Introduction to the Brandeis University Anti-Racism Plans

Dec. 2, 2021

We are pleased to release to the Brandeis community the revised Anti-Racism Plans. Many members of the community have put in great thought, time, and energy into the preparation of these plans. Students, faculty, and staff have also shared thoughtful feedback, comments, and suggestions. We thank all who have participated in this effort for their reflection, deep thinking, and commitment to this ongoing process.

Using the links below, you will be able to access and view the plans. Following the links, we have also outlined our process, intent, goals, and next steps as we continue engaging in this important work.

Review the Plans

Academic Departments

Administrative Departments

Introduction

After the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020, the loss of countless other Black lives, and within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and universities across the country were prompted to pause and reflect on the impact that “institutionalized racism” has had on their campuses, and have begun to determine pathways for change. These efforts have been different from prior examinations of racism in society because they seek to apply a rigorous and accountability-driven analysis of how an institution’s customs, practices, and norms can have an adverse impact on persons because of their race, even though those impacts may be unintended, unplanned, and often unseen.

Institutionalized racism is defined here as “differential access to the goods, services, and opportunities of society by race.”1 It is “normative, sometimes legalized, and often manifests as inherited disadvantage. It is structural, having been codified in our institutions of custom, practice, and law, so there need not be an identifiable perpetrator. Indeed, institutionalized racism is often evident as inaction in the face of need.”2

The post-Floyd period represents one of the few times in American history that institutionalized racism was considered as a barrier that could be approached and addressed. At last count, about 130 institutions of higher education started some type of anti-racism review3 similar to the one we are currently undertaking at Brandeis. Our effort is not premised on accusations of personal racism on the part of any member of the campus community. Rather, it seeks to understand how our systems, structures, and procedures might change for the sake of building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community and improving our social, academic, and work environments here at Brandeis.

Our Process

Responding to a charge from President Ron Liebowitz, the University embarked on an introspective quest to assess how institutionalized racism has affected Brandeis historically, and as we move forward, consider ways to address where it exists on campus. Dr. Mark Brimhall-Vargas, Chief Diversity Officer at the time, led the institution on the journey to understand institutionalized racism and develop plans to confront it.

Administrative units and academic departments and programs across the University were asked to engage in critical self-reflection and collaborate with colleagues to consider how the policies, practices, and attitudes relating to their work have a disproportionate and adverse impact on members of the Brandeis community. Following this internal process, individual entities put forth plans that they each felt were most appropriate to address those aspects of their work that they observed and identified as previously falling short in combatting institutionalized racism.

The original Draft Anti-Racism Plans were released in November 2020. Students, faculty, and staff were then given the opportunity to read these plans, reflect, and provide feedback to units and departments so that the many voices, perspectives, and experiences of the campus community could be incorporated into these documents. The amended plans were then released to the campus community for an additional review and comment period earlier this semester, and additional comments were shared with the individual units and departments.

The University is now releasing the plans that comprise Brandeis’ attempt to confront and address institutionalized racism here on our campus. Plans have been submitted from units across campus, including but not limited to our five schools, many individual academic departments and programs, and divisions within the Brandeis administration.

The Black Action Plan

The Anti-Racism Plans presented here were developed alongside a bold student initiative known as the Black Action Plan (BAP). The BAP represents additional and clear student input that recognizes and directs what necessary change at Brandeis might look like so that the University can better meet the needs of students, faculty, and staff alike. Two students, Sonali Anderson and DeBorah Ault, led this effort to articulate and incorporate student concerns about the social environment on campus for Black and African American students. The BAP is a separate set of operational suggestions, but many of the unit-based Anti-Racism Plans used some of it — either partially or in full — for reference.

The BAP, and the University’s Anti-Racism Plans, are consistent with, and a continuation of the history of Brandeis students promoting social justice and calling for change as related to racism. Student protests in 1969, 2015, and 2019 are three examples of the efforts of students advocating for the University to reflect and respond to its barriers and shortcomings related to its goal since its inception to be inclusive to all.

The Plans

Although each entity took a slightly different approach in drafting their plans, each one is based upon many of the same principles: to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus community, increase connectedness amongst community members, and foster a sense of belonging. The plans, taken as a whole, present Brandeis’ overarching intention to make progress in this area and modify its structure to better support, nourish, and encourage any and all who come here to learn, teach, and grow. Accordingly, the University will focus institutionally on the priorities outlined below:

These thematic undertones allude to the overarching goals this process aims to achieve. As a university, we will work to identify and break down barriers (e.g., financial, structural, etc.) for all members of the community, use the trainings and resources described above as a starting point for informal conversations and dialogue on the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and educate the campus community about issues of race and institutionalized racism as it exists here at Brandeis. All of this is in an effort to build a stronger sense of community and promote a welcoming environment that allows students to learn, faculty to teach and research, and staff to work comfortably in their spaces.

Next Steps

Although the Anti-Racism Plans reflect considerable time and effort, they are neither perfect nor complete and are instead presented as the first step in what will be a continuing effort to confront the legacy of institutionalized racism inherent in virtually all of America’s institutions. Brandeis will continue to work on the development of strategies for ongoing accountability and the tracking of progress.

Importantly, we are acknowledging that there is much to learn as we work to fight against institutionalized racism and its effects. Our cultural acknowledgement of institutionalized racism will continually be augmented and adjusted as the plans are implemented. While there can never be a guarantee of outcomes, what can be pursued is the attempt to remove structural and institutional barriers that — for generations — have kept underserved communities from being fully included, promoted, and celebrated.

A review of some of the plans may also leave Brandeis exposed to the criticism of not being reflective enough. While this may be a fair analysis, it is important to note that the dismantling of institutionalized racism will be a process with long and short-term goals and objectives, of which the anti-racism plans are an integral part.

Finally, with this rendition of the plans, we will now enter the important phase of working to develop strategies for prioritizing, sequencing, allocating resources, and implementation. We will ask each unit to conduct and submit a yearly review, which will include documentation of both progress and obstacles encountered as they work to implement their initiatives. In the interim, those who would like to provide additional feedback, ask questions, or make comments are invited to do so by using this form. Together, Brandeis will continue on a consistent path toward becoming a more diverse, equitable, inclusive institution.

Best regards,

Ron Liebowitz
President

David M. Fryson, Esq.
Interim Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of DEI


1Camara Phyllis Jones, “Levels of Racism: A Theoretic Framework and a Gardener’s Tale,” American Journal of Public Health 90, no. 8 (August 2000): 1212–15, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.90.8.1212.

2Jones, "Levels of Racism," 1212-1215.

3Belay, K. (2020, November 16). What has higher education promised on anti-racism in 2020 and is it enough? Education Advisory Board. https://eab.com/research/expert-insight/strategy/higher-education-promise-anti-racism/