Mike Lovett

“Brandeis has a history of welcoming the challenging conversation,” archivist Sarah Shoemaker tells writer Alexander Wohl ’83 in “America’s First Stand-Up Philosopher,” our story on subversive comedian Lenny Bruce, whose personal papers the university recently acquired.

This issue of Brandeis Magazine captures that distinctive characteristic in several stories.

Last November, Brandeis students made a historic impact when they staged a 12-day occupation of the Bernstein-Marcus administration building to demand greater diversity and inclusion. The Brandeis sit-in was part of a national wave of student protests on college campuses not seen since the 1960s. At the University of Missouri, Yale, Princeton, Amherst and dozens of other schools, protesters seized headlines and focused the attention of administrators, alumni, faculty and fellow classmates on their demands for institutional change.

The Brandeis sit-in, called #FordHall2015, stirred a spectrum of opinions on campus. “Voices of #FordHall2015” captures the personal views of some of the participants and observers, as told to award-winning journalist Phillip Martin.

#FordHall2015 was named in remembrance of the 1969 Brandeis student takeover of Ford Hall. Of course, both protests were hardly out of character for a university founded in opposition to quotas and exclusionary admissions practices.

The students who occupied Bernstein-Marcus follow generations of campus activists engaged in all kinds of issues in all kinds of ways. Princeton professor Julian Zelizer ’91 is a case in point. During his own time at Brandeis, students built shantytowns to protest apartheid, boycotted the campus bookstore to expose racial profiling, supported and opposed the 1991 Gulf War, and engaged with a host of other controversial issues. Zelizer was deeply involved in many of these actions and debates.

“Today, when I look at student activism, I instantly see the magic of those years,” Zelizer writes in his Perspective essay “Debating the World.” He urges students to make activism and political engagement a fundamental part of their education. “Being at Brandeis when the campus was hot was one of the best things that could have happened to me,” he says.

So it’s fitting that Lenny Bruce — the comedic pioneer who set fire to so many cultural pieties through his own brand of protest language — has found a home for his papers at Brandeis.

No doubt there will be many more challenging conversations on campus. They will stem from last November’s protests, as well as issues and events yet to unfold that will capture the passion and imagination of Brandeis students.

Laura Gardner, P’12