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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students should attempt to expand their horizons

Published: September 21, 2007
Section: Opinions

Wednesday, September 26th may be a Brandeis Thursday, but Friday, September 28th is a Brandeis Friday, and that is something truly worth experiencing. Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and the occasional specialty service followed by a Hillel dinner (or Chabad for those with some time to kill) has become routine for literally hundreds of Brandeis students. Yet (with the exception of the campaigning period for Student Union elections) only a handful of non-Jewish students ever attend.

The Brandeis community is comprised of great cultural diversity, but very rarely do students take advantage. Whether it is a Catholic mass, a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, an Islamic Iftar, a Triskellion meeting, a BBSO event, or a Shabbat dinner, there is always something cultural taking place on campus. Brandeis offers a chance to experience things we have never experienced, and meet people from backgrounds very much different from our own. Yet nearly all of the attendance at such events is often those whose culture is being represented. Director of Campus Life, and former Senator for Racial Minority Students, Christina Khemraj '10, in an email to The Hoot, praised the diversity found at Brandeis, but recognized a pressing need to foster a community that is able and willing to take advantage of the different avenues existing on campus.

Students have various reasons for hesitating to attend these events. Some feel apprehensive about meeting people from different backgrounds, fearful that their brethren will judge them as having turned their backs on their own origins. Others fear that those different from them will not be accepting. For the most part though, it is just easier to stay within our comfort zones. Befriending people who seem most similar to those we have grown up with seems to be a much safer choice, as people have a tendency to take comfort in that which is familiar. However, convenience aside, such self-imposed limitations are contrary to the basic fundamental values of a liberal arts education and are a shameless waste of all that Brandeis has to offer.

Before significant progress toward pluralistic appreciation is to be made, substantial improvements must take place in regards to campus understanding. With the Gravity controversy this past spring, including that surrounding not only the piece itself but also the Student Unions posting of several offensive images in Shapiro Campus Center, among them a Swastika, it could hardly be any clearer that awareness among Brandeis various cultural groups is severely lacking.

Brandeis as it stands (and falls) is a body divided, a loose collection of much tighter subgroups. Understanding and campus unity can never be expected to occur without the most basic levels of communication. On a campus where a criticizer of Israel is anti-Semitic, an opponent of affirmative action is racist, a pro-Lifer is sexist, and a fan of the Buffalo Bills is masochistic, students actually listening to what others say might seem little more than a daydream. Yet it is possible, and it is imperative if we are to not repeat the mistakes of years past. Healthy communication is a necessary first step in creating understanding among students.

Going to the next ICC event that serves free food will not save the campus in one day, but by expanding our grasp on different cultures, whether they be defined by politics, religions, races, genders, or any other way Brandeis students are managing to divide themselves these days, we can have not only the individualistic gain of expanding our own views of the world, but also foster a community in which atrocities like Black Jerry do not happen. Through education and, inherent in that, the willingness to learn, our similarities as Brandeis students, and not our differences as members of various subgroups, will be paramount in defining campus relations.