Brandeis Social Justice Heroes: Part III

The hero: Kira Levin, Brandeis University ’17
Majors: International and Global Studies, Anthropology, and Sociology.

Whose hero? Heather Spector, Brandeis University ’17, Vice Chair of ‘DEIS Impact

Kira Levin is one of my social justice heroes. I chose to interview Kira because I’ve noticed that she does so much that benefits our community. Between organizing Kindness Day, CAing first-year residents, working with the Ethics Center, and raising awareness about malaria, Kira truly is important to the Brandeis campus.

I asked Kira if she remembered the first time she felt inspired to improve the world. She remembered that she was in a history class in high school, learning about imperialism. She was disturbed by the concept, and asked her teacher what made imperialism okay. The teacher expressed that there is not a moral answer to that question and that imperialism involves injustice.

Kira took her concern for others and injustice to the next level. She was devoted to going to Africa to help others in need. Eventually, her persistence and passion led her to Tanzania to teach English and volunteer after her sophomore year in high school. Her passion to help others and ambition to improve the world is innate. She acts on her natural instinct to help others and is truly an asset to whatever community she is in.

Kira explained that social justice is, in a broad sense, helping others. This could involve helping others locally or globally, both being important towards building a more just society. I saw that whenever Kira helps people, she puts all of her efforts into it. At Brandeis, she has worked with the Nothing But Nets Campaign, which is part of the UN Foundation to fundraise and raise awareness about the importance of malaria prevention, specifically the use of bed nets. In addition, this is her second year Co-Coordinating Kindness Day. Kindness Day is about embracing something that Brandeisians often already do, go out of their way to be kind.

Kira appreciates that ‘DEIS Impact encourages people to learn more about social injustices in the world and enables people to put their passions in the context of social justice. Kira participated in the Brandeis Social Justice Pre-Orientation and loved seeing the people in the program find their place at Brandeis and advocating for what was meaningful to them. Kira is a fantastic and inspiring person everyone can learn from. I’m so grateful to know her and Brandeis is lucky to have her!

Dean Adams’ slam poetry at the ‘DEIS Impact Launch Party ’14!

Maya Angelou – do what you love so well, that they can’t imagine doing it without you

But – if you’re not living your life to make somebody else’s life better you are wasting your time

And when it comes to others and social justice, we “ERUPT!”

There is a fire in our belly’s at Brandeis, and it burns for social justice. We dare to be disobedient when it leads to equality. We appreciate the term crazy, when we align our efforts of insanity with that which is right. We put art in the word heart. Even our lights have reason.  Alina, your ‘DEIS IMPACT Chair has a signature that says “Love and Light, and she doesn’t just say thank you, she says “thanks an ocean.” With love lighting our way across any metaphorical or physical ocean, we ‘DEIS IMPACT.

This means that social justice is to Brandeis, as heart is to human life. And our blood is blue and white as it flows through our scholars whom are our student body; and the staff fill those breathing lungs with air, I as your Dean of Students am a component of the many forming the rib cage that protects it all. This is our respiratory system. In other words, our very breath and life as an institution are wedded to that which is right for all. We owe it to ourselves to not fall short of that legacy. And ‘DEIS IMPACT assures us of that. This annual movement is unique and unlike any other on campus or at any other institution because of us. We don’t do this for one day, or a week or every couple of years, WE DO THIS DAILY and celebrate our pride in doing so yearly. WE HAVE ‘DEIS IMPACT! We do ‘DEIS IMPACT to give the world a sampling of where our campus culture lives extraordinarily. We don’t compare to others, for it is not a competition, but a state of our existence.

We move with love, light and across oceans because no matter what happens around the world;

Whether it is 200 kidnapped girls, or black males unjustly murdered, or wars across borders, whether it’s in Israel, or Mexico; New York City, or Ferguson Missouri; the Ukraine, Russia, Asia or Haiti….. Regardless of where in the world there is a need for humanity, heart and a touch of love; no matter who makes the call, we proudly respond, and without hesitation; either on campus or we go there-wherever that might be. We show up with care for our human family and have this energy, passion and undying & unconditional amour for human life; and we do it how – say it with me – ‘DEIS IMPACT!

