A Call to Action for Heller and Brandeis Leadership.

November 16, 2016

Dear Brandeis University and Heller School Leadership,

Last week our country voted to elect a man who made hate, bigotry, and violence a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. As a group of concerned students and concerned citizens of the world, we are writing this letter to ensure Brandeis leadership is aware of the violence that Brandeis students and our Greater Boston community have already encountered, as well as the violence that threatens our communities moving forward. We ask Brandeis leadership to acknowledge that we all play a role in the election of Donald Trump, no matter who we voted for or how much we campaigned for other candidates. This letter highlights recent stories of violence in Massachusetts and across the country, outlines future threats to our communities, reflects on Brandeis’ role as a higher education institution, and requests that the University act to use its resources to protect and support those most vulnerable to the violence of a Trump presidency.

Since Wednesday, our country has seen a resurgence of blatant racism, sexual violence, and hate. There is evidence of KKK recruitment in Alabama and Mississippi, as well as rallies and celebrations as close as Connecticut. In Natick, Massachusetts, a family received death threats and were told that “Natick has a zero tolerance for black people.” We have heard stories of friends being chased out of Dunkin Donuts in Malden. We have heard stories of friends getting screamed at on the sidewalks of Greater Boston to “go back to where [they] came from.” We have heard stories of women being told by men “we can do what we want with you now.” The consequences of electing Donald Trump can already be seen, and the violent aftermath is being felt by people in our state and in our communities.

Beyond this immediate threat of violence, President-elect Trump has chosen Steve Bannon as his chief of policy. In the words of a Republican strategist Jim Weaver, “The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office.” Steve Bannon is known as a leader in the “alt-right” movement which is known to champion and advocate an ideology of white nationalism and neo-nazism. Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a company that has published articles with the following headlines: “Hoist it High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Represents a Glorious Heritage”; “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”; “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?”; and “Pamela Geller: How Muslim Migrants Devastate a Community.” We cannot let such an ideology shape national policy.

We know that if Donald Trump is successful in achieving his campaign promises, our tax dollars will be used to violently rip apart families, to further discriminatory policing in communities of color, to weaken our social service system and to ban our Muslim brothers, sisters, and family from entering the United States in seek of refuge from wars and violence linked to our very own foreign policy. This is oppression.

In addition to our President-elect, our country voted to elect a Vice President who is known for violent rhetoric attacking the LGBTQ community. Mike Pence not only passed legislation to ensure legal discrimination against LGBTQ people in Indiana, but he has pushed for shifting HIV funding towards conversion therapy, a practice that uses electric-shock therapy in an inane attempt to turn queer people straight. This is oppression.

Both men have voiced it as a priority to strip women and all people seeking reproductive services of their right to bodily autonomy. This is oppression.

We know that this violence comes from decades of anti-immigrant, anti-queer, neo-liberal and white supremacist rhetoric. In fact, we know that our country was founded in this ideology. The racism, xenophobia, and misogyny that has been expressed during this campaign is in our country’s DNA. This is who we are. This is who we have always been, and now more than ever it is time to do something about it.

  1. We ask that the Heller School and Brandeis University be explicit in the stance it takes on our election results, the hate in which it is rooted, and the violence it brings to light.
  2. We ask that the Heller School and Brandeis University ensure students of impacted identities and communities know that they are supported by the institution from which they learn and seek community.
  3. We want to make sure that the Heller School and Brandeis University acknowledge the role that academia plays in the preservation of white supremacy. We can no longer justify the criminalization of drugs, the existence of poverty, the exploitation of labor, the violence and destruction of imperialistic foreign policy, the reality of homelessness, the concentration of wealth or any form of human suffering. These are things that cannot be explained away with data or research. We ask that the Heller School and Brandeis University push itself to grow more deeply rooted in anti-oppression and to see beyond our society’s dominant systems to build alternatives that will value all human life.
  4. At the Heller School, we often say “enough is known for action.” Now is the time to act. We ask that the Heller School reach out to community organizers and activists to understand how our academic resources, talents and skills can be used to advance their work and protect their communities.
  5. We ask that Brandeis University commit itself to being a sanctuary university. This means that we use resources to invest in spaces where we can keep undocumented community members safe from the threat of deportation, as well as any other individuals who no longer feel safe.

Brandeis University prides itself on being an institution rooted in a history of social justice. Now is an opportunity for the University to lead on those values. We have the opportunity to set the standard for how the academy can hold itself accountable in the face of violence. We have the opportunity to build bridges with the communities most threatened by the Trump/Pence legislative agenda. This is an opportunity for the Heller community to reach beyond the constraints of our own imaginations, to innovate, and to create pathways to healthy and safe communities. In Solidarity, Heller Forward

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