What is Innermost Parts?

As a lead up to our reLaunch on November 2-3, Innermost Parts is posting a series of critical, long-form thoughtful pieces on where we are, what we’re trying to achieve, that sort of thing. I hope you enjoy.

What is Innermost Parts?
A critical examination in advance of our 2nd birthday:

I founded Innermost Parts because it was time to fight back. I had been on campus less than one semester, and things seemed dark. The ethically-challenged Union secretary refused to resign; the administration unilaterally decided to arm campus police; and the Student Union was too busy pouting about funding streams and arguing over who would pay for parties to care. It seemed that no one was standing up for normal students, and that power centers at the school were forgetting or twisting our shared values.

I decided to create Innermost Parts to articulate an agenda and point of view that wasn’t being reflected in the papers or union. A taste of the initial mood:

Those running the University try to humiliate ex-Presidents, shut down offending artwork, and abandon even the veneer of self-determination while autocratically playing games with the lives of students.

Yet our Student Union is no better. Kowtowing to the Administration, it would rather raise a protest about budgetary reshuffling than say a word opposing issues that deal with safety on our campus. Perhaps they are paralyzed with indecision. Perhaps they have been hijacked by a self-serving faction of Senators. Perhaps they are too frightened to assert their power in the face of an increasingly autocratic administration. Any of these excuses are unacceptable.

Innermost Parts became a mode of expression, a way to finally say what was on my mind. It has grown a lot since then, and I have grown with it. We have more writers, semi-regular meetings, and go to biweekly “Brandeis Media Board” meetings with the Justice, Hoot, and WBRS. We explain more, and opine less. We dabble in original reporting, and we created and host the Brandeis Activist Calendar. We’ve run candidates for Union Office and organized protests. This flexibility is the beauty of it all.

Continue reading “What is Innermost Parts?”

The Dearth of Democracy (aka: Why Innermost Parts exists) Part 2

The problem of Brandeis civil society cannot be solved merely by elections. We cannot shove elections down the throat of a mostly apathetic and uninformed populace: with a typical voting rate of 30%, Brandeis students vote less often than the population at large. The newspapers, which are the first line of defense for this sort of thing, have their problems as well.

There are two Brandeis newspapers – the establishment Justice, and the ambitious Hoot, and they present the same sort of challenges. Both are under the control of an executive editor (elected by writers at the Justice, unelected at the Hoot) Both operate under the rules that have them write one article issue for each piece of news and consider it “covered”. Both are prone to holier-than-thou, split-the-difference editorials. (Though the Justice has gotten much better in this regard). Both are extremely reluctant to challenge the administration: the head of the Justice recently told me that “the trust of the Administration is very important to us”. How can I trust them to report on the administration, then? Lastly, they are read by only a portion of the student body.

The student body, finally, is split into clubs. These clubs are fragmented, numerous, and rarely talk to one another. Great projects might be taken on in the dark, mainly because no one club knows what the others are doing. Each club wants to plan their own events, so a barrage of speakers and gatherings overwhelms even the most active students. There was no strong voice or “propaganda of the deed”  promoting a culture of activism or awareness of Social Justice as a holistic movement on campus.

With a student body atomized in discrete clubs, and the newspapers failing either to interest or stand up for them, how can they be united for any task? The Student Union, the natural (and official) nexus of all interests and all students, is one hand paralyzed in the Senate, and on the other hand unaccountable in the executive board. If we can’t even govern ourselves, how can we realistically ask for more control in governing the school?

Pending revolution, a realistic goal would be survival: holding the administration (and faculty) accountable and advocating for a better future. Individual student clubs might be too small on their own to do so. The newspapers are afraid; too dependent on access to serve as the only check to power, and the Student Union is a wildcard: it could be strong, principled, and effective advocate for students (see the Jason Gray administration), or it could fall into the traps of either adopting too harsh a tone which alienates, or being too accommodating to do much good. We need another strong body, standing powerfully for student interests and whipping others into doing so as well. We need an institution that looks something like what Innermost Parts strives to become.

