placed them at risk of online harassment or even direct harm from those outside of the Brandeis community. In fact, some comments under the videos used threatening language toward the student protestors.
This is not something that should be taken lightly and should not be allowed to become the standard when students choose to exercise their right to protest on campus. We are disappointed that the administration did not make any public statement about videos being sent to these accounts as part of their response to the protest.
This is not an isolated incident. During the fall of 2022, a Harvest Table manager called the police on student protestors during a peaceful student-led rally as they attempted to deliver him a petition demanding fair treatment of Brandeis dining staff. It is concerning that contractors hired by the University responded with such hostility to a student protest, escalating a nonviolent situation and putting students, BIPOC students in particular, in danger by attempting to get the police involved. Following the SJP protest, President Ron Liebowitz claimed that “the safety of our students is always our highest priority.” This must extend to student protestors, and Brandeis must ensure that any companies or individuals hired to work on this campus are aware of students’ right to protest and trained to respond in a way that does not escalate the situation and put students at risk.
Liebowitz’s response to the protest also contained instances of biased and misleading framing. He claimed that protestors “included members of non-Brandeis groups known to be antisemitic,” which makes it seem as if the protest was organized and attended by outsiders rather than Brandeis students.
However, the Justice learned that only two people present at the SJP protest were not Brandeis students and that neither of these individuals were affiliated with any specific group. We are also aware that at least one non-student affiliated with a Zionist organization was present at the pro-Israel counter protest. This individual works for the Israeli American Council of New England and, according to a student who was part of the counter protest, was involved in organizing it.
This organization also reposted a video of the student protestors on social media. We criticize that Liebowitz did not take more care to ensure his statement included accurate information about the SJP protest, and we criticize his choice to frame the protest as driven by outside groups, especially since he did not mention the presence of an outside organization at the counter protest.
The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life’s mission is “to develop effective responses to conflict and injustice by offering innovative approaches to coexistence” on campus. In light of the University’s response to student protestors, it is also concerning to see the imminent termination of this organization
The University claims to care about social justice and educating the student population on differing political views. However, the hostility toward student protests and the termination of the ethics center directly contradicts this.
The University has a history of responding negatively to student protests, as seen in its initial responses to the Ford Hall occupation in 1969 and the #StillConcernedStudents protest in 2015, and we are disappointed to see that our institution continues to publicly criticize student protests and show little concern for the safety of student protestors.