The Selfishness of Brandeis Students

When I heard that despite all the efforts to spend the money from the SAF this semester, we still had $100,000 more in rollover than we did at the beginning of the semester, I saw a great opportunity.   That rollover told me that after all of the great events on campus, all of which were free this semester, we still had more money than we needed.  I hoped that we could recognize the very comfortable material conditions we enjoy on this campus and use the money towards a cause more important than ourselves.  My initial proposal was that we could use the funds to sponsor one African per undergraduate student for a whole year.  We could do so through the UN Millennium Village project.

The Millennium Villages seek to end extreme poverty by working with the poorest of the poor, village by village throughout Africa, in partnership with governments and other committed stakeholders, providing affordable and science-based solutions to help people lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

I’m not a member of Positive Foundations, the group on campus working towards the cause of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, but I emailed their group leaders with my idea.  They liked it, but said that they were focusing on getting funding for a trip to Rwanda.  A noble idea as well, I believe, but the trip would only benefit 10 Brandeis students and the trip’s impact on either Rwandans or Brandeis students would be limited, in my belief.  In the end, I decided not to submit my proposal because I wanted to respect the plans of Positive Foundations.

A few days ago I heard that SEA had drafted a plan to provide solar power to the campus.  They went through the work to consult campus administrators to come up with a realistic proposal and advertised it over Facebook.  While such a plan would mostly help Brandeis lower its energy bill, it would also teach students the importance of renewable energy, tell the greater community that Brandeis values sustainability, and help to (however small) alleviate the problems of climate change.  I backed the proposal wholeheartedly.

It’s now been voted upon, and Brandeis students have chosen to refurbish the weight room.  Last time we choose to build a game room in Usdan.  I would say that our record is pretty poor–Brandeis students care very little about making change in the world and care way too much about themselves.


  • I am a sophomore at Brandeis University, originally from Wilbraham, Massachusetts. At Brandeis I have contributed to the activist community by serving as Campus Coordinator for Democracy for America, a student group that supports fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates. I was also co-director for Brandeis Students for Barack Obama. After Brandeis, I will pursue a master's degree in urban planning.

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Author: Phil LaCombe

I am a sophomore at Brandeis University, originally from Wilbraham, Massachusetts. At Brandeis I have contributed to the activist community by serving as Campus Coordinator for Democracy for America, a student group that supports fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates. I was also co-director for Brandeis Students for Barack Obama. After Brandeis, I will pursue a master's degree in urban planning.

19 thoughts on “The Selfishness of Brandeis Students”

  1. Someone who votes to spend money collected from him as a mandatory fee to improve his campus is acting out of self-interest. That’s a reasonable thing to do. STI testing, improvements to Chums, and even solar panels benefit the Brandeis community. Sponsoring the Millennium Villages project, regardless of its merits, does not.

    We are privileged in an unequal world. No amount of guilt or lambasting fellow students will change that. The people that want to sacrifice to improve others’ lives will. The others should not be forced to.

  2. Activism for many people is much more a self-promoting performance than a selfless act. Not true of all activists, but certainly for many the appeal lies in its trendiness and potential for social advane.

  3. See here is where i disagree with you, an activist still has a goal and does something to see his or her goal achieved…. that is still selfishness even if they believe their goal to be selfless.

  4. It seems to me, any thing you do for your own benefit can be defined as selfish. So voting for the weight room was selfish, as are most other things we do. We seem to be acting selfishly all the time.

    Maybe an activist is someone who attempts to get people to take one of those rare opportunities to act unselfishly….

  5. I was just wondering when voting for something is ever not selfish. We vote for what we want, or what we think is best. In this case more people wanted a weight room, something that needs improvement and will serve to be used by the entire student body (if they choose to do so). Our facilities in many areas are top notch, this is one of the few where it is not. Unlike solar panels or many of the other options, this weight room has the ability to be used by every student, and since every student pays toward the SAF, call it selfish if you want, that is an important attribute.

  6. Sahar

    I am not on the Student Union and I do not have any special connections. I simply voiced my opinions to the special committee investigating this same issue last year. After many hours trying to figure out how to get the renovation funded, I learned it was not going to happen any time soon.

  7. Ok, just to clarify – it has repeatedly been requested of the board of trustees, when approving the athletics department budget, that they include the 100k+ required for a new weight room. They have not been convinced of the necessity of doing so, and money is only spent (by the board of trustees) where it absolutely must be.

    Keep in mind how many selfish people had to come together for this massive success for selfish voters, though? That’s pretty amazing. Capitalism really does work!

  8. Mike, if you say that the administration won’t be refurbishing the Gym soon enough, I believe you, since you are on the Student Union and have your connections and all.

  9. “However, I’m told that it was going to be refurbished anyways.”

    By whom?

    Ollie the Owl?
    Carl and/or Ruth Shapiro?

  10. Sahar, unfortunately the university had no intention of renovating the weight room – at least not while we were students.

    I would also like to echo Sarah’s comments from above – pursuing a healthy lifestyle is not selfish nor is it frivolous. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of students who use the weight room on a regular basis, and will be glad to finally have a safer, better equipped facility.

