A racial slur that appeared in Brandeis University’s student newspaper has led to the resignation of five of the paper’s editors, including the editor in chief.
In a column in the Brandeis Justice, Dan Passner referred to Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker, who is black, by quoting another Brandeis student: “The only thing Baker has a Ph.D. in is something that starts with an N and rhymes with Tigger, the cheerful scamp who stole all of our hearts in the Winnie-the-Pooh series.”
The student who allegedly was quoted denied making the statement.
The column and subsequent resignations have raised the issue of minority students at Brandeis, which was founded in 1948 by American Jews and is named after the first U.S. Supreme Court justice who was Jewish. About half of the students at the Boston-area school are Jewish, according to Dennis Nealon, Brandeis’ director of media relations.
The offending issue of the Justice, which is independent of the school administration, first was printed online and then hit newsstands on Oct. 21, generating anger, shock, sadness and disbelief across the campus.
The president’s office and the student union issued condemnations.
The Justice’s editorial staff held a forum to discuss race relations on campus. Representatives of the Brandeis Black Student Organization attended, but they walked out because they felt their demands were not being met.
The newspaper “betrayed us as Brandeis students,” said Justine Moore, a senior majoring in economics and a representative of the black student group. “It really set us back and hurt us deeply. We knew we had to take a stand and get restitution, and the people responsible should pay.”
Some minority students at Brandeis say they feel a double sense of alienation because they are both non-white and non-Jewish.
In addition to challenges that many minority students might face on a predominantly white campus, minority students at Brandeis have to adjust to a Jewish atmosphere.
Classes are canceled on most Jewish holidays, and some minority students complained that one of the cafeterias closes early on Fridays, before the Jewish Sabbath.
But Emily Aranoff, a freshman majoring in Near Eastern and Jewish Studies, disagreed that there’s a problem on campus.
“I do not think that minority students are at a double disadvantage,” she said. “A lot of the Jewish population at Brandeis grew up feeling the tension of being a minority religion and are very conscious of how uncomfortable that can be, and are very conscious to foster a completely accepting environment.”
Enrollment at the private, Jewish-sponsored nonsectarian university stands at approximately 4,000, including 1,000 graduate students.
Statistics on the student body’s racial, ethnic and religious composition are not available, but Brandeis’ media director said the campus is “culturally diverse,” drawing students from across the United States and from more than 100 countries.
But students said racial tension needed to be addressed more fully on campus.
“There isn’t enough open dialogue” about issues of intergroup relations, said Meredith Glansberg, the paper’s newly appointed interim editor in chief. “Things get swept under the rug. When you look around campus you see people sitting with people who look like them, and I think that’s an issue,” she said.
Glansberg said the Justice hoped to set up forums, dialogues and speakers on issues of diversity and racism.
Senior Ari Gladstein said Brandeis missed an opportunity to address the larger issue of diversity and race relations on campus.
“Instead of quibbling about consequences, we lost an opportunity as a campus as a whole to address the issue of racism,” he said.
Such issues have been on the administration’s agenda for the past few years.
In 2001, the university’s president, Jehuda Reinharz, appointed a committee “to study, report and take an active role in ensuring diversity and inclusion” at Brandeis.
One outgrowth of the committee was the Brandeis Intercultural Center, which promotes diversity and intergroup relations. According to the school’s Web site, one of the center’s programs is a campus-wide show called “Culture X,” which showcases “the many forms of diversity — racial, religious, gender — found in the Brandeis community.”
A “diversity requirement” in which undergraduates would be required to take one class reflective of minority experiences, such as an African-American history class, is being considered.
On Oct. 27, the Justice announced its intention to print its next edition without a response from the black students group. In protest, about 50 students rallied outside the paper’s office for six hours overnight.
“The Justice wrote the most offensive word in American history and were unwilling to comply with the people they hurt,” Moore said.
Stephen Heyman, the outgoing editor in chief, said the black students failed to meet the newspaper’s deadline, and that the students did not have the right to prevent the paper from being published.
While both sides described the protest as “peaceful,” Heyman added that the experience was frightening for him and his staff.
“It was very intense. They were screaming and banging against the glass,” Heyman said. “There was not a dry eye in the room.”
In the early hours of the morning, Jean Eddy, Brandeis’ senior vice president for students and enrollment, and Rick Sawyer, the dean of student life, were roused from their beds to come to the scene. The administrators brokered an agreement between representatives of the Justice and the black students.
Presses were halted, Heyman resigned and the paper was printed last Friday with the black students’ response on the front page.
The mood on campus that day was calm.
Posters displayed around campus read, “Diversity does not equal racism.” The posters had been hung by the Brandeis Intercultural Center prior to the incident.
Students, including black students, expressed a desire to move on.
“The editors didn’t do their job,” said Igor Barshteyn, a Brandeis senior majoring in psychology. “I don’t think it’s really reflective of racial tension on campus. But it shouldn’t have been printed.”
For his part, the offending student had no answers for his actions.
“I don’t know why I wrote it,” former sportswriter Passner said. “If I had known it would have caused any hurt feelings, I never would have written it.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.