Approximately 500 students walked out of classes Wednesday afternoon to voice support for Palestine and demand that the University “end its complicity in the genocide in Gaza,” according to an Instagram post from Brown Students for Justice in Palestine and the Brown University Palestine Solidarity Caucus.
The gathering, organized by the two groups, was part of a nationwide walkout that took place on college campuses Wednesday as Israel’s airstrikes in the Israel-Hamas war continue and Palestinians face what the United Nations has described as an “unprecedented” humanitarian crisis. Students gathered on the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center to hear speeches from organizers before walking to University Hall and circling the building while chanting.
Protestors chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Christina Paxson you can’t hide, Brown is funding genocide,” among other rallying calls.
Before the walkout began, organizers hung a banner that read “Brown invests in the Palestinian genocide” from the upper floors of the Campus Center. They were asked by the Student Activities Office to remove the banner and complied with the request.
Andrew Hollis, associate director of graduate student activities and leadership development, cited the University’s poster and banner policy as the basis for this request.
SJP and PSC have additionally circulated a petition demanding the University divest its endowment from “Israel and the military-industrial complex” and that Maria Zuber, who is on the board of directors of the defense manufacturer Textron, resign from the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body. They also demanded that the University call on Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to “support legislation calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to U.S. military aid in Israel.”
“Zuber’s continued role as a member of the Corporation is a blatant endorsement of Israeli apartheid and the genocide in Gaza,” PSC wrote in the petition, which called for her resignation or removal.
Zuber did not respond to a request for comment.
An independent human rights expert commissioned by the United Nations published a report referring to the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians as “apartheid”; separately, UN experts have warned that statements by Israeli political leaders and the Israeli military’s actions pose “a risk of genocide against the Palestine people.”
In their call for a walkout, SJP and PSC claimed to have over 600 signatories on the petition. These names will not be published until the petition reaches “a critical mass of signatories,” the document reads.
“Brown leaders have met with multiple student groups in regard to their concerns about Israel and Gaza, and the University remains committed to engaging with students who are in touch directly with ideas or concerns,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. “We do not have a practice of responding to matters expressed indirectly through demands and online petitions.”
On the Faunce steps, student organizers, who requested to remain anonymous for safety reasons, read poems and gave speeches highlighting the experiences of Palestinians in the conflict while calling on the University to take action.
“I don't want to be here and read these statistics about our people dying, about our children dying,” said one anonymous Palestinian student who spoke at the rally. “All life is precious, not just our children, but our children are dying and they're stuck under the rubble.”
“Throughout the speeches, picketing and teach-ins that comprised the walk-out, students expressed their grief at the global indifference towards the extinguishing of Palestinian life,” SJP organizers wrote in a statement to The Herald.
Israeli attacks have killed at least 6,500 people in Gaza since Israel declared war on Oct. 7, the Washington Post has reported. Hamas’s attack in Israel on Oct. 7 killed more than 1,400 people.
Students across the country “are walking out and calling on their universities to clean the blood off of their hands and divest from weapons manufacturers whose stocks are soaring as they drop bombs on Gaza,” the student added.
Organizers then led protesters across the Main Green to University Hall, where hundreds circled the building and called on President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 and other University leaders to take action. In the statement, SJP organizers noted that protestors also called upon the University to “protect students from intimidation, doxxing and harassment for their Palestine activism.”
The gathering, which organizers described as a “picket line,” did not completely cut off access to the building, as University officials were able to enter and exit, but were met with heightened chants when doing so.
A small group of counter-demonstrators displayed the Israeli flag on the Main Green during the gathering. The demonstrators did not respond to a request for comment when approached by The Herald.
The petition circulated by SJP references previous student referendums supporting divestment and a 2020 report released by the University’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies that recommended divestment. The petition’s complete list of demands calls on Paxson to “act in ordinance with these overwhelming majorities and the conclusions of Brown’s own ethical investment oversight board.”
“Brown is deeply committed to academic freedom, and we will continue to uphold the right of members of the Brown community to express their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Paxson wrote in a March 2021 letter to ACCRIP’s successor body, the Advisory Committee on University Resources Management, regarding their recommendations. “We will not use the endowment to take an institutional position on this issue.”
Clark did not directly address the demands for divestment in his comment to The Herald.
The petition also called on Paxson to “immediately and unequivocally condemn” backlash against “Palestinian students, faculty, workers and their co-strugglers.”
“We are resolved in our cross-campus efforts to ensure a community where all individuals feel safe and valued and where the value of religious, cultural and ethnic tolerance is upheld,” Clark wrote in his comment. “The Department of Public Safety remains the best immediate point of contact for anyone with a timely concern about personal safety.”
Owen Dahlkamp is a Senior Staff Writer covering admissions, financial Aid and science & research. Hailing from San Diego, CA he is concentrating in political science and cognitive neuroscience with an interest in data analytics. In his free time, you can find him making spreadsheets at Dave’s Coffee.