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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students determine definition of Brandeis

Published: March 7, 2014
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

Let’s play a little word association. What do you think of when I say any of the following words: Louis, judges, school or social justice? One word that may have come to mind is “Brandeis,” the very institution you have chosen to attend. Nevertheless, do you ever think of what words may come to mind when other people hear “Brandeis?” Some people might think “turkey flying into a window,” our recent small claim to fame. Others might instinctually say, “Jewish.” It is rather difficult to deny the strong Jewish culture prevalent on campus. Neither being known for the oddity of a clumsy turkey or a specific belief system, however, are bad things. Most people actually find these representations to be positive aspects of being students at Brandeis.

Many students on campus, including myself, get a chuckle out of the shout of a student for a turkey’s well being, and there are many students who are proud of their Jewish background. Maybe it is enough to be “that school” that had a turkey go through a window. Maybe it is enough to be “that” Jewish school. Maybe it is enough to be perceived in any way because as students here, we know better. We know that there is much more to Brandeis. We know, and that is enough, right? We know Brandeis. We chose Brandeis, and that’s what is important, not our reputation. Who cares what others’ first thought of the school is?

Before you answer that, I have one more question: “Are we Brandeis?” By that, I mean, in a school where students are so involved, should we take such limited perceptions about our chosen university, personally? Probably not. There are over 5,000 students who make up Brandeis, and no matter what comes to mind when you think “Brandeis” you cannot go up to any one student and assume he or she is Jewish. Just because our school is known for having a large Jewish population, does not mean every individual here is.

This is true for other stereotypes that might also be assumed about Brandeis. I asked a few students what was the first word that came to mind when I said the word, “Brandeis.” Answers varied, but a few consisted of “Jewish” (more than a few times), “diversity,” “liberal,” “ideal,” “nerdy” and “open-minded.” Now, those are not bad ideas to be associated with, but even the typically good stuff is not applicable to every student at Brandeis. There are students who have their own biases that may conflict with things such as “open-minded” or “liberal.” And that is absolutely acceptable! Part of being at this university is having your own opinions. This entire article, for example, is one of my opinions, and you don’t have to agree with a single word of it. Each individual at this school, whether their views align with yours or not, contributes to a larger picture, a picture that might look “diverse,” “liberal,” “ideal,” “nerdy,” and it goes on and on. This picture of various attributes make up Brandeis, a place filled with different cultures, beliefs, religions, personalities and interests.

This school cannot be described in one word. Those who do not know much about it do not have to look very far to realize that it is so much more, from the strong academics, to the impressive student body, to the devotion to social justice, and so on and so forth. You may think “Jewish” when you think “Brandeis” but you may also see someone walking past you on the sidewalk and think “short,” “tall,” “fat” or “skinny.” Someone may think that of you. Nonetheless, you know you’re more than one word, and you know that stranger on the sidewalk is more than one word. The concepts we associate with things do not define them.

I am not even going to attempt to define Brandeis because I know it is this diverse and varied place where people will design their living conditions based on their beliefs such as in Common Cause Communities or go out of their way to expose their fellow students to the realities of the world such as ’DEIS Impact. This school is so many things. It is not just the place where the turkey crashed into a dorm window. It is not just a Jewish university. Brandeis is so many things, and you are one of them.