(The second paragraph has been corrected to clear up how internal policies (such as elections) work for the Justice and Hoot. The last sentence has also been rewritten for style)

The Dearth of Democracy (aka: Why Innermost Parts exists) Part 1

Brandeis University is not structured to be a democracy, but the individuals inside believe strongly in that ethic. This contradiction produces tension and problems of Social Justice on campus.

As a private University, all power theoretically flows downwards from the Board of Trustees, but the picture is more complicated. They hire the president, he hires faculty and staff, and the admissions staff chooses students. At the same time, as consumers of the Brandeis product, students have the implicit power to boycott or complain about the product. Faculty, meanwhile, have over the years built themselves institutions and safeguards that magnify the implicit power they have as “producers of knowledge”. Low-ranked staff, such custodians, have none of these protections.

Yes, Brandeis is not a totalitarian dictatorship – as it would be quick to remind you, there is some history of students dramatically asserting their power over the ruling administration. However, the lack of a clear, agreed-upon democratic process for resolving disputes, and the (de jure and pretty much de facto) rule of the agents of the Board of Trustees leaves students and low-ranked staff with less power than they ought to have, and creates conditions for conflict every time there is disagreement.

This lack of democracy is manifested in more than just a decision-making flow chart. A large underlying challenge is the weak civil society among students. Our civil institutions are prone to being unaccountable or unreasonable, and our clubs (our standard organizational unit) are fragmented and balkanized.

Continue reading “The Dearth of Democracy (aka: Why Innermost Parts exists) Part 1”

Social Justice Summit

Went to a Social Justice Social Policy Summit today.

It was really interesting. Some ideas expressed were oldies but still unanswered, and some insights made me pause and think:

– In what ways can we foster a culture of Social Justice on campus?
– Many people at the summit talked about a need for mentorship – it’s rather sad that there is such a need at a college, of all places.
– In the past, the “social justice inclined” students were concentrated in a few departments and took the same classes, so that they were able to interact at a high level. Example – this lead to the Click Drive in the era of Ben Brandzel (and Andrew Slack)
– We need institutional memory . Why don’t alums who are working for Social Justice today come back and talk to us?
– During the heroic era of the civil rights movement, Brandeis had a sort of fellowship program where people in the movement came to Brandeis for a year and mingled as graduate students. That worked really well.

I’ve often talked about my idea of Brandeis as an experiment in social entrepreneurship. We successfully destroyed the institution of quotas in college admissions through establishing the University. With that done, we have and will and should serve as an academy for the next wave of leaders for Social Justice and Social Change.

We’re not really doing that well at preparing the next generation to carry the torch forward. There’s a lot of demand for that – witness all the Social Justice organizations on campus. Yet we can do so much more than lumping together a bunch of likeminded students at a University and expecting them to emerge ready to act from the crucible. We can correct the isolation and balkanization of clubs, sure. We can create the sort of classes that all of the like-minded people can take at once so that they interact in the classroom – the Social Justice Social Policy minor is trying to do that. Yet, we must go further than working with Brandeis-only students for just four years.

To become a true center for Social Justice, Brandies must look inward. At the summit, people proposed classes to examine incidents on campus – Hindley, Palestinian art, etc – and both how they related to Social Justice and how they were handled. Others spoke of a leadership training course, or one focusing on organizations, movements, and how they were handled. Jamie Ansorge, Director of Communications for the Student Union, used the example of Jason Gray, the current Student Union President. Jason studied the institutional workings, pressures, power centers, veto points, and power relations of the Student Union for a Heller School class. He’s used that knowledge to run a very impressive Student Union Government this year.

