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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

League advocates dining changes

Published: March 18, 2011
Section: Front Page

Photo by Ingrid Schulte/The Hoot

For two weeks, students had seen mysterious advertisements. Whether it was the poster featuring the maniacal baby Stewie from “Family Guy” or the poster with teenage pop star Justin Bieber or merely the Facebook group, all of these advertisements had the same general theme: take control of your destiny on March 14.

Yet except for the organizers, students were clueless. All students were told was to check their mailboxes on March 14. Also if enough people joined the Facebook group, a clue would be released as to what the topic of March 14 would be.

March 14 came and upon checking their mailboxes students found slips of paper provided by the Justice League, a relatively new student organization devoted to social change and empowering student voices.

The slips of paper were ballots for each student to fill out with different ideas of how to improve the food service as Brandeis. Once the Justice League receives more replies, it will deliver the ballots to university President Fred Lawrence.

“We’re going to have a degree from Brandeis for the rest of our lives and we should have a say in what Brandeis is, what our values are, where we’re going to go, what we prioritize,” Massachi said in an interview with The Hoot. “So the food campaign flows really naturally out of that … I want to show students that yes you do have the power and by organizing you can make a difference and food is a great first place because it’s so obviously a rip-off.”

Among the options on the ballot were reforming the point system to make points equivalent to dollars, as well as reintroducing competition into the food service through having Aramark, the major food supplier to the school, compete for that spot every year rather than just automatically be granted it. This is the second major campaign this year for the Justice League, the first being a counter protest to the Westboro Baptist Church visit in October.

The food campaign has so far received 700 ballots filled out with the ultimate goal of reaching more than 50 percent of the student population. After they reach that number, they will take their case to Lawrence in an attempt to initiate a dialogue.

Still, it seems that this food campaign has sprung from a small organization. While the Justice League reaches many through its e-mail lists, it has a core staff of only seven students.

Founder and Chairman of the Advisory Board Sahar Massachi ’11 and Senior Organizer Max Stahl ’11 spoke about the history of the organization and their mission going forward. To begin, Massachi explained the general theme of the group, that Brandeis should better represent the voices of the students, which he illustrated by going back to the history of the budget crisis of 2009.

Following the budget crisis, committees were formed to give students more power in administrative decisions. These committees were called CARs or Committees for Academic Restructuring.

Massachi said, however, that he believed many of the students simply held a symbolic role on the committees and that the committee with any power to actually affect change had only one student on it — the Student Union president, who was not a voting member.

“So a lot of us felt when they made those concessions that we had worked so hard to get what should have been the baseline understanding of the status quo that we should have been saying was insufficient in the first place,” Massachi said. “And ever since then it’s become sort of the new norm at Brandeis to have students on these big committees but not really. It’s always a bit of a fight.”

Massachi explained that the Student Union and Justice League had to advocate for a student seat on the Presidential Search Committee, and even then the student held a non-voting seat.

“It was a mess. Every time, the battle … We want it to be university policy that students are expected to be on these committees. Sort of this theme of student power … We are part of Brandeis,” Massachi said.

Max Stahl explained the logistics of the food campaign by comparing it to previous attempts to reform campus dining. According to Stahl, ideological complications made the past campaigns ineffective while they only attempted to address the most basic ideas.

“We figured that it was too easy for both Aramark and the administration to kind of put that off … So what we’re doing is we’re talking about something very basic, like cost of the plan, so don’t rip us off by hiding costs, by changing the value of points [related] to dollars,” Stahl said. “If you’re going to rip us off, tell us how much you’re ripping us off. And secondly, Aramark’s been the contractor since the ‘80s…We think that there should be an open competitive bidding process for the food contract.”

The Justice League hopes that in four years, food contractors will be required to place a bid for a contract, and the Board of Trustees will assess the financial feasibility of the plans. Then, students will be able to view the plans and vote, Stahl said.

In the build-up to the release of the ballots the Justice League ran an advertising campaign through Facebook and with mysterious posters around campus.

“Everyone’s trying to push their issue all the time so the way that we could get distinction and attention was by doing up that hype campaign that we did,” Stahl said. “We can engage the student body in something that’s fun by doing this mysterious hype campaign, you know, get people fired up, discussing what it’s about and we figure all those conversations get people excited and then by the time we drop the campaign they’re like ‘oh, this is what it is’.”

However, according to Massachi and Stahl, this sort of campaigning will not end now that the ballots have been released. They plan to soon have a gorilla art campaign in which talented artists will come to campus to create more flyers. They’ve also bought a gorilla suit to go along with this theme and plan to keep it fun and engaging.

The Justice League began a little more than a year ago through Massachi’s blog “Innermost Parts.” The Justice League itself was originally intended to be a branch off of another club called the Change Agency which was founded a year ago as part of a class run by Professor David Cunningham (SOC). They grew last semester as it began having meetings and running campaigns. However, Massachi explained that the Justice League of last semester versus the Justice League of this semester are entirely different.

“The aim of the Justice League-or one of the aims—is to revive that spirit of the Brandeis that we were supposed to be and that we used to be and bring back this concept [that] we should be part of a national or inte—national movement for social justice,” Massachi said. “Brandeis students should be the cream of the crop. A Brandeis degree should mean ‘yes, I know how to change the world and I’m willing to do it.’”