Around 100 students, faculty and community members gathered on the Quiet Green with loudspeakers and microphones Friday to demand that the University increase its voluntary payments to Providence. The rally was organized by the Brown Activist Coalition, which is an alliance of several student advocacy groups on campus.
At the protest, BAC called for the University to pay $15 million annually to the city of Providence — a “meager amount compared to what they owe,” according to Niyanta Nepal ’25, co-president of Students for Educational Equity and a lead organizer of the rally.
As a non-profit, the University does not pay property taxes on its educational buildings but does on its commercial holdings. Last year, a report from the Providence Finance Department and the Office of then-Mayor Jorge Elorza estimated the University would pay almost $50 million if it were taxed on all of its property holdings, The Herald previously reported. The University is currently expected to pay $4.5 million in voluntary payments to the city this fiscal year.
The demonstration intentionally coincided with A Day on College Hill, the University’s admitted students day, according to student activists. “I think (the University) is going to feel a little bit more nervous about the power of student voices when it takes place in front of a bunch of prospective students,” Nepal said.
Speakers at the rally compared the wealth of the University to that of Providence and its public schools.
Hope High School has used bonds to “make sufficient repairs” because its facilities are “crumbling,” said State Rep. David Morales MPA’19 (D-Providence). “(But) Brown University seems to be developing a new building every other month.”
In her speech at the rally, Nepal described a “lack of basic necessities” in Providence public schools, citing a Johns Hopkins University report that found issues and deficiencies such as lead-contaminated water.
“Brown has for decades been the largest voluntary contributor to the city of Providence, and we recognize and appreciate that direct payments are one important way in which we can provide support to our home community,” wrote University Spokesperson Brian Clark in an email to The Herald.
The University’s current voluntary payment agreements with the city expire in June, and negotiations for a new agreement are currently underway. In a campus talk last week, Mayor Brett Smiley said that Brown and other non-profit, tax-exempt institutions “should be paying more” to the city.
“We are in conversation with city leaders as we speak on what our contributions will look like in the years to come,” Clark wrote.
BAC’s campaign to encourage the University to increase voluntary payments to Providence was inspired by the New Haven community’s successful drive to increase Yale’s payments to the city. In 2021, Yale signed an agreement that would increase its contributions by $52 million over six years.
After a series of speeches, the crowd marched to University Hall to deliver an open letter to the administration as prospective students attending ADOCH looked on. The letter called on the University to support two bills in the Rhode Island State House, H5782 and H5603, which would levy taxes on University property and the endowment, respectively.
The letter also called for additional financial support for the city’s K-12 schools and encouraged the University to increase engagement with the Providence community, such as by expanding public access to University libraries.
Students from various student activist groups attending the event echoed their support for the rally’s message.
“We all have a vested interest together in participating in this rally and urging the University to contribute more to the city,” said Isabella Garo ’24, a Sunrise Brown organizer.
“We’re right here, we’re going to be with SEE and all groups that are supporting this issue,” said Ethan Drake ’24, another organizer with Sunrise Brown.
“Our causes appear different on the surface, but ultimately, they are inextricably linked,” said Jack Doughty ’23, a Brown Students for Justice in Palestine organizer.
Ashley Cai is a Senior Staff Writer from Los Altos, California covering the staff and student labor beat. She is a third-year Brown-RISD Dual Degree studying computer science, IAPA and graphic design. She is also a member of The Herald's Tech Team.
Ryan Doherty is a senior staff writer for The Brown Daily Herald. He covers University News and Science & Research. Ryan is a first-year from New York, intending to study chemistry.