Yet, even more importantly, Brandeis must reach outward. We’ve already spoken of setting up mentorships and relationships with alums, or even just retaining institutional memory. Professor Cunningham (apparently the chair of SJSP) talked about his work in Mississippi, and how everyone connected to the civil rights movement knew aof Brandeis – either they had been to a summit there, or been trained there, or fellows there, or met someone from Brandeis, etc. We need to re-engage the outside world. We need to both learn from those who have come before and support the SNCC’s of our day.

As you may know, I’m a Computer Science Major (prospective). Over the last summer, I put some thought into startups. Why does MIT have a culture of creating small businesses? What fosters that culture? Is it the examples of people who have done it before? Professors encouraging that sort of work? Is there a “how to make a startup” class or office? I don’t really know, but I wish I did.

Brandeis should create a culture of community organizing and “activist startups”/social entrepreneurship. We have the examples of prominent students who’ve done that already. Justin Kang and the crew at LiveCampus, Allyson Goldsmith and ELEVEate, Ben Brandzel and the Collegiate Click Drive, Aaron Voldman and the Student Peace Alliance, the list goes on. We have a few institutions dedicated to social justice, such as the ethics center, or the SJSP program, but as far as I can tell they focus more on the atomistic student rather than a networked group. We should find that “special sauce” and bring it back here.

There were a lot of ideas at the meeting and I hope more comes of out it. For now, you’ll all be pleased to know that the SJSP program is going to give out grants for events that promote a fusion of social justice action and academics. Due date for submissions in mid-late January. With the Ethics Center funding and BPA funding as well, there seems to be the financial room, at least, for an expanded presence for these sorts of events in the future.


“Truth, unto its innermost parts.” The motto of Brandeis, emblazoned in brilliant white on 20-foot projection screens behind induction ceremonies before you’ve even unpacked your toothbrush. But like most lofty ideals, it hasn’t traveled much farther than its position as decorative collegiate background. There has been a lot to be upset about lately, too many situations where everyone from the Student Union to the University Administration to the American government to the entire goddamn world have needed more people to look for that inner truth and call out its jailers.

Continue reading “We. are. INNERMOST PARTS!”

Why we fight

Something is rotten in the campus of Brandeis.

Those guiding the course of this University have abandoned the core values that made our namesake great, and here we are, drifting rudderless into the sea of the future.

Louis Brandeis was a champion of the people against the powerful, a guardian of civil rights, an advocate for making Democratic government a reality, a believer in workers’ rights, a proponent of trust busting, a prominent leader in almost every reform movement of his time, and earned a reputation as “the people’s attorney”. Brandeis was, in short, a Progressive.

We have forgotten Louis’ lesson. We have forgotten that the greatness of America isn’t measured by the tax breaks we give to our wealthiest, but by the compassion we show to our neediest.

Brandeis University should be space for intellectual honesty, a place for honest communications, a model of democratic government, a center of freedom of expression.

Instead, those running the University try to humiliate ex-Presidents, shut down offending artwork, and abandon even the veneer of self-determination while autocratically playing games with the lives of students.

Yet our Student Union is no better. Kowtowing to the Administration, it would rather raise a protest about budgetary reshuffling than say a word opposing issues that deal with safety on our campus. Perhaps they are paralyzed with indecision. Perhaps they have been hijacked by a self-serving faction of Senators. Perhaps they are too frightened to assert their power in the face of an increasingly autocratic administration. Any of these excuses are unacceptable.

Universities don’t have a Foreign Policy. Brandeis has one regarding a certain Middle-Eastern Country. That is wrong. Universities strive to foster an environment of academic exploration and vigorous debate. Brandeis imposes edicts from above with little regard to the concerns of we, the students, its lifeblood. Universities welcome discussion, debate, and the rule of Reason. Brandeis throws guns at its problems and refuses to critically examine its security policy, preferring instead to “look tough”.

Louis Brandeis believed in Social Justice, real Democracy, freedom of Expression, and self-determination. So do we. Louis Brandeis was a Progressive. So are we. Is our University?