Following the University’s announcement that it will not divest from major coal companies,around 100 students gathered Sunday and Monday nights in the Underground in response to what they called the University’s unwillingness to listen to student voices.
The student organizers refused to elaborate on their specific goals to The Herald and did not allow reporters inside their meetings.
The meeting spawned from a Facebook status by Jenny Li ’14 inviting other students to join her in the Underground to discuss the University’s decision not to divest from coal, Sophie Soloway ’14.5 wrote in an email to The Herald. Several people shared the status and others sent email and texting chains to spread word around campus, Soloway added.
The announcement about coal divestment “seemed like a catalyst that precipitated pre-existing feelings about other times the Corporation and administration has not been accountable to student needs,” Soloway wrote.
Representatives from student groups including Brown Divest Coal, Support for Survivors of Sexual Assault, Students for Justice in Palestine and Student Labor Alliance attended the meeting, Soloway said.
“They were all coming together to make it more of an open discussion to talk about transparency and accountability with the school and how it was lacking and they were frustrated by it,” Marguerite Suozzo-Gole ’15.5 said.
Students at the Monday meeting discussed the possibility of staging a walkout later this week, Suozzo-Gole said.
“There were very eloquent speakers making informed and impassioned” speeches to attendees, Suozzo-Gole said.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be as big as it was. It was so well-attended,” Soloway said.
Soloway attended the meeting because she feels like there is a “critical mass of student voices saying they’ve done everything they can and still haven’t effected change” at the University, she said.
Brown Divest Coal, the principal group that campaigned for divestment, has worked “really hard and they have a right to be disappointed,” Suozzo-Gale said. But she added that its members should not walk out on the community.
“Both being radical and not being radical enough doesn’t produce change,” she said. “You kind of have to strike the right balance.”
Undergraduate Council of Students President Todd Harris ’14.5 was attending a meeting of the environmental group emPOWER Sunday night to hear student concerns about the University’s decision regarding coal when he found out about the initial meeting in the Underground, he said.
“I went with emPOWER to the meeting … to hear what students had to say,” Harris said.
Many students in attendance expressed frustration over issues including and beyond coal divestment, he added.
These broader issues included the University not listening to student concern over queer safety and a lecture today by New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly hosted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, Suozzo-Gole said.
Kelly’s invitation to speak at Brown has fueled controversy due to his signature stop-and-frisk policy, with many petitioning the center to rescind his invitation.
Several students involved in the effort to cancel the Kelly talk also attended the Monday and Sunday meetings, Soloway said.
Many students felt the University is not listening to them, Soloway said.
“Students are part of groups that have gone through all available channels to effect change” but they feel like they have hit brick walls, she said.
“I think the number of students who are angry and tired of being silenced and ignored is larger and rapidly growing,” wrote Emma Wohl ’14, a former Herald arts and culture editor, in an email to The Herald.
Helen McDonald ’14 went to the Sunday meeting because she is “tired of the Corporation’s hypocrisy,” as well as the University’s “horrible treatment of (Brown) Dining Service workers and its numerous actions to silence student voices,” she wrote in an email to The Herald.
“We will all be part of Brown for the rest of our lives, so we should have the power to decide on the University’s moral image and impact,” Josue Crowther ’15 wrote in an email to the Herald. Crowther attended the Sunday meeting as part of Brown Divest Coal and as a BuDS employee with “many concerns,” he wrote.
The Sunday meeting was over two hours long, and students discussed many ideas about how to express their frustrations, Soloway said.
Interested students will continue meeting to determine specific demands and plan future action, Crowther wrote.