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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Prejudice Response Task Force:

Published: November 16, 2007
Section: News

The Community Prejudice Response Task Force is a group of staff, faculty, and students which was formed in the fall of 2006 to deal with issues of discrimination affecting the Brandeis community.

As its mission statement says, the CPR taskforce aims to promote the Universitys commitments to mutual respect and social justice, while taking necessary steps should those commitments be compromised. Our mission is to serve the Brandeis student body in addressing acts of bias, intentional or accidental, by offering resources for students seeking advice, while assuring their safety and well-being on campus.

Faculty and staff members of the task force include Jamele Adams of the Office of Student Life, Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences Elaine Wong, Professor Mark Auslander (ANTH), Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan, Father Walter Cuenin, and Dean Gendron of Resident Life. Students involved in CPR include Gabriel Gaskin 08 and Thomas Ahn 09. Members of the CPR meet monthly or as necessary to assemble, as Adams explained.

Adams described how, through the taskforce, he would like to assist the university in epitomizing what diversity looks like when appreciated and valued at a university. We want to be the example of what that looks likewe want students and community members to know that theres a place where they can find resources, support, [and] advocacy in regard to diversity. Referencing the broad range of members of the CPR, Adams said we have representation from virtually all the cornersits an ideal crew to carry out the mission.

Members of CPR voiced concerns that not enough members of the Brandeis community are actually aware of the taskforces existence. Anyone who has an issue dealing with discrimination that they would like addressed can contact a member of CPR. Once they speak to a member of the taskforce, they will be asked whether they would like to bring the issue before the entire taskforce. If so, they assemble and present it to the CPR;

the taskforce will then try to address the problem.

Adams emphasized the importance of CPR working in collaboration with already established university departments. He also explained how CPR will occasionally assist in mediation and provide workshops. Adams explained the taskforces desires to take on a project which will ask students and members of the community to recall their stories regarding diversity and prejudice. The sharing of these stories will not necessarily be acted on;

rather, the purpose of this activity will be to chronicle these events and create a history of them.

Furthermore, Adams discussed his desires to engage the community in developmental workshops which will address how to confront discrimination. He stated that CPR is born from listening to the community, it exists for the community, and will live by the community.

Regarding the recent issues surrounding the complaints against Professor Hindley and the controversial position of the Racial Minority Senator, Adams believed that, had more members of the community known about CPRs existence, the taskforce may have been able to be of some great assistance. He explained how the CPR would like to be the first contact for folks if something of a cultural or prejudiced nature or bias happens. There has been no discussion as of yet regarding potential plans for the fallout should the Racial Minority Senator position be abolished.

Wong described the committees actions as both reactive and proactive. She explained how CPR seeks to be reactive by letting students know that there is confidential place that they can report or discuss items that make them feel uncomfortable related to issues of pluralism, diversity, and inclusion.

She emphasized the availability of members of the taskforce to speak with anyone who would like to report incidents of discrimination occurring in or out of classes or residences. To this end, Wong described how members of the CPR are available to help students process, work through, [and] think about what occurred and what actions, if any, theyre hoping the university or other people at the university might take.

Furthermore, Wong described the CPRs proactive desires by explaining the taskforces desire to help prevent some of the incidents reported to the CPR from happening in the future. She described how the taskforce works with other parties through individuals on the campus that are already trying to create an inclusive climate that will help reduce some of the incidents that have happened in the past.

Wong explained how CPR is another resource that is available for students. Its an important other resource that works in combination with other activities that are already occurring on campus. Wong described how the University is trying to do more to address issues of diversity. For example, during this years first-year orientation, faculty members led discussions regarding diversity following a speech by Maura Cullen dealing with germane issues.

Other such efforts have been made by the university provost, who has a committee on campus diversity issues which organizes activities. Also, there has been a film commissioned which will document the experiences of Brandeis students. Wong stated that the efforts of CPR are one of several activities and they all sort of reinforce and strengthen one another.

