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Editorial: Disciplinary action should not be a response to protest

The Nov. 8 arrests of 20 students affiliated with Jews for Ceasefire Now jolted campus. After occupying part of University Hall for about 30 minutes past its operating hours, the students were repeatedly warned to leave and ultimately arrested. Their demands include divestment of the University’s endowment based on a 2020 recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies, which calls for divestment from “any company that profits from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.” They also called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The University should exercise enormous caution in how it handles this situation — it has already damaged its reputation with community members. It doesn’t need to strain its relationship even further. The arrested protesters should not face University discipline. Undertaking disciplinary processes would dampen future student activism and misguidedly enforce Brown’s regulatory power over students.

The University appears to be moving forward with pressing legal charges at its Nov. 28 court date. The most likely outcomes seem to be either dismissal or filing of the counts — where the charges appear for a probationary period before being expunged. Dismissal would require an apology of some kind, which is reasonably unlikely given the nature of the protest. Thus, we can probably expect some sort of legal repercussions for the protesters’ actions.

Important to note is the nature of civil disobedience. Actions like sit-ins necessarily cross legal boundaries to bring attention to an issue and deliver results. Legal ramifications are common for protesters engaging in this type of activism — JCFN protesters knew what they were getting themselves into. Student protesters have been arrested at Brown: the 1992 need-blind admission University Hall sit-in led to the arrests of 253 students. Other past protests resulted, variously, in negotiations between University officials and students, student disenrollment and implicit University permission to stay put. 

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In situations like this, university administrations generally have discretion in their initial response. Comparing pro-Palestine Brown students’ experiences to those at peer institutions is useful. Harvard’s administration neither arrested nor negotiated with students who occupied an administrative building for 24 hours before voluntarily leaving. Penn’s administration, despite initially threatening to arrest students occupying a student union building, has let up and allowed them to remain inside for seven days. Stanford’s administration has allowed students to sleep on one of its campus plazas for weeks. Brown has taken a harder line. The arrests should be the beginning and the end of that philosophy. Brown didn’t have to arrest the students, and its responses going forward shouldn’t be as punitive. 

Concerningly, the University has left the door open to potential disciplinary action. We urge them not to exercise that power. Student conduct processes should be reserved for matters where clear harm has occurred. 20 students protesting half an hour past a building’s closing without causing property damage or other harm does not rise to the level of significant misconduct. The protesters will likely end up facing legal consequences — Brown should not amplify their punishment internally.

This is an incredibly turbulent time. Nationwide, students face hate, harassment and doxxing for their views and identities — all completely unacceptable. Brown needs to ensure there’s room on this campus for disagreement, and yes, protest. Disciplinary actions like probation, suspension and expulsion should not be the outcome of this eruption of activism. Protest has long been part of the educational experience of this college. As Brown students, we have raised our voices for decades and decades. Extending academic discipline would be a misguided and unnecessary attempt at punishing these students for raising theirs.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board and aim to contribute informed opinions to campus debates while remaining mindful of the group’s past stances. The editorial page board and its views are separate from The Herald’s newsroom and the 133rd Editorial Board, which leads the paper. This editorial was written by the editorial page board’s editors Kate Waisel ’24 and Devan Paul ’24, as well as its members Alissa Simon ’25, Rachel Thomas ’25, Yael Wellisch ’25 and Paulie Malherbe ’26.

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