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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Re-examining relations between student body and union

Published: April 26, 2013
Section: Opinions

Last month, I published an article criticizing the now non-existent Brandeis Hookups Facebook page. The people who ran Brandeis Hookups wrote a public response directly to me on their page the following week, and when I wrote a response to their comments on the wall, a heated debate ensued.

One of the first comments on my response appeared the next day from our Student Union
Secretary, Carlton Shakes ’14. The comment was undoubtedly inappropriate and included foul language.

Since then, I went through a lengthy process involving meetings with deans, Shakes and others to try to resolve the issue and figure out my next steps. Throughout this process, I’ve realized how little connection there is between the Student Union and the student body. Here are a few of my observations.

First, there doesn’t seem to be much transparency between the student body, Student Union, and Brandeis administration in general. This may be a skewed view due to my personal experience, but I was surprised to be talking to a friend when she said something along the lines of, “I wish there were a way to report what Carlton said.” I let her know that it is possible to report a student’s actions to the Student Conduct Board and directly to the Student Union, anonymously or not.

But even with people now (hopefully) informed on the student reporting services offered by the school (partly due to the broadcast email Andrew Flagel sent to the student body), the Student Union’s “Talk to Us” page seems troublesome. I submitted a complaint with my name attached and received an email reply from Union President Todd Kirkland ’13. However, I was curious as to who exactly was reading these complaints. What if Kirkland was the only one reading them? And what if a student wasn’t comfortable complaining to him? The website did not provide any answers.

I contacted the Student Union Senator at Large and asked if she saw the complaints. She said she did not. She offered to ask who did see them, and later let me know that it was Todd and a few other E-board members. I still do not know who, exactly, reads these “Talk to Us” forms, but I put that on myself for not asking. However, I do think the website should be more clear in letting students know exactly who will be reading their complaints.

Finally, I realized I didn’t even know when the Student Union met, or where or if students were allowed to go and speak or sit in on meetings to figure out what’s going on, or anything of the sort. I was told again by the Senator at Large that Senate meetings are open, and that there is actually a time set aside for students to come and speak. Great, I thought. Except that no one knows about this. I looked for such information on the Brandeis Student Union webpage and found nothing.

I also found the whole process—from Shakes’ response to my post to the formal apology issued to the student body via e-mail—unnecessarily long and arduous. I was also surprised by how I felt that I was the one pushing to get the Union to react to the situation while they generally seemed to think, at least initially, that what Shakes said was not, while rude, worthy of consequence.

After all this, I’ve found that the Student Union is not as communicative as I would think it should be. Perhaps it’s because of the low voter turn-out; when I was discussing this issue with friends, we all acknowledged that we hadn’t voted the previous year. I can only hope that people start to vote more, and that next year’s Student Union makes some much-needed improvements.