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Editorial: ‘The Brandeis burden’

Published: November 21, 2008
Section: Opinions


In his first State of the Union address Tuesday, Student Union President Jason Gray ’10 urged student clubs and organizations to incorporate a community service component into their activities. As students, we can sometimes forget to step outside the “Brandeis bubble” and engage with the larger community. Asking student leaders to encourage their clubs to reach out to Waltham is a noble goal. However, we must make sure that any resulting projects actually meet the needs of the Waltham community rather than simply paying lip service to Brandeis’ commitment to social justice.

Imposing our “expertise and help” on community members may come off as presumptuous. Instead of telling the Waltham community what they need, we should be working with them to see how we can help meet those needs. Clubs should seriously consider the needs of the community, rather than creating a project without proper consideration of its realistic benefits. If we fail to do so, we risk putting ourselves in a position of ill-assumed superiority. This would no doubt have the reverse effect of distancing us from the community by framing us as arrogant students taking on the weight of ‘the Brandeis Burden.’

Instead of flooding Waltham with students, it would be more tactful for Union leaders, like Gray, to meet with leaders within the Waltham community and see where Brandeis students may be able to contribute.

While it is admirable that Gray suggested a way in which we could increase the positive impact of our clubs and organizations, he has not said much in the way of how this plan will be implemented. Any student who has experience working within Waltham, knows that this commitment is much more difficult than the idealistic vision of community service that some may have. We need adequate resources to cover everything from supplies to transportation.

Making a positive impact requires more than just vision—it requires a realistic view of what we offer and the resources necessary to make it happen. If we are to ensure that our bastion of people and resources is used effectively, we need to acknowledge that the Waltham community is the best judge of their priorities and treat them as such.