Dressed in all black and bearing signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “Stop deporting families” and “I stand with Standing Rock,” over 400 people descended on the Quiet Green Wednesday afternoon to call on the University’s administration to protect its most vulnerable community members in light of the 2016 election results.
Brown is one of the latest in a long list of college campuses nationwide to rally around the cry, “Whose campus? Our campus!” The Brown University Walkout also pledged solidarity to the #SanctuaryCampus movement — which calls on universities to serve as safe spaces for individuals at risk of deportation — and the water protectors fighting to prevent the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Despite the event’s proximity to the election, Brown student organizers were careful not to engage in partisan politics during the walkout. Demonstrators were encouraged not to mention President-Elect Donald Trump or show support for former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or other presidential candidates at the event.
“We recognize that he was democratically elected to office. We’re more interested in abolishing the oppressive systems that gave Trump power,” a student organizer — one of the three coordinators who asked to remain anonymous for fear of online abuse and threats — told The Herald. The organizers emphasized that Trump’s presidency is symptomatic of widespread white supremacy, racism, misogyny, xenophobia and Islamophobia, among other forms of marginalization.
“While this march is not solely directed at the election results, we recognize that recent events have instilled fear of attacks against marginalized communities,” said another student organizer.
For many students at the walkout, the large turnout affirmed their faith in students’ ability to comfort and advocate for each other. “As a Muslim American, I wanted to know that this a place where I am not threatened,” said Ahmed Ashour ’19.
The walkout organizers also used the event as a platform to present a list of demands to administrators at University Hall on behalf of Muslim, Southwest Asian and North African, Southeast Asian, black, undocumented, native and LGBTQ+ community members. The demands detail the many ways in which the administration can actively take measures to support students, staff members and faculty members, from hiring therapists of color at Counseling and Psychological Services to refusing to voluntarily share information with the Immigration and Custom Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
President Christina Paxson P’19 and Provost Richard Locke were not present inside University Hall when the authors of the demands entered the building with the intention of presenting their list, confirmed student organizers. As the crowd chanted “Administration, come out!” the organizers taped their demands to the president’s door.
“The administration does not wish to listen to us. ... We chanted for over 10 minutes. No one came out,” Our Campus wrote on the event’s Facebook page Wednesday night. “We refuse to let Brown tell our narrative of resistance.”
“We went to U. Hall, and we told them that it was our campus, and just to prove the point, I took their last damn cookie,” said an organizer upon exiting the building.
The walkout then opened the floor to everyone present to come forward and share their experiences with the rest of the campus.
“I’ve been told by one white therapist that it is my job and duty to explain racism to white people, and a different therapist expressed complete surprise that racism still exists in the romantic world and the world at large,” said Anica Green ’17, the BlogDailyHerald editor. “CAPS needs to find people of color to support students of color.”
“Before you just tell someone like me that everything is going to be okay, you should check your privilege,” said Sabiya Ahamed ’18. The demands also include increased funding for the Muslim Students’ Center and greater representation of Muslim international students and students racialized as Muslim, including students from Palestine and Syria.
Central to the students’ list of demands is the idea that the University can be a sanctuary, a proposition that Paxson and Locke addressed in an op-ed published in The Herald Wednesday.
“The petitions suggest that Brown (and other universities and colleges) may have a special ability to prevent law enforcement officials from entering campus to enforce immigration policy,” Paxson and Locke wrote in the op-ed. “Based on consultation with legal counsel, we have come to understand that private universities and colleges do not have such protection to offer legal sanctuary from members of law enforcement or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
“We appreciated that they reached out and talked with lawyers,” a third student organizer said, adding that while the coordinators understood the legal difficulties referenced in the op-ed, the University could do more to alleviate the concerns of students, staff members and faculty members concerned about deportation.
In response to the demands, Locke sent an email to the organizers, which was obtained by The Herald. “The University community has been working very hard over the last year to implement the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, which has the specific aim of confronting the issues of safety, value, respect, equity and justice raised in your document,” he wrote in the email. “We look forward to working with you and others to continue to advance this work.”
Looking ahead, organizers envision that a three-member, paid student panel chosen by the Undergraduate Council of Students will deliver their demands while holding the University accountable.
With Thanksgiving break around the corner, some students grappled with the difficulty of continuing these conversations on oppression with family members back home. “We are fighting for all the little kids in this country who look like us,” said Nika Salazar ’16. “So when you go home over Thanksgiving break, I need you to talk to your misogynistic uncle and that racist grandfather.”
Coordinators are also pushing students to convince their families and alums to withhold donations to the University until their demands are met.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Anica Green ’17, the BlogDailyHerald editor, said "I’ve been told by white therapists that it is my duty to explain racism to white people. I even once had to explain that racism exists." In fact, she said "I’ve been told by one white therapist that it is my job and duty to explain racism to white people, and a different therapist expressed complete surprise that racism still exists in the romantic world and the world at large." The Herald regrets the error.