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.

First and foremost, Innermost Parts serves as a clear and forceful student voice. We can write about whatever interests us, be forthright and clear, and not worry as much about exhaustive citation or he-said she-said journalism. Some of my favorite posts, such as Lev’s examination of his feelings about Israel, or Phil’s series on Brandeis architecture, fall into that camp. We were cited by faculty as places to see “what the students are thinking” during budget cut fights last year, and parents from states as far away as California, Texas, or Florida check us frequently for “the real scoop” on campus.

Secondly, Innermost Parts can set the agenda. In the main, our power and readership comes not from the students at large but from club leaders, faculty members, staff, and those affiliated with the papers or Union. More times than I can remember, we might write about something, and then the Justice or Hoot would pick it up, or suggest it as a topic for their op-ed contributors. Partly through our coverage, we made gender-neutral housing, endowment transparency, food reform, and Deis Bikes standard planks on which people we’ve never met ran for Senate.

By contrast, our most popular posts are those that tap into, rather than create, existing issues. Reinharz’s resignation, the loss of endowment money, the Rose, and liveblogging contentious UJ trials are the most popular stories since our founding. All these stories presented us with an opportunity to frame an existing narrative, and (in the case of the Rose) to give a story legs and a longer life.

Beyond serving as a vehicle of personal expression, beyond trying to inject ideas into public conversation, and beyond digging deeper into popular topics, Innermost Parts has strengthened the activist community. We’ve started profiling clubs, and summarizing each week’s issue of the Hoot and Justice. We also regularly promote events and speakers through the blog and affiliated activist calendar. All these measures are aimed at getting students more involved with either the social justice sphere on campus, or getting them riled up about political issues that affect them. While I’ve rarely found someone admitting that they’ve gone to an event because of Innermost Parts, I think the extra publicity helps at the margin, and the clear presentation of useful information draws in readers.

Rarely, but most powerfully, Innermost Parts sometimes becomes a platform for directly organizing concrete change on the ground. When complaining about a dysfunctional Senate didn’t do too much to change its behavior, we started running, or encouraging others to run for office.1 When we didn’t approve of the likely winner of an emergency election for union vice-president, we ran our own candidate, and promoted him enthusiastically. When the University decided to sell off the Rose and conducted emergency budget meetings in secret, Innermost Parts had a large role in organizing student opposition. This opposition both fueled the larger Rose-related activism (and media coverage), and got the University to reverse itself: administration went from threatening to arrest students for trying to enter a closed-door meeting to acceding to all our demands.

We’ve not always succeeded at our goals – in fact, we have no articulated goals beyond the most nebulous “build support for social justice” or “hold authority accountable”. Our successes are usually only found by working in conjunction with other groups, and we rarely have concerted campaigns to change opinion. In fact, cataloguing our failures is hard to do because we rarely articulate success, and often write a throwaway post about a subject, and forget it forever.

Still, even when we do implicitly create campaigns, winning is not assured. Last semester, we became aware that Wayne Marshall, a Professor of African-American Studies and the only non-Western scholar in the Music department, would not be rehired in the following year. We wrote one blog post after another, we helped create a website for the “Save Wayne Campaign”, and we even resorted to writing long feature article on him in a newspaper. Still, Wayne wasn’t rehired and no longer works at Brandeis. Happily, he’s a fellow at MIT, and maybe our campaign of positive coverage influenced that. Looking back, I think the groundswell of support we abetted was real, but we failed to take the next logical step of formally creating a petition and presenting it to faculty or administration.

Even our signature projects reveal significant dysfunction. We did well by getting good people into the Student Union government, but now, a semester later, the Senate has lapsed back into its old ways. The burst of energy around the budget cut crisis was real, and the effects and goings-on were complicated, but after our initial, minimal demands were met, we lacked the skill to keep our ad-hoc coalition from fracturing.

Innermost Parts as an enterprise has some built-in weaknesses as well. We rely on volunteer labor, and don’t (and, at this time, can’t) enforce the same work ethic as the papers. Our writers come and go, and it’s hard to get someone to commit to consistently post for a long period of time. We lack the sources and connection of the newspapers. Lastly, we have a reputation problem – to some, we are perceived as too-left, and therefore non-credible. Others simply don’t know we exist.

Innermost Parts is here to facilitate public discussion, to advance a vision of a better Brandeis, to hold authority accountable to our shared values, and to build the activist community. We have people’s attention, and we’re read by faculty, staff, and students. We can promote and strengthen Brandeis civil society, and hope to be a new concentration of energy within it. We can also directly serve as a check to the Adminstration, Union, or even Faculty if need be. We can’t, however, do everything. We’re just a few friends with a bandwidth connection and dwindling stocks of free time. We place our hope in the next generations to continue on our endeavor.