Brandeis is holding 14 separate sessions throughout campus today all relating to the continuing war between Israel and Hamas. The lectures are part of a teach-in organized to respond to increased polarization on campus over the last two months regarding various opinions about the war. These events will begin at 9 a.m. and continue throughout the day until 5:50 p.m. 

In October, the campus saw an increase in war-related graffiti, and more students reported feeling threatened or bullied, according to an Oct. 13 email from Dean of Student Affairs Monique Pillow Gnanaratnam and Vice President of Student Affairs Andrea Dine. On Nov. 6, the University derecognized the Brandeis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. Five days later, on Nov. 11, three students and four others were arrested during a protest in support of Palestine. As a response to the arrests, the following Monday, Nov. 13, more than 200 students and faculty held a silent walkout protesting police violence that they felt occurred at the protest. “We decided that we have a whole lot of very, very capable and skilled researchers and faculty on the University campus who are experts in a lot of the issues that have emerged,” the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Jeffrey Shoulson explained in a Dec. 1 interview. “And so it seemed like the thing that one should do at an institution of higher learning is actually use these occasions for real experiences of additional learning, and an investigation rather than just continuing to shout at one another.”

Shoulson’s office, alongside the offices of Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Fierke; Vice President of the Rabb School of Continuing Education Carmen Aguilar; Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Wendy Cadge; Dean of the Brandeis International Business School Kathryn Graddy; and Interim Dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management Maria Madison began brainstorming topics of conversation through a shared Google document relating to the response to the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel and subsequent war. This teach-in intends to focus on matters relating to the University’s internal issues regarding discussion of the war rather than discussing the intricacies of the conflict itself, Shoulson explained. Some of these topics include “Evaluating News Reports for Credibility, Bias, Authority, etc.,” “Studying Judaism and Islam at Brandeis,” “Interfaith Dialogue in a Time of Crisis,” and “Social Media’s Role in Protest, Polarization, and Disinformation.”

Once ideas for lectures began to form, Dean Shoulson’s office began reaching out to professors and asking them to take part in panels. Among those invited to speak is Prof. Daniel Breen (LGLS). Breen will be speaking on two panels: “Dog Whistles and Political Speech” and “Hate Speech and the First Amendment.” 

“I think it's important, because the issues, including hate speech, which I'm going to be talking about, are issues that will be arising more and more as the years go on. And I just think it's really important to have tools at hand to know how to think about those issues,” Breen explained in a Dec.1 interview with the Justice.

On Nov. 29, Provost Fierke emailed the student body informing them that classes would be cancelled in order to allow for the teach-in. Fierke outlined three intended goals for the day: “To address the pervasive imbalance between the polarizing rhetoric of the current moment (on and off campus) and knowledge drawn from reliable sources that are grounded in evidence. To model engagement across difference, even vehement disagreement and, to provide opportunities for members of the Brandeis community to engage with one another in authentic, respectful discussion.”

Alongside the list of goals were eight rules for the event. “[The rules] were drawn kind of eclectically from a number of different resources that we have that are out there for having these kinds of conversations,” Shoulson explained. Some of these sources included different articles and conversations with the campus Ombuds. One of the rules included no filming or photography during the panels as to not deter students and faculty from speaking freely due to fears of doxing on social media. However, if the panel discussions go particularly well, the University may restage some of them in the future.

While some students will choose to attend the panels, others have viewed the lack of classes as a day to catch up on missing work. Shoulson acknowledged that he is aware students will want to use the day to catch up on missing work or prepare for upcoming finals but encouraged students to come to teach-in events. “My main message would be [to] please participate. And not just attend, but also, I hope people will feel comfortable asking questions, raising issues in the spirit that we hope for these sessions to be led in,” Shoulson expressed. While these events may recur in the future, it is unlikely that they will cancel a day of classes in order to accommodate them again. 

Breen shared a similar sentiment to Shoulson. “Treat this as that special event that it is,” he said. “This might be something you'll remember at a time of frayed nerves. At a time of real grave national and international difficulty, we set aside a day to talk about those issues, because we value your ability to respond to them and we value the way you feel about them and want to hear more about it.” Breen added that while hopefully students will remember most of what they learn in class, not every detail from every class will always be in their minds. In this stressful time, Breen hopes that this is an event that students will remember.