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Denying Religious Oppression at Brandeis

Published: December 9, 2005
Section: Opinions


Before I submitted last weeks column on being a goy at Brandeis, I promised myself that I would do a follow-up on the response I got, regardless of whether I turned out to be correct or incorrect on the issue of campus racism. My discoveries were appalling, but not shocking.

Within hours of The Hoots distribution on campus Friday morning, messages started pouring into my inbox from students who feel just like I do. Originally I was encouraged, but then reactionary backlash started to seep into my ear. Friends of mine said that people, whom I had never met, were busy labeling me an asshole. One student proclaimed that I should have done a little more research before coming [to Brandeis] and that my article made ridiculous, unfounded generalizations.

However, how ridiculous is it to say that the Brandeis community contains many individuals who are ignorant and intolerant? One student, who originally contacted me to talk about her positive experience, later came to admit that people of her religion had been called a bunch of cannibals by an unnamed professor and she has heard jokes about Mary, Jesus, been called a polytheist, idolater… She also shared an all-too-common story about gentile-Jew relations on campus: Two freshmen roommates met on move in day. One was a Roman Catholic, the other an Orthodox Jew. Within the first week the poor Catholic had to visit Fr. Michael to get a decent explanation for why he wasnt personally responsible for the Inquisition. For although he wasnt of Spanish descent, nor was he alive during the Inquisition, the Jew had held him personally culpable for the torture and death of people neither of them knew.

In April of 2002, a report entitled Coexistence at Brandeis: Reflections and Recommendations was released. Using data from senior surveys and class surveys, it was found that 82% of Jewish students in the class of 2004 felt it was very true that they felt comfortable expressing their true religious identity. Unfortunately, only 42% of non-Jews felt this way. Only 37% of non-Jews felt very or generally satisfied with the sense of community here, whereas more than half of the Jewish students did. The same survey found that minority groups felt a burden of representing their group on campus, a sense of loneliness and isolation, a concern over stereotypes and judgments from members of the majority, and a lack of interest in issues of diversity and incidents of harassment on the parts of many members of the majority.

Upon doing more research on racism at Brandeis, I came across an incident in 2001 in which 5 males dedicated a section of their radio show on WBRS to insulting Asians, particularly females. Instead of sitting down and letting the racism go unchecked, the Asian and Asian-American community at Brandeis spoke out and held a community forum about the event. But Brandeis students proceeded to vandalize the doors of the students who spoke out with phrases such as me love you long time, black dicks too big, and me fuck you long time.

So people calling me an asshole for speaking out is not too surprising. However, it is time for the critics to accept it as a fact: discrimination, ignorance, and intolerance exist at Brandeis, and the question is what are you going to do about it? Martin Luther King Jr. once said, Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. My freshman year, I stayed silent only to find myself confronted with discrimination again. So people who condone racism can call me an asshole all they want, but I will not continue to submit to intolerance hoping it will go away on its own.