By Leonard Saxe and Theodore Sasson
Our focus in “All Together Separate: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion on the Brandeis campus” was a single campus. It happens to be our home institution and, as the report acknowledges, has a unique history as the first and only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored university in the country. Conducting research about one’s own environment has advantages and disadvantages. The obvious advantage is that we have abundant contextual information. But it is also a disadvantage—in Bayesian statistical terms, we have “priors.” In developing, analyzing, and reporting the study we tried to use our contextual information to create a more nuanced study, while also working hard to be as objective as possible.
A number of unanticipated findings shaped the report. First, the concern of our respondents, across racial and ethnic groups, about race and diversity issues on campus had not been fully appreciated. The negotiated end to recent student protests (#FordHall2015) did not settle the issues and, instead, seems to have brought them to the fore. A second significant finding was the notable increase in the diversity of Brandeis’s student population. Nearly half are now students of color and a large number are international students. Brandeis, which in the 1970s had an undergraduate student population of mostly Jewish students, now has a student body with about one third identifying as Jewish.
Despite Brandeis’s unusual character and history, what happened this year on campus was not at all unique. Student protests occurred this academic year on campuses throughout the country. Unlike an earlier era of student protest in the late 1960s and early 1970s, focusing primarily on opposition to the Vietnam War, today’s protests concern a panoply of issues—discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation; fossil fuel divestment; sexual assault/harassment; and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We had hoped to complete the study earlier in the academic year and release a report in conjunction with a series of discussions among students, faculty, and administrators. Our delay in launching the survey and the scientific review process made that infeasible. Although it would be advantageous to release the report in conjunction with data from other campuses, we felt that the issues were so important—for Brandeis and beyond—that the results should be shared sooner rather than later. When students return to the campus in the fall, we will organize discussions of the study findings.
At the center of Brandeis University’s seal is the Hebrew word, emet—“truth”—surrounded by the phrase “Truth, even unto its innermost parts.” The motto is taken from Proverbs (51:8) and is widely understood as a statement about our ability to see the truth that others don’t. We interpret the teaching differently—to suggest that our goal is to search for understanding. We hope that our research is helpful not in instructing about a particular truth, but rather in promoting a more informed discussion about a host of critical issues.
We welcome comments and discussion about the report.