Peaceful on-campus protests were once deemed radical, but today many are hailed for forcing the mainstream to wake up and challenge its beliefs. Having our voices heard is one of the most important facets of our democracy and thus a valued freedom on Brown’s campus — the ability to stand up for your beliefs and voice your concerns against the status quo to encourage necessary change.
Even so, the Brown campus is not the wild, wild west, and I am sure we can agree that there is still a measure of propriety to which even the most important or just demonstrations should adhere. I do not believe Brown students always recognize a point of demarcation: the moment or tactic at which their conduct is counterproductive to their own cause or harmful to the broader interests of the University.
Students who protest represent the University as well as their own specific agendas. This does not mean that the students displaying concern should be in lockstep with the school, but, at the same time, they cannot ignore the impact of their protests. Yes, school protests have become almost a rite of passage. But this is not to say that our passion plays should be on display to all audiences at all times.
Specifically, I think it is misguided and wrong for movements on campus to target prospective students and their families before these members have a chance to understand or acclimate themselves to Brown and its qualities — especially when the protest does not directly involve the undergraduate environment, its faculty, curricula, treatment of students or other features of Brown life.
I was shocked and abashed when the Brown Divest movement chose to protest during an “A Day on College Hill” welcome meeting. I do not think it is necessary or appropriate to voice my beliefs about the movement itself but rather want to discuss the way in which this protest and others have directed its efforts at prospective students who are making up their minds about the next four years of their lives.
To start, these high school students, unless they were particularly well-researched, most likely did not know about the Brown Divest movement or referendum. This makes it appear as if the protesters’ strategy was not targeted at ADOCH students but rather the University administrators who conducted the meeting.
Why then involve prospective students at all? Are they just collateral damage? The Brown Divest group said in a statement to The Herald that they intended to show these students the campus climate: “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.” There are progressive students on all sides of this issue — conflating the movement with progressive ideals is not accurate or productive. Really now, should a pledge in support of one position serve as a litmus test for Brown students? And again, if the problem is with University administrators, why do ADOCH students need to serve as witnesses?
I recognize that the prospective students who do choose Brown can enter campus with a greater understanding of the movement and Brown’s campus culture; they could immediately join the cause and add pressure to the University. However, forcing them to confront these issues before they even enter any college does not give them context and time to interact with others or to gain the maturity to develop their own guiding principles. These students have not been exposed to the rigorous and challenging ideas that we find in college; it is unfair to drop them in the middle of a contentious debate without such preparation.
It is also possible that some prospective students who are not as familiar with the movement could have seen it as unpalatable conduct or even an attack against specific groups. The Herald reported that some prospective students thought interrupting the welcome meeting was disrespectful. These students might choose a different college as a result. And prospective Jewish or other students, unfamiliar with the particulars of Brown’s Divest movement, could have conflated it with the national BDS movement — which has called for Israel’s economic crippling, which would probably lead to the end of the state — and felt uncomfortable or even unwanted at Brown. Protesters need to consider the consequences of only showing one side of a multi-faceted issue to burgeoning Brown students. The protesters highlighted what some think are Brown’s shortcomings to those who have not yet seen Brown’s strengths.
Some may say that if these students were uncomfortable with protest they should not enter this University at all. I agree that students at Brown should understand our traditions of protest and activism, but there is a time and a place. We should respect their right to engage with University welcome events free from interruption.
This is not the only time Brown students have focused their efforts on prospective students. In the summer of 2017, Brown students protested during Summer@Brown information sessions, demanding that Residential Life increase the pay of summer employees and confront their alleged racial bias. These students may have believed that targeting those who had not yet entered the University would have the most impact, since the University likely wants to preserve its image to those who they are courting, instead of students who already attend. But using these prospective students as essentially a bargaining chip to force the hand of the administration is ill-conceived and can have adverse consequences for the University as a whole, as well as the image of groups involved in the resolution of the issue.
While protests can lead to some of the best changes on campus, Brown students need to carefully choose to whom and when they direct their grievances. Prospective students should not be used as a weapon to gain attention from the administration or to increase the traction of a cause. They should be allowed a fair chance to acclimate themselves to the University, collegiate inquiry and analysis before they are called upon for corroboration and collaboration. It makes little sense to tarnish our invitation to them.
This is Emily Miller ’19’s last column, and she recognizes she is going out with a bang. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.