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Brandeis Social Justice Heroes: Part II

Below is the second installment in a multipart series leading up to ‘DEIS Impact, in which ‘DEIS Impacters interview their social justice hero at Brandeis.

The Hero: Laura Goldin, Professor of Environmental Science

Whose Hero?: Annie Fortnow, ’17, ‘DEIS Impacter

I am currently taking a class with Professor Goldin about sustainability on the Brandeis campus and beyond, and have learned a lot about environmental justice and how it can connect to social problems in America today.

When Professor Goldin was twelve years old, she attended the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in Washington, D.C. From this experience, she felt inspired and moved. She understood the possibilities for making change, so she started becoming active in social justice work.

I started the interview by asking Professor Goldin what social justice means to her. She responded by telling me that social justice is a broad concept that gives us a sense that everyone is entitled to respect and fairness. We should all have a shared humanity, as we are all entitled to the same lives, and no one should have less. Those who have more have an obligation to make it easier for those who have less. Professor Goldin ultimately described social justice as the “ultimate justice between human beings and the world around us.”

I next asked Professor Goldin about when she first got involved in social justice work. She has always seen the world through a social justice lens and has been aware of injustice. For example, when she sees an older person eating by himself on a park bench, she feels sad about it and has the urge to go over and talk to that person. Growing up, she remembers segregation. She went to school in Maryland, and when her family drove to Florida, they found themselves going through the segregated South. Professor Goldin went into a colored bathroom by mistake and got in trouble for it. This made her deeply upset and fueled her desire to embattle this action of treating others unfairly. She felt connected to this as a Jew. The Jewish people were discriminated against during the Holocaust, and she believed it was her turn as a Jewish person to make change and help those being discriminated against at the time.

I then asked Professor Goldin about her social justice experiences at Brandeis. The most widespread experience, she responded, was starting a Housing Advocacy Clinic at WATCH in Waltham. WATCH is an organization focused on expanding affordable housing development. Professor Goldin had the belief that students could help be guides and could be trained to assist people in resolving housing problems, and she was right. This Housing Advocacy Clinic has sustained for eight years now because students have been able to carry it on so well. She feels that the Clinic reaches many people in Waltham. Many students have been involved and made an impact in the community.

Additionally, Professor Goldin has taken her Justice Brandeis Semester, an experiential learning semester that she runs every other year, to Harlan, Kentucky to see the effect of mountaintop removal for coal extraction on the people living in the area. She believes that this was the most poignant social justice related experience for students that makes them understand the connection between social justice and environmental impact.

Lastly, I asked Professor Goldin about her thoughts on ‘DEIS Impact. She loves how it sets time aside to discuss and engage in social justice on the Brandeis campus. She also sees it as a showcase for people’s experiences with social justice, which, in the process, creates new experiences for those attending the social justice events.

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Professor Goldin has taught me so much about how environmental issues can be related to social justice. I encourage everyone at Brandeis to talk to your professors about any justice work they have done to connect your passions to social action. In the meantime, get excited for great social justice conversations on a wide variety of topics during ‘DEIS Impact from January 30 to February 9, 2015!

Brandeis Social Justice Heroes: Part I

Below is the first installment in a multipart series leading up to ‘DEIS Impact, in which ‘DEIS Impacters interview their social justice hero at Brandeis.

The Hero: Lucas Malo, Director of Community Service at Brandeis

Whose Hero?: Suzannah Scanlon, ’14, ‘DEIS Impact Publications Assistant

Lucas Malo graduated from Saint Michael’s College with an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Maine. He has been engaging in local and global communities for over 20 years. He currently serves on the Stanley School Council, and volunteers his time in a variety of both local and national organizations. His talents and passions include service leadership, reflection, community engagement, and coordination of both small and large-scale events. Lucas continues to learn and grow from each and every student and community member daily. He considers himself as holding the best job on Brandeis campus as Director of Community Service.

1. What does social justice mean to you?

Social Justice to me is a complex phrase, a set of actions, a goal to strive for. Social Justice doesn’t need to be extravagant, but rather moments along a journey that support the development, equity, and engagement of community members.

2. When did you first get involved in working for social justice? What was your inspiration? 

During my middle and high school years I began to observe the world and communities in which I lived as I traveled the world due my father being in the military. I noticed signs of poverty, inequalities, lack of resources for folks with disabilities, the elderly, and was a survivor of hate crimes. My inspiration was watching my peers, neighbors, and teachers get involved in their communities both supporting others and me. To be honest, when I first began getting involved in the community I had no idea what I was doing and was serving only on the surface level until I fully allowed myself to learn and engage with others. Through things like listening to a story from a resident at a nursing home, enjoying a meal with a guest at a shelter, and helping a kid with addition, I learned that I had a role greater than myself to continue to engage and partner with others.

3. What has been your most rewarding social justice related experience at Brandeis?

To be honest, one of my most recent experiences has been my most rewarding- joining the collaborative efforts of the Waltham Housing Authority, City of Waltham, Waltham Police Department, Bentley University and Brandeis University to connect with the residents of the Prospect Hill Low-income housing community to open a Community Center. Last year the community came together and partnered with Kaboom, United Health Care, New England Patriots & Revolutions to build a playground. This fall we opened the doors to a an after-school program for 40 youth, we are offering ESL classes, and will be piloting a variety of other programs that address the self identified needs of the Prospect Hill community. What makes this initiative so rewarding is working side by side an amazing group of community leaders and residents who truly inspire, challenge the status quo, and are willing to put in the time and effort to promote change and strive for outcomes.

4. Do you think that ‘DEIS Impact promotes social Justice? If so, how?

Deis Impact promotes Social Justice simply by being. Through education, sharing of personal experiences, and hands on service the minds, perspectives, and actions of others are challenged and this is the first step of community engagement and social justice work. One must have the context and knowledge of the root causes and the environment to question, challenge, and support others. Deis Impact provides that outlet to members of the Brandeis and local community.

5. Do you think ‘DEIS Impact benefits Brandeis students? If so, how? What are some ways in which you would encourage them to get involved?

I have absolutely no doubt that Deis Impact benefits students. The week provides students an opportunity to learn from each others as well as challenge them to conceptualize and vocalize their thoughts and passions as they prepare engaging sessions for the community. I encourage students to submit an event proposal to present, to collaborate with others both on and off campus, to attend as many sessions as possible (especially those that seem unknown or unfamiliar), ask questions, and to allow themselves to continue conversations and actions beyond the week.

Brandeis Unites in Service!- Cradles to Crayons Trip

On Saturday we took our biggest group, which included undergraduate students and one Brandeis alum, to Cradles to Crayons in Brighton for our last service project! Cradles to Crayons provides school supplies, clothes, and other necessary items in packages to kids in need. They rely heavily on donations, so we all brought materials from Brandeis to donate to the organization.

Cradles had a bunch of service groups there that day who were helping out on various projects. Our Brandeis group was sent to sort clothes. Cradles has a saying “Quality = Dignity” that informs the way they package materials. We were one of the many stops at which clothes were sorted by quality as well as by size. We worked on clothes for boys, girls, and even babies. Students had a great time going through all the clothes and sorting them into the appropriate spaces. During our reflections on the way back, participants expressed how much they enjoyed the event and their desire to volunteer more in the future. Everyone really seemed to enjoy enacting social justice through service, and I’m glad that there are so many opportunities on campus for people to get involved in service throughout the school year!

Written by Sneha Walia

Brandeis Unites in Service!- Chill Zone Trip

On Thursday evening, a group of 12 Brandeis students and one staff member (our Director of Community Service, Lucas) set off to the Chill Zone, a community center in Waltham for middle school-aged kids on weekends. The Chill Zone has spaces for games, crafts, a gym, and even a roller rink for the kids to use on weekends. It gives them something positive and fun to do that also helps them stay out of trouble.

We started our visit with a tour around the facility, which ended with a private tour of some new attractions by the mayor of Waltham! She told us about the history of community areas in Waltham and about the Chill Zone itself, which is pretty young! We then split into groups and helped clean and organize different areas in the space. We moved around furniture, cleaned tables, organized games, and disinfected everything we could find! Our group had a lot of fun and seemed to really bond during the event.

Written by Sneha Walia

Brandeis Unites in Serivce!

On February 4th, February 6th, and February 8th, Brandeis students and staff came together on a series of service projects to More than Words, the Chill Zone, and Cradles to Crayons respectively!

On Tuesday, our group took a Waltham Group Van over to More than Words to volunteer for a couple of hours there. Our numbers were a little bit small, but we were still able to get a lot done! We started off with a tour of the site led by one of the youth staff there. We then split up into groups. Each group spend an hour sorting books to be shelved, sold online, or rejected in the basement of the store. We were able to sort over 500 books! The woman we were working with let us know that their goal for each day is around 700, but they usually don’t get much time to sort on Tuesdays because they are busy working on other things. We brought them almost up to their goal!

Upstairs, groups spent time sorting through comic books, a new section at More than Words. We were able to complete that project as well as help the store get a start on cleaning up and reorganizing different sections of the store. They take a lot of pride in the store layout and the huge array of books out there, and it was really great to be able to help keep the space in good shape!

During our reflection discussion on the way back, most students said that the experience helped shape their opinion of service as social justice. Even though we were just helping with organizational day-to-day tasks, we still made an impact on the store’s day. They certainly made an impact on all of us, as well! It was a great kick off trip to Brandeis Unites in Service!!

Written by Sneha Walia

Social Justice Work To Do: Brandeis perspective

At the Kickoff, one of the posters left for students to comment on was titled, “Social Justice Work To Do.” It’s important to reflect on what injustices exist and to realize it’s possible to correct these wrongs. It’s also motivating to get everyone thinking and talking about what needs to improved in the world. Comments on this poster include…
1. Stereotypes and labeling are still prevalent! Must make steps towards improvement!
2. End violence in Syria.
3. The stigma of mental illness needs to be erased.
4. The homeless need to have homes.
5. Children are abused.
6. Stop sexual assault on women in the military.
7. Women and children being safe at home.
8. Equal pay for equal work
9. Sex trafficking and sex slaves still exists (in America too!)
10. Stop Kony
11. (In response to “Stop Kony”) + Justice, for victims, democracy, and gay rights in Uganda.
12. Communist America
13 (In response to “Communist America”) No, capitalism needs further implementation (It causes TRUE social justice).
14. Not your body, not your choice! Reproductive freedom for all women!!
15. Black Namibian families are at a major socioeconomic disadvantage, resulting n lower paying jobs and less children in school.
16. Cultivating compassion (individuals). Recognizing and appreciating students’ efforts in having a meaning[ful] dialogue across campus (such as ‘DEIS Impact)

Written by Heather Spector

Social Justice Accomplishments through Brandeisian’s perspective

During our Kickoff event, we had two large posters on the floor with markers left by them. One of the posters had the title, “Social Justice Accomplishments.” Too often people focus solely on what needs to be done in the world, and don’t stop to think about what has been accomplished. Some of the comments on the poster are…
1. More states allow gay marriages
2. The US has its first African American president
3. The American Revolution
4. Obamacare
5. The Dream Act
6. Jehuda conducting literary research on donkeys
7. Whitehead recognizes and defines health disparities/inequities/inequalities to bring attention to the problems of health care.
8. Women are more respected in the work force
9. People are much less often judged based on the color of their skin
10. Less slavery – the slave ship, ball & chain kind.

Written by Heather Spector

Dead Men Still Walking: A First Hand Account of Death Row by Death Penalty Activist Sister Helen Prejean

The event was well attended and a variety of people from the Brandeis community overall. As people were talking into the event, the movie version of her book, Dead Man Walking, was playing. Sister Helen Prejean was an incredibly passionate speaker that used her real-life experience to craft a first-person narrative that takes the audience from her first encounter with the inmates to his eventual death and then the making of the Academy Award-winning movie. Afterwards many students approached her to get her to autograph their books and talk about how her story had affected them. Overall the event was successful and was extremely well received.

Written by Flora (Yuan) Wang