    To the author of this article, perhaps it is “selfish” that we are having this debate right now, typing away on our expensive laptop computers? Perhaps our money would have been better spent on other things. Please consider your accusations of “selfishness “more carefully.

  11. Heads up: There’s a passionate debate on the facebook group.

    Emily, I agree with you. Refurbishing the weight room is not frivolous. It was my second or third choice for the proposal, and if this does go through I will make full use of it. However, I’m told that it was going to be refurbished anyways. We were basically suckered into footing the bill for what the University was going to do pay for.

    What’s more, this whole election was shady – I was shown a list of choices and directed immediately to vote. The only reason I knew about the Solar Panels, Rwanda Trip, and Weight Room proposals before the official email was due to talking to some people “in the know”.

    Therefore, we are presented with:
    a. A close vote.
    b. In which a majority of students (67%) voted against the “winning” proposal.
    c. A flawed voting system,
    d. that was sprung on us with little time to dissent.

    To address this, Alex and co. are proposing:
    – A way to more accurately gauge the will of the electorate.

    Therefore, while I appreciate the chance to become even more ripped, I support them in this effort.

  12. As usual, I agree with you Phil!

    I was also hoping that the funds would be used for either the Solar Panels or a Social Justice initiative. It is telling that this item would win. Considering that only 1/3 voted, I wonder who votes and who doesn’t… The social activist split is unfortunate.

    I regularly use the gym facilities, and feel that the weight-room is in adequate condition, if not maybe a bit neglected.

    While it is given that our planet and an end to abject poverty, truly the more important causes… I do believe that Brandeis continually distinguishes itself as a leader in environment and development efforts. Brandeis is regularly shorted on the sports front by the administration, and purposely so.

    Maybe Emily is right… maybe a little exercise is what Brandeis students need! Maybe it will bring added “strength” to all our efforts! Regardless, I am glad to see that so much money will be allocated via a directly (if not fully) democratic process.

    The Union still holds much funding, and I believe it will be quite open to activist funding requests next year.

    In hindsight, a Run-Off Vote would have been an obviously important and effective measure… it’s unfortunate this was not suggested before polling begun. After short review, I do not believe that there are grounds for a UJ case. However, I do believe that this point, as raised by Alex Melman, and the social activist split should be lessons learned moving forward!

  13. Selfishness is not necessarily a negative thing. I agree that the new weight room will be for the betterment of the students’ health and well-being. I also think that there is some hypocrisy here coming from the people so adamantly opposed to the use of the money for the gym on the basis of its selfish nature. Are you activists planning to give up all of your selfish hobbies and tendencies in order to put the time and money you spend on yourself towards the benefit of others? Are you giving up your computers, your nice clothes, your art supplies, your music, your vacations, your meals, your expensive college education to spend your time volunteering, to donate money and goods to the less fortunate? After college are you going to join the Peace Corps, become a teacher, work in a homeless shelter or as a social worker? Or are you enjoying the privilege that you’ve been given by going to a private school and enjoying the luxury of being middle class? Are you creating art and advancing yourself academically and intellectually, dedicating your time for the betterment of yourself? After school, won’t the majority of your income go to you? There is nothing wrong with these things, but there is something wrong with chastising the masses for a quality inherent in each of us, for something you yourself, just like most self-preserving humans, practice.

  14. As much as the other causes are worthwhile, maybe it is okay to be selfish with this $100,000. It’s coming out of each students tuition so maybe it should go into something that every student can use, if they choose to do so. The other proposals (I was particularly a fan of solar panels and the trip to Africa) are a nice idea but for example, only a select few students could attend that trip.

    Weight-lifing and working out are productive uses of time and maybe more students will start or get involved if the facilities are nicer.

  15. damn liberals need to rally around one candidate.

    where have we seen this before!

  16. The solar panel proposal said they’d be willing to go as low as $50,000 if need be. The proposal said $100,000 or more was best, but that it could go lower.

    The weight room on the other hand, requires even more than the full $112,000.

  17. It’s ridiculous that only one proposal gets all of the money. I can’t see how anyone can justify spending 100k on a room dedicated to counteracting gravity. Much smarter would have been to have the proposals be for smaller amounts that we could vote for in combination. Chums, for instance; I can see giving them, say, $10,000 for new equipment and some paint. Still, the weight room. What were people thinking?

  18. If you add up Solar Panels + Rwanda Trip + STI testing + Social Justice week, it comes to about 49% of the student body.

    Before we get all snippy about the weight room thing, I don’t think its the most terrible thing really. There are a community of athletes here at Brandeis and they need good facilities too.

    With that said, the result of this vote annoys me to no end. 100,000 is a ton of money and we really could have used it for something really meaningful. Instead, we got a weight room.

  19. This is a true shame but I disagree with your analysis. The activist votes cancelled themselves out this time. IF we added just the votes of those who voted for a social justice carnival to the votes for solar panels it would have won out. I am willing to bet something similar happened last time as well.

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