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Community organizations at Brown take a stand for George Floyd

Student centers, student groups, admin release statements, urge action, provide educational resources

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, June 8, 2020

A memorial for George Floyd in Minneapolis. Community organizations at Brown including student groups, student centers and administrators have expressed solidarity and the need for action as national and international protests of racism and police brutality have continued.

As students continue to take to the streets to protest George Floyd’s death two weeks ago at the hands of a white police officer, University community organizations and members have chosen to speak out and urge action in support of the movement against systemic racism and police brutality.

“Statements are statements. There are limits to what the following words can provide for you by way of emotional support or generative solutions,” the Brown Center for Students of Color (BCSC) wrote in an email to their members and in a post to their Facebook page. “We are grieving along with you. We are tired. We are devastated.” The BCSC also listed five resources for getting involved: Movement for Black Lives, Black Visions Collective, the People’s Forum in NYC, African American Policy Forum and how to support local community bailout funds.

The Black Student Union (BSU) released a statement in solidarity with the movement and donated to organizations such as the Black Visions Collective, North Star Health Collective and Reclaim the Block in support of racial justice.

In the past, BSU has focused on “joy and Black healing” to provide an uplifting affinity space for Black students and students of African descent, according to co-president Daneva Moncrieffe ’21. But with demonstrations taking place across the country and University students away from campus, co-president Lauren Wilson ’21 said that BSU is trying to support members remotely.

“We’re talking more about how we can assist them, not just how they can assist this movement,” Wilson said. “We just want to provide them with mental health resources and just other ways to just kind of uplift their own Black communities.”

BSU has also asked non-Black peers to “continue to educate themselves on how to be better allies right now and going forward.” Their statement provided a link to letters to send to family members about anti-Blackness, mental health resources for Black people and other resources including petitions, possible places to donate and social media accounts to follow.

“Place yourself in temporary discomfort to call out the racism and anti-Blackness in your social circles that has kept Black folks in discomfort for centuries,” BSU members wrote.

President Christina Paxson P’19 released a statement in a May 30 community-wide email signed by 20 other University administrators “regarding the racist incidents that continue to cut short the lives of Black people every day.”

“This is historical, lasting and persistent. Structures of power, deep-rooted histories of oppression, as well as prejudice, outright bigotry and hate, directly and personally affect the lives of millions of people in this nation every minute and every hour,” she wrote.

The University will “leverage the expertise of our faculty, staff and students to develop programming, courses and research opportunities designed to advance knowledge and promote essential change in policy and practice in the name of equity and justice.” Future updates providing “opportunities to engage” will be available through Today@Brown, according to the email.

On June 5, the graduate students of the Department of Africana Studies wrote a letter addressed to University leaders, including Paxson, and the University community calling on Brown to take four actions to accelerate efforts to “abolish the police and the carceral state.”

The students urged the University to immediately divest from and sever “all formal contracts and relationships with the Providence Police Department.” They additionally called on the University to disarm and reclassify campus security employees, redirect funds from the Department of Public Safety and from specific programs such as Coffee with a Cop toward “community organizing, collective healing, and reparations in the form of a fund for Black Providence residents displaced by the university.”

In their last University-specific demand, they asked Brown to end its relationship with CEO Warren Kanders ’79, whose military supply manufacturing company, Safariland, has reportedly sold tear gas used on migrants crossing the U.S. border, in addition to other incidents, The Herald previously reported. The students concluded the letter by also calling on Rhode Island leadership to take measures to reduce police power.

Other undergraduate-focused student centers and student groups also emphasized ways students can take action and act as allies.

The Undergraduate Council of Students Executive Board emailed all undergraduates acknowledging the University’s own ties with racism and calling students to action. They asked individuals to learn more about their federal, state-wide and local representation and support “anti-racist legislation” nationally, such as the H.R. 40 Bill, called the  “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.” They have also pledged to match the first $300 donated to the Equal Justice Initiative and provided students with nine other suggestions of places to donate as well as an anti-racist reading list and resources.

Additionally, 10 Asian student groups came together to release a joint statement regarding anti-Black violence. “As non-Black people of color, we are given privileges — and choices born of such privileges — that are often weaponized to further cement this ever-present racial hierarchy in America,” they wrote while linking to education and action resources.

Long Do ’22, Vice President of the Brown-RISD Vietnamese Students Association, which was among the signatories of the statement, believes that although their mission is to promote understanding and appreciation of Vietnamese culture and values, it is implicit that they support all minorities and fight “oppression wherever it’s found.”

Along with many other student groups with majority-white memberships, the Brown College Democrats have voiced their solidarity with all who are impacted by “pervasive systemic racism in our country.” President Jasmine Powell ’22, who is Black, said that their statement was written to “make sure our members were self-reflecting on the privilege that they hold.” They provided followers with a list of actions to support the movement, including the reduction of mandatory minimum sentences.

“It’s not enough to not be racist. You have to be actively anti-racist,” Powell said, adding that the group wanted to “take a stand” by writing their own words rather than “passively” reposting another group’s response.

Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE) is also a majority-white organization, and Incoming Co-Director Dhruv Gaur ’21 believes “the housing system actively works against Black and Brown people.” In order to truly help those experiencing homelessness, Gaur said that HOPE must “actively be advocating for and amplifying the voices of the people we serve.”

In their statement, HOPE wrote that “historically racist housing policies, systematic neighborhood disinvestment, the mass displacement of Black communities, and the criminalization of homelessness are unacceptable.” They also shared educational resources to promote anti-racism, bail funds and actions to take in support of Black lives.

HOPE is part of the Swearer Center for Public Service, which released its own statement of solidarity titled, “Community Engagement Cannot Exist Without Anti-Racism at its Core.” Other centers which released statements in addition to the BCSC and Swearer included the Global Brown Center for International Students, which invited students to share resources for understanding and action on instagram. The LGBTQ Center and U-FLi Center are among other student centers to share information campaigns on their Instagram stories.

While student groups may unify University students under the movement, Moncrieffe from BSU emphasized that confronting racism takes active, individual effort. “Have those conversations with friends and family,” she said, “to better understand the ways that (you) may continue certain racist ideals and anti-Blackness.”

With additional reporting by Henry Dawson

Correction: A previous version of this article identified Dhruv Gaur as finance chair of HOPE. Gaur was finance chair last fall, but is now incoming co-director of HOPE. The Herald regrets the error.

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