During a Sunday afternoon welcome ceremony for A Day on College Hill, organizers from Brown Divest threw informational leaflets from the auditorium balcony of the Salomon Center and called upon the University administration to end its complicity in human rights abuses in Palestine, according to the group’s Facebook page.
Following the end of a University promotional video that played at the ceremony, six demonstrators chanted “Brown students voted yes on divest. Provost Locke: what’s next? End our complicity now,” according to a video posted on Brown Divest’s Facebook page. The leaflets that the organizers threw from the balcony described Brown Divest and its mission.
“An entire row of people just stood up, and from the mezzanine started chanting something. … I couldn’t understand anything they said. And then they just threw a ton of leaflets, and we just saw them raining down,” said prospective student Miguel von Fedak.
The demonstration follows a two-month long campaign from Brown Divest to pass a referendum on the Undergraduate Council of Students and Undergraduate Financial Board ballot, which called for the University to “divest all stocks, funds, endowment and other monetary instruments from companies complicit in human rights abuses in Palestine.” The referendum passed with 69 percent support from voting students, The Herald previously reported.
In response to the Divest referendum, President Christina Paxson P’19 expressed her opposition to “divestment from companies that conduct business in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” she wrote in a letter to the Brown community March 22.
Brown Divest organizers demonstrated at the ADOCH welcome ceremony “to show President Paxson and the administration that we are not satisfied with her dismissive response to the referendum result,” Brown Divest wrote in a statement to The Herald. “Brown tends to lean heavily on its reputation as the ‘progressive Ivy’ during ADOCH to attract progressive students. We felt that it was important to hold the administration to this image,” the group wrote.
After the demonstration, Provost Richard Locke and University presenters continued with the ceremony “as if nothing really happened,” said prospective student Maia Mongado.
Prospective students rushed to grab leaflets thrown down from the balcony, even passing around the papers to other students unable to reach them, said prospective student Mauricio Velazquez.
For some students, the demonstration marked their introduction to the topic of divestment and discourse around the Israel-Palestine conflict. One prospective student, Bradley Nowacek, said he was not familiar with the divestment debate prior to coming to the University, but the demonstration made him want “to sit down and … think about … both what their cause is, and thinking for myself about when … tactics like that of attracting attention to an issue are appropriate,” he said.
“That’s not to say that I think anything was inappropriate, necessarily; I genuinely don’t know, and it made me curious,” he added.
Nowacek also thought that the demonstration highlighted the political culture that he would likely see at Brown if he accepts his admission offer. Nowacek was interested in looking at the leaflets to learn “not necessarily about (Brown Divest) specifically, but sort of about their arguments, and also sort of about the culture here at Brown,” he said.
The demonstration suggests that Brown affords students “the liberty to protest” without “any drama or negative reactions,” Velazquez said.
Though she disagrees with the University’s opposition to divestment, prospective student Sarah Uriarte said the University’s stance won’t discourage her from attending Brown. “Even though I disagree with what the University is doing, I don’t think it hinders my decision to attend this college,” she said.
But prospective student Katie Bang said the demonstration did not cast a positive light on Brown Divest. “It was kind of disrespectful, I felt, how they interrupted” the ADOCH event, she said.
The leaflets thrown down from the auditorium balcony also posed a potential safety hazard, Bang said. “One of my friends, she’s on crutches, and it was kind of slippery to walk around,” she added.
Even after reading the leaflets, many prospective students remained confused about the demonstration.
“I read the paper, it also didn’t really explain what (Brown Divest) was,” Bang said.
The demonstration “was kind of out of the blue since no context was provided for it,” said prospective student Tommy Bellaire. “My opinion is still confused. It was confused before and it’s confused after,” he added.
Prospective students were generally uncertain about the purpose of the demonstration. Many thought the demonstration was a prank or part of the welcome ceremony. “We had no clue what (the protesters) said. We all thought it was a joke for a little while,” von Fedak said.
The University was not available for comment.