Students and their families coming to tour Brandeis on Admitted Students Day, April 21, were prepared to walk through campus and learn more about what the University has to offer. However, they could not have anticipated a group of students waiting for them outside the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center with the goal of conveying how the University’s Department of Community Living has wronged students with disabilities by failing to offer them housing that meets their accommodations, as previously promised. 

The group was a silent though conspicuous presence, having waited nearly two hours for the tours to start leaving Gosman. Maintaining a conscious distance from the moving tour groups, a student offered fliers to those interested while the rest of the group held signs that spoke for them with short, yet potent sayings including but not limited to:

“Stop Housing Discrimination!”

“The President Makes $1,000,000, We Don’t Get Roofs.”

“Dirty, Crummy, Liars,” in reference to DCL.

“Where Do We Get To Live?”

The Justice interviewed protesters Lyric Siragusa ’24 and Samkyu Yaffe ’24 to learn more about the group’s intent and hopes for their long-standing advocacy — this protest being the aftermath of the group’s widespread petition going unacknowledged by DCL, despite being signed by “more than 1 in 12 current Brandeis students,” as noted by the advocates’ website.

“We want to make sure that incoming students are aware of what’s going on, that Brandeis can’t hide this from them,” Yaffe explained why the group decided to protest on Admitted Students Day, and in front of prospective students no less. “[Students with disabilities] are not Brandeis’ biggest priority, and we’re not going to be who they listen to. But incoming students, [their] parents, current students, [their] parents, donors — these are the groups that the University is likely to listen to,” they said.

Siragusa added that the group chose to protest to show their commitment to the movement. “We have a Discord, we have a website, we have an Instagram, [we have] a petition. But admin can ignore all that stuff … they can’t ignore this [protest],” she said, adding that housing equity is an issue that the students are willing to give time out of their day to advocate for. “This is not something that [administration] is going to placate us with a simple email, and we’re going to drop it. We’re in this for the long run,” Siragusa explained.

The students outlined several demands for both DCL and the University to fulfill: Build more housing to accommodate the growing student population and emergency housing on campus to support disabled students’ needs, promise adequate housing for students with disabilities in writing, create full transparency about the DCL lottery system, and create a student representative position to give input during planning processes. Yaffe outlined the danger of failing to give a student housing that meets their accommodations. For instance, they mentioned that giving a student a room on the third floor in a building with elevator access when they were initially promised a ground floor accommodation can endanger their life in an emergency situation if they are unable to access the elevator. 

Yaffe and Siragusa also called for communication from DCL in response to the group’s efforts. While Siragusa acknowledged that DCL held a webinar and responded to students who have directly reached out to them about the situation, both she and Yaffe agreed that more needs to be done. 

“[DCL needs] to make a message to the entire student body, including to people who were ejected from the housing accommodations process, who have not reached out to them … the burden should not be on us. We did our share. We talked to our medical practitioners, we submitted everything, we have scrambled to find alternate housing … the burden of communication should not be on us at this point,” Siragusa said. 

The students emphasized that their main focus was to ensure that the 29 students whose housing accomodations were rejected received consistent with their requests. “Housing accommodations is what enables disabled students to actually be students and now [they] have to spend all their time dealing with the issues of simply living where they were told to live,” Siragusa explained. She also mentioned that the group’s broader goals are to improve all housing on campus and make it more accessible through renovations in East Quad and Grad, as well as new housing construction altogether. 

“This isn’t a one time thing. The fact that this happened at all is indicative of a much larger systemic issue that we need to address now,” Siragusa said, “there were 29 students this year, how many students will it be next year or the year after that? How many students will it be in 10 years?”

Yaffe stressed that if housing issues can impact disabled students, limited housing options can affect anyone and that is also part of what the group was trying to convey to the prospective students. “These [first-years] need to know that if [the University runs] out of housing, they can take theirs too. And we’re not going to let DCL just hide that under the rug and pretend that’s not a thing on the tours. And until they fix that and make this campus somewhere where disabled people can be proud to go and proud to graduate, this is what we will be doing,” they said.

After the tour groups left Gosman, they interacted with the protesters with varying degrees of interest — from approaching and accepting a flier, flashing a quick thumbs-up, to watching neutrally and walking past. Passing cars honked and waved in support as the group transitioned from Gosman to the Great Lawn, moving locations to take a break and create new signs in preparation for the tours ending at the Shapiro Campus Center. They wanted to demonstrate housing realities to the visitors at the conclusion of their campus tours, as well. 

As they did at Gosman, the students silently held their signs for all concluding tours and current students to see and approach if they were interested. Their silence ensured that the visitors would still be able to focus on their tours without disruption. They remained outside with their signs until 5 p.m. The website estimated that they handed out between 75 to 100 individual fliers to visiting students, those accompanying them, and current students. 

“As disabled students, we need your support as members of the larger student body because there’s not a lot of disabled students on campus,” Yaffe urged, “We can’t do this alone. We need your support. We’re your colleagues during your classes, we’ve worked [on] your group projects, we run your clubs, we run your events, we sing in your acapella groups. We are everywhere, and we need your help.” 

To learn more about the issue and keep up to date with the students’ housing advocacy, Siragusa suggested anyone interested should subscribe to the Reform Brandeis Housing’s Linktree, as it serves as the group’s “main hub” of information, housing everything from links to their website, Instagram, Discord, and other news articles.