In an email to The Hoot, Mark Auslander (ANTH) described the importance of the formation of CPR for the Brandeis community. For Brandeis, an institution founded on principles of social justice, with a deep commitment to tolerance and civil discourse, the CPR taskforce encapsulates many of our core values, using critical analysis to explore and strengthen the bonds of community and citizenship in an increasingly diverse and multicultural world, he said.

He further explained the difficult task which lies ahead of the taskforce. The challenge we all face is how to face up strongly to instances of harm and discrimination, he said, without retreating behind balkanized walls of self-righteousness or an unexamined sense of victimization;

we need to learn how to listen to one another, to take one anothers pain and histories seriously, and also to work with and through that pain in order to strengthen the fabric of community, on campus and in the wider world.

Auslander said he hopes that being a member of the taskforce will teach him to become a better listener and teacher and become better attuned in particular to concerns of students of color, GLBT persons, campus service employees, and to everyone else in the campus community.

Auslander is the sole faculty member on the taskforce and summarily assists by offering a faculty perspective on the issues approaching CPR, attempting to share thoughts on how crises in our community can become teachable moments. He added that the way which members of our community interact with less privileged and historically most excluded sectors of the on and off-campus community such as students of color, GLBT persons, Brandeis employees and our low income and new immigrant neighbors is of particular concern to him as Academic Director of Community Engaged Learning.

Speaking of his experience thus far with CPR, Auslander said, being involved in the taskforce is a really moving and often difficult process, and Im grateful to my fellow taskforce members for their thoughtfulness, kindness and patience as we together explore the really interesting and hard challenges of understanding and remedying the predicaments of those among us who feel excluded, ignored, or rendered structurally invisible.

Director of Public Safety, Ed Callahan said his role in CPR is to support members of the community who may have brought discriminatory or harassment concerns to the Department of Public Safety and to provide them with the proper resources and assistance to mitigate any concern.

Through the taskforce, Callahan hopes to advise the community that they have a resource in CPR should they need to talk with anyone of the taskforce members who represent a wide constituency. He added that he believes the formation of the taskforce is an important sign that various faculty, staff, and students want to provide assistance to fellow community members dealing with discriminatory or prejudicial concerns.

Father Walter Cuenin, coordinator of the Interfaith Chaplaincy at Brandeis, is also a member of the taskforce. In an email to The Hoot, Father Cuenin described how he hopes that CPR will be a committee that is ready to respond to any issues of prejudice or hate speech that occasionally arise on campus.

He added that fortunately, Brandeis is a very open and tolerant university and my hope is that we would hardly ever have to deal with these kinds of issues. But as with all human institutions, there are bound to be conflicts and issues. Having a committee in place allows us to respond immediately before an issue could become even more serious.

Father Cuenin believes that the formation of this committee is another sign of Brandeis University trying to be serious about its long standing commitment to justice. He added, having a committee to deal with these difficult issues is an upfront way of saying that we take very seriously our pledge that no one feel ridiculed or under attack because of his/her religion, race, sexual orientation ,or cultural identity.

Of his involvement in CPR, Dean Gendron of Residence Life said in an email to The Hoot that he feel[s] privileged to be a representative for students and staff who live and work in residence.

Regarding his fellow members of the taskforce, Gendron added that he is impressed by the depth of commitment [his] CPR colleagues have already shown– commitment that [he] shares and hope to dedicate to the collective efforts of all Brandeisians to normalize the behavior and society of our campus community with the Core Values interwoven and speaking so loudly that bias has no foothold here.

Like his fellow members of CPR, Gendron emphasized how CPR works together with other campus resources, saying the CPR team is not necessarily an alternative to any of these avenues, but rather, a supplement.

Gendron explained that the CPR intends to inform Brandeis community members of the various campus resources that are available, to articulate what remedies each resource can and cannot yield by definition of their missions, and to steward the healing process by insuring that safety, self-determination, and reactive and proactive education are solidly present during that process.

Editors note: Chrissy Callahan is the daughter of Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan.