“Don’t Forget Me, Sir”: Reflections on Transnational English Language Learning

This event, run by Shane Weitzman, looked to critically analyze English Language Learning and its ramification on local communities. The speaker started by telling us about his first hand experience, teaching English abroad in India, and gave us an overview of the challenges that he encountered during his experience. The second part of the event was set up as a discussion and it encouraged attendees to engage in an exchange of ideas and thoughts. While the discussion was mainly focused on neo-colonialism through the English language, as a lingua franca of some sort, I thought that this event could have focused a bit more on the equality of language as linked to the equality of all humans.

One of the most interesting aspects of this presentation and discussion was the concept of languages not all being equal to one another. While we are all aware of the fact that English has become a language widely spoken throughout the world, Shane also proposed the idea that in certain cases it provided people with a set of opportunities, often linked to employment, that they could not necessarily attain in their own language. While I was exploring some of these topics with the other attendees, I could not help myself but link languages to people. In other words, if languages are not considered equal, can the people that speak these languages be? If we do not give the same value to English and some small language spoken in India, would this mean that English speakers are superior to non-English speakers?

The Declaration of Human Rights that we have talked about extensively in class is a document that is based on the idea that all humans are equal. While, nobody seems to contest this idea, I started to realize through the discussion at this even that in certain ways we do still think of some cultures as superior than others. Given that English, but probably other European languages, are being given more value than small languages suggests, in a way that the cultures that these languages stem from are superior to others. Of course when we look at the way history has shaped the world, colonialism has its fair share of influence in spreading certain languages into all parts of the world. However, if we look at the world today, what does it mean for people to grow up and be educated in a system where their own language is given almost no worth.

The discussion eventually came around to the idea that language is in fact very much related to culture and different languages are able to express different things. This being the case, it would be interesting to look at the spread of languages such as English, now being seen as somewhat of a global language, with the theories of universalism expressed by scholars such as Donnelly. In other words, I would be interested to explore whether there is a connection between universalism and language and how the two would relate to each other.

Finally, this even also made me wonder whether there was a language component included in declarations of conventions that the United Nations have put forth, because from my own research I could not find anything. As I know from personal experience, language is a very important component of culture, and for me it is fascinating to see how this component has been included or excluded from the Human Rights field.

Coffee, Cupcakes, and Condoms: Controversy in Reproductive Justice

Coffee, Cupcakes, and Condoms was a huge hit at this year’s fourth annual Deis Impact Festival of Social Justice! First, I would like to applaud the ladies of Brandeis University Students for NARAL for putting together such an amazing event! They know what’s up and are more than well-informed and passionate about women’s reproductive health and rights. This event was jam-packed with intense and rich discussion surrounding the featured issue of women’s reproductive health and rights and effectively created a safe space where everyone could comfortably express their opinions on the issue.

I was personally deeply impacted by this event because it was new territory for me. Women’s reproductive health had somehow stayed outside my circle of interest and was pretty off my radar, which made it all the more impactful when I heard so many voices and opinions that showed just how important and expansive this issue is. Some highlights of the discussion included raising awareness about women’s health centers as not only places to get pregnancy tests, but also for regular checkups; expanding the understanding of what Planned Parenthood is beyond abortions, contraception, and liberal views; focusing on the positives and the progress made in this area; and educating and involving future generations, especially males, in this discussion.

By Brontte Hwang, ‘DEIS Impacter

Friday evening, students, professors, and faculty filled the room for “Coffee, Cupcakes and Condoms: Controversy in Reproductive Justice” sponsored by Brandeis Students for NARAL Pro-Choice. The event’s popularity spoke to a recognized need for continued activism for reproductive and sexual rights in the United States. Discussion ranged from unequal and inadequate sex education in schools to stigma surrounding and limited access to women’s clinics. Having multiple generations in the room was highly beneficial; the older women talked about their previous activism and concern that they would need to take the streets again.

Framing abortion as a human right in the United States has the potential to employ the normative power of the international human rights regime in favor of sexual and reproductive autonomy. Freedom of speech and political participation are no longer normatively contested human rights. However, women’s bodily autonomy has been left behind despite recognition of the human right to personal health and security (Donnelly 186). The United States claims to be a world leader in fundamental human rights but in actuality fails to follow through. Were abortion recognized as a human right, it would no longer be subject to state or federal challenges and would truly set international precedent for women’s bodily autonomy.

The current international women’s rights treaty is the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination and Against Women and it’s Optional Protocol added in 2000. In 1980, the United States signed but did not ratify the Convention and does not allow inquiry or complaints by the Commission. Article 12 of the Convention states that, “states Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.” While the United Nations does not explicitly endorse abortion, NGOs highlight abortion as a facilitative right.

The Center for Reproductive Rights lists access to obstetric care, birth control, facts about reproductive health, and safe abortion as essential for women’s dignity, self-determination, and equality. Human Rights Watch argues that the right to an abortion is contained within freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, the right to decide the number and spacing of children, and right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. Moreover, women of racial minority in the U.S. are far more likely to live in poverty, not have health insurance, become pregnant younger, and account for 67% of all abortions in the United States. Therefore, denying racial minorities their reproductive rights violate The International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which the U.S. has signed.

There is still a high level of resistance to inclusion of abortion as a human right. The EU Parliament voted against a measure in 2013 that would have recognized abortion as a human right. The UN Security Council refused to recognize abortion after rape as a right, even in wartime. Of course, many argue that abortion violates the right to life and religion. Pope Benedict has called abortion the opposite of a human right. Normalization of abortion of a human right has a very long way to come. Ultimately, it requires prioritization of the rights of the living over those with the potential for life. Most of all, abortion as a right must be accepted in tandem with an overarching recognition of women’s right to bodily autonomy. For now, NGOs have begun to shift the narrative surrounding abortion from a political debate to a fundamental right, the first step in a very long process in the birth of a human right.



By Amelia Katan, Brandeis student

Take a Seat, Break Down Barriers

This event was one of the more fun ones of ‘DEIS Impact. Participants explored social justice while sitting in a ballpit! They were encouraged to ask questions that the event organizers provided. Some of the questions were, “Name/describe one food from your culture that you wish other people could try” and “What role should social justice play in society? What role does it play in your life?” The lighthearted and informal atmosphere created a neutral environment to talk about some heavy topics and learn more about others.

By Heather Spector, ‘DEIS Impacter

BPArt: Pluralism and the Arts

The BPArts Exhibit was a special Deis Impact event that I only wish more people knew about. Once again, the Brandeis Pluralism Alliance sponsored an impactful exhibit celebrating unity in plurality, which, if you had to look it up like I did, simply means that our differences are something that should be celebrated and discussed, not something that acts as a divider.

The BPArt Exhibit reception featured performances of poetry, fashion, and songs created by students and members of the Brandeis community–all of whom stepped up to let others into their view of the world and into their search for identity. Pluralism is still a vague and unknown word to many at Brandeis and I believe the use of art as a vehicle for communicating and expressing pluralism is one that is noteworthy.

By Brontte Hwang, ‘DEIS Impacter

History of Activism at Brandeis: A Show and Tell Event

At this event, visitors learned about events that helped shape the history of acceptance at Brandeis. There were The Justice articles written decades ago, describing Brandeisians that took a stance against injustice. It was interesting to hear about events that happened in places that still exist today, such as Gerstenzang. It was inspiring to read about the rich history of activism that has defined Brandeis since its founding. Although the times were different, people of various generations can be united in their passion for fairness and freedom.

By Heather Spector, ‘DEIS Impacter


It’s Not Better in Mentor: Bullying, Suicide, and Denial in an All-American Town

During this event, the event organizer chose to show an incredibly moving film that interviewed two families who’s children committed suicide due to bullying in the same high school. In total 5 kids had committed suicide in the district. In both cases, it was demonstrated beyond the point of doubt that the school administration was given more than sufficient warning that the student was in trouble, but chose not to address the problem. The school district chose not to report these cases in order to maintain their towns ranking and keep their property values up. After the film, with everybody feeling disheartened, a discussion began between the audience and a panel of experts, including the maker of the movie. The movie clearly resonated with the audience, with one man calling the negligent administrative board in Mentor “Moral Monsters”. One fact that struck me was the toxic environment in today’s high schools; between 15-17% of all children are chronically bullied! Another shocking thing is that in response to this film the director received, and still receives threats, from the communities, blaming her for ruining the reputation of the community. All in all it was a moving film that left everybody shocked, but also left a sizeable impact in the minds of the viewers about the true impact and extent of bullying.

By Kris Labovitch, ‘DEIS Impacter

ED Talks: What Does Social Justice Mean In Modern Education?

ED Talks was a truly excellent event which brought together three leaders in education today to discuss social justice in education and the ways in which we have been improving, and can continue to improve, education. The event was led by Professor Emeritus Jane Hale, who is a scholar and activist on cross-cultural literacy, Sujan Talukdar ’96, who is the director of the Brookline Public Schools METCO Program, and Professor Derron Wallace, who is a Florence Levy Kay fellow in education who previously worked as a community organizer in the UK working to bring schools and their communities closer together.

To begin, each of the panelists offered a brief, 5-6 minute talk on their work. I was particularly struck by Professor Wallace’s talk, as he described a very personal story in which he encountered a gunman while a child in Jamaica, but was protected by a neighbor who invited him into her home. This, he explained, motivated him many years later to take a lead in his London community following the shooting death of a young man there. He managed to organize a rally with thousands of people while there, and described how social justice generally requires serious action – action that will often alienate others.

This was followed by a question and answer period. The panelists started by asking questions of each other, but it was eventually opened up to the audience as a whole.

By Brad Burns, ‘DEIS Impacter

Interdisciplinary Healing: Addressing the Stigma of Mental Illness on the Brandeis Campus through Science and Art

This event was a great conversation starter to address mental illness and the stereotypes associated with them on campus. The event leaders, Risa Dunbar and Diana Langberg, did a wonderful job creating a comfortable environment where participants felt comfortable enough to dissect the word stigma as it relates to mental illness.

The event quickly became a comfortable dialogue between psychology professor Joseph Cunningham, one of Brandeis’ counselors, and students. At the end of the event everyone was encouraged to create art pieces that represented how they felt at the moment.

I found the event to be therapeutic and relaxing. I hope to see this event happen again next year.

By Daria Fogan, ‘DEIS Impacter

Social Entrepreneurship: Change the World One Business at a Time

Businesses can definitely make a positive impact on the world. The panelists at this panel were so passionate and engaged in their entreprenureial ventures. They inspired audience members to incorporate goodwill into their careers. They told success stories and failure stories, and gave audience members advice about how to pursue a career in business that brings social justice to the world.

By Heather Spector, ‘DEIS Impacter


The Game of Life

The Harry Potter Alliance continues to be impressive with their creativity in highlighting social injustices. This event was fun and insightful at the same time. There was a life size Game of Life that members of the Harry Potter Alliance made. The players were assigned a social class to start, either lower class, middle class, or upper class, and this reflected how much money players started with. Playing this life size Game of Life made me realize that the circumstances you are born into have a significant affect on your opportunities in life. It is harder to gain success if you start out poor, and it’s easier to create more success if you start out wealthy.

By Heather Spector, ‘DEIS Impacter