At a Monday night vigil at 4:30 p.m. for Hisham Awartani ’25 — a Palestinian student shot in Vermont this weekend in what police have described as a possible hate crime — students shouted President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 off the microphone and called for the University to divest its endowment from companies affiliated with Israel.
Awartani sustained serious injuries after being shot Saturday in Burlington, Vermont, along with two other Palestinian college students — Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad. All three are in stable condition, though police have described Awartani’s injuries as the most severe. Burlington Police arrested a suspect Sunday, who pled not guilty to three charges of attempted murder.
Roughly 400 community members gathered on the main green Monday night for what Paxson described in a Sunday email as a “vigil for peace and healing.”
While speakers’ comments ranged from condemnations of the shooting to political demands, they also highlighted Awartani’s character and values — a witty polyglot with a talent for archaeology and math who is intensely focused on others.
Paxson, in her remarks, condemned the violence.
“Although we don’t know the details yet, it is horrific that the mere fact that Hisham and his friends were being proud Palestinians—wearing keffiyehs and speaking in Arabic—that may have prompted the shooting,” Paxson said.
“We can’t disentangle what happened to Hisham from the broader events in Israel and Palestine that sadly we have been dealing with for decades,” Paxson said in her speech.
“Sadly we can’t control what happens across the world and country. We are powerless to do everything we’d like to do,” Paxson began before students across the green began loudly chanting “Brown divest,” “shame on you” and booing.
As the students protested, a group of protestors hung a banner from Faunce reading “Brown invests in the Palestinian genocide.”
Paxson left the lectern before concluding her remarks. Later Monday evening, the Office of the President posted her full speech online.
The next scheduled speaker, Professor of History Beshara Doumani, who had visited Awartani in Burlington with Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes, read a message from Awartani to the crowd:
“It’s important to recognize that this is part of the larger story. This hideous crime did not happen in a vacuum,” Doumani recited. “As much as I appreciate and love every single one of you here today, I am but one casualty in this much wider conflict.”
“Had I been shot in the West Bank, where I grew up, the medical services that saved my life here would likely have been withheld by the Israeli army,” Doumani continued reciting, met by cheers and applause from attendees. “The soldier who shot me would go home and never be convicted. I understand that the pain is so much more real and immediate because many of you know me, but any attack like this is horrific, be it here or in Palestine.”
“This is why when you say your wishes and light your candles today, your mind should not just be focused on me as an individual, but rather as a proud member of a people being oppressed,” Doumani concluded.
After sharing Awartani’s statement, Doumani reiterated students’ calls for divestment.
“If Palestinians had to hold vigils every time our people were massacred, we would be bankrupt from buying candles,” said Aboud Ashhab '25, a friend of Awartani, quoting his statement at a vigil held a month ago. “There is no respite for us.”
“One of our classmates was shot,” Ashhab added. “What will it take for Brown to respond?”
Protests for divestment resumed after the vigil concluded, with hundreds remaining outside Faunce, going towards University Hall calling for divestment and chanting “free Palestine” until just before 6 p.m.
"As reported by the College Hill Independent, Palestinian students and their co-strugglers shared testimony with President Paxson over five weeks ago detailing incidents of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian attacks on campus and nationwide," a news release from Brown Students for Justice in Palestine read. "However, Paxson ignored these concerns about safety and waited until now to even acknowledge the rise in discrimination, hate and violence."
“We continue to demand for the protection of students, an immediate and permanent ceasefire and the divestment of our endowment from weapons manufacturing companies,” organizers for the group wrote in an email to The Herald.
In an email to The Herald, Senior Vice President for Communications Cass Cliatt emphasized outreach from Paxson and other administrators with “a multitude of students, faculty and staff over the past several weeks … in ways that are significant and important to directly commit to care and support amid the acknowledged increase in discrimination and threats of violence across the nation and around the world.”
“It would be an unfortunate misconception to believe that the only way university leaders can or should acknowledge Islamophobia, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and violence, and antisemitism is through messages to the full community, because our commitment to care for individuals and communities across Brown with direct attention has continued to take many forms,” Cliatt wrote.
Amanda McGregor, a spokesperson for Brown, noted in an email to The Herald that activism plays a “healthy and important role” on campus but not a definitive one: “Protests, demands and petitions shine a light on issues but they don’t in themselves drive decisions.”
“Our direct engagement with members of our community regarding issues is where solutions come from,” McGregor wrote.
“We remain steadfast and unwavering in our commitment to care for our community,” she wrote. “The University’s focus right now is providing care in all the ways that we can to Hisham and his family, and to all of our students, faculty and staff at Brown.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Story last updated Nov. 28 at 1:15 p.m.
Kathy Wang is the senior editor of community of The Brown Daily Herald's 134th Editorial Board. She previously covered student government and international student life as a University News editor. When she's not at The Herald, you can find her watching cooking videos or writing creative nonfiction.
Neil Mehta is the editor-in-chief and president of the Brown Daily Herald's 134th editorial board. They study public health and statistics at Brown. Outside the office, you can find Neil baking and playing Tetris.