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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

University can offer more than hypocrisy

Published: March 21, 2014
Section: Opinions

I like to watch “The Daily Show.” As it name suggests, I tend to watch it every day, usually while eating a bowl of cereal the morning after a new episode airs. This past Friday, after finishing my classes and getting something to eat, I sat down to watch the latest episode. Now I usually skip past the guest, because I like to laugh when I watch something, not think about what someone wrote about or is trying to promote. Yet with this latest episode I felt I was obligated to sit through the interview, because it was my Brandeisian duty to hear what Anita Hill (HS) had to say.

She was on the show to promote a documentary recently released that covers her experience after accusing Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. During the interview with Jon Stewart, Hill said that since the hearings, public perception around sexual harassment has changed to allow women “to tell what their experiences have been like and what the personal toll is on our lives.” She also mentioned that after the hearings, the number of reported sexual harassment claims doubled within a few years, showcasing the empowerment women gained because she spoke out.

Something that was so rare at the time, to speak out publicly about sexual harassment or assault, has now become a more acceptable and encouraged act. The SpeakOut! Brandeis Tumblr has recently become the most accessible medium for students here at Brandeis to do so. Browsing through the responses, one common theme arises from a good portion of the victims. They say that they felt unsupported by the administration in their confessions and that no one listened to them. Even if the administration has been forthright in some individual cases, the lack of a general response to this flood of anonymous confessions is telling.

Maybe the administration is unwilling to respond to such allegations that have not been put through the necessary procedures on campus to report a harassment or assault. Perhaps they are wary of making light of this concern on campus that is now public after years of being kept in the backs of people’s minds. Yes, sexual assaults occur, but if they aren’t occurring to me or someone I know personally, then I tend not to think about it as being an issue. With this Tumblr blog, the facts become clear to everyone; the crimes are brought right to our faces, and there needs to be a response to it.

With such a courageous and admirable woman like Anita Hill as a member of the faculty, one would think that the administration would be more supportive of a group of students confiding in each other about their experience. Yet there is a clear divide between what the administration promotes and what it does. This sort of hypocrisy doesn’t just end with these recent overt confessions. Numerous other decisions made by the administration have counterbalanced the education and values the school has tried to instill in students.

Consider the buy-out plan offered to university staff older than 60 to retire and receive a severance package for doing so. This arrangement could coerce staff members to make decisions based on the present circumstances and offer at hand without taking to mind their overall goals for their career. In a fear that this offer might not still be on the table when they do decide to retire, a staff member might choose to simply take the money and run. This ultimately asserts the university’s dominance over the staff, a group that contributes to the Brandeis community just as much as the faculty or students. While this proposal can be extremely beneficial to some who have been planning to retire and now have the incentive to do so, others are faced with the implication that they are no longer endorsed as employees if they turn down the offer.

These are the types of actions the school preaches against in its eternal proverb of social justice. Groups in power should not be trying to gain more power by forcing others with an ultimatum. A sociology class offered titled Protest, Politics, and Change: Social Movements covers these types of situations involving an embattled group against the controlling body, specifically the California Farm Workers movement. Students are taught that they should stick up for those without a voice, for those being intimidated, yet the university is behaving in the directly opposite manner.

The university’s investment in fossil fuel companies can also be an example of the school asking students to do as they say, but not as they do. With an entire department for Environmental Studies, the school understands the necessity of teaching the importance of protecting the environment and combating the effects the human population has on it with everyday practices. Beyond that, there are campus programs aimed to promote an overall green environment, asking students to make sure they turn lights off and use washable dishes while eating instead of paper products.

However the Board of Trustees has turned away from these ideals and invest a majority of the university’s assets in fossil fuel companies, which directly contribute to the problems that students are trying to combat here on campus. Though there have been strong efforts to divest pushed by the student body and the formation of a committee to examine the financial impact of divestment, it is expected that the Board of Trustees will not completely divest funds from fossil fuel corporations. It’s unfortunate to think that the Board of Trustees, whose primary goal is to make sure the university is a respectable institution, will continue this policy of hypocrisy.

Yes, there are other reasons why these policies have been put in place and why it would be difficult to suddenly back out of them due to an outcry. Investing in fossil fuels is a prudent decision currently, although that might change soon, and some staff members are receiving the buy-out with open arms. But the school has a set of ideals and values already in place as evidenced by classes offered and campus programs advocating for social justice and green living. The administration expects students to be well-versed and cognizant of these issues in the global sphere and make an attempt to change them. It is then fair for students to expect the same of the administration, but they have let them down.

As for the response to these new confessions of sexual harassment and assault being presented each and every day, the administration needs to make an attempt to reach out to these victims and support them in overcoming the attacks. Numerous strides have already been made to help those who have experienced an assault or been harassed, with the hiring of a dedicated specialist, Sheila McMahon, to support those in need. Still there is a disconnect between the administration and the confessors on the SpeakOut! Brandeis Tumblr, or else they wouldn’t be turning to that medium to confide in. The school needs to recognize that in this modern world; someone turning to Tumblr to speak out is just as effective and apprehensive as being subpoenaed to Congress to talk about your experience in 1991, as Anita Hill was. Students are finding the courage to share with the community their experiences, and the school should make an honest effort to be attentive to these claims and help those in need, instead of turning their backs to the issue.