Should I Have Gone to Bard?

I applied to Brandeis University early decision. I was attracted to the way the students and administration prided themselves on social justice, open-mindedness, and diversity in thought. After spending this past summer working at Project Harmony Israel, an integrated Arab-Jewish day camp in Jerusalem, I came to Brandeis excited to expand on my experiences engaging in cross-cultural exchange and participating in open dialogue. Having finished my first semester at Brandeis, I have come to appreciate the multitude of opportunities Brandeis has offered me in terms of academics and extracurriculars, and I am proud to be a member of the Brandeis community. However, I have become disappointed with the administration's inability to live up to its values. If the Brandeis administration claims to be a liberal-minded institution that firmly believes in embracing plurality and respecting all perspectives, then why is dialogue with Palestinian students now unacceptable?

My older brother, Nathan, is a student at Bard College, where dialogue with Palestinian students is accepted and encouraged. Bard began an official partnership with Al-Quds University in 2009, the only Palestinian university in Jerusalem. The partnership eventually led to the opening of a Bard campus at Al-Quds, and numerous opportunities for student and faculty exchange and mutual support. As a Bard student, Nathan has the opportunity to gain a new perspective on the world through the exchange of ideas and opinions with Palestinian students. He can study abroad at Bard's campus at Al-Quds and can get to know Palestinian exchange students from Al-Quds who come to Bard every semester.

Brandeis was once willing to engage with Al-Quds University, and established a groundbreaking and vibrant partnership with Al-Quds in 2003. In June of 2011, Brandeis President Fred Lawrence visited Al-Quds University to discuss the future of the partnership. After his visit, President Lawrence wrote on his blog about his interactions: "The more discussions we held together...the more the spotlight shone on our common nature -- as human beings and as members of academic communities." He also mentioned that he met Palestinian students who "described how student exchanges in Waltham and Jerusalem had transformed their socio-political perspectives."

However, since November of 2013, Brandeis has suspended its ties indefinitely with Al-Quds University, effectively ending a decade long partnership that included faculty and student exchanges. The suspension was in response to an offensive rally held on the Al-Quds campus by a small group of students. Though the Al-Quds University administration strongly condemned the protest, the Brandeis administration cut off our ties with the university and suspended our partnership. Despite the fact that students at both universities have been advocating for the reestablishment of the partnership and continuing to engage in dialogue with one another, the partnership remains suspended indefinitely. Bard understood that a small group of students was not representative of the entire university. On the other hand, the Brandeis administration chose to turn away from Al-Quds and its own students, rather than live up to their core value of open dialogue.

Though we now attend schools that maintain different values, Nathan and I were both brought up in the same Reform Jewish household; we were taught that asking questions and advocating for social action are central to our Jewish values. The first time Nathan and I visited Israel was for his Bar Mitzvah, and it was then that I developed such a strong connection to the land. This summer, I decided to work for Project Harmony Israel because I wanted to bring together my passions for Israel and social action by delving into some of the most pertinent issues facing Israeli society. Though I have always cared about dialogue between Jews and Arabs, it was only when I began to facilitate discussions among my campers about the violence of the summer that I recognized the importance of dialogue as a means of approaching reconciliation.

After my experience in Israel this past summer, I was excited to officially become a student at Brandeis and continue engaging in this type of dialogue. I have been raised to view college as a time to explore my interests, discover new ones, and grow. I thought that if there is any college that would provide opportunities to pursue connections with Palestinians, and act on values of dialogue and social justice, it would be Brandeis. Unfortunately, Brandeis has not met my expectations as a university that aims to engage its members as active citizens in a multicultural world.

The Brandeis administration's choice to suspend our partnership with Al-Quds University removes the students' and faculty's ability to explore, learn, and grow. My freedom to learn about a new perspective, the freedom that Nathan enjoys through his school's willingness to engage with Al-Quds University, has been taken away by the Brandeis administration. While I am not planning on transferring to Bard anytime soon, I hope our university will return to its commitment to dialogue and diversity of opinion, and finally restore the Brandeis University-Al-Quds University partnership. Because what is social justice if not dialogue? What is social justice if not providing students the opportunity to act on their values? What is Brandeis if not social justice?