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Faculty letter in support of BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now

Editors’ Note: This letter was originally sent to President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD20 on Nov. 9, 2023, with additional signatories who opted not to make their names public. 

We, the undersigned, are writing in response to the events that took place on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 8, when 20 undergraduate students from the group BrownU Jews For Ceasefire Now were arrested and detained by Providence police at the instruction of the University following a sit-in at University Hall. We are deeply dismayed by the decision to have the students arrested, and we call upon our University leadership to engage with the deeper stakes and matters of conscience that our students have sought to foreground at this difficult time. Specifically, we call on the University:

1. To insist that all legal charges against the students be dropped immediately
2. To exempt the students from any University disciplinary proceedings
3. To open a campus-wide conversation that engages seriously with the students' demands.

In the statement that you shared with Brown faculty on Nov. 7, you emphasized your commitment to “ensure that individual members of the community are free to voice their views, including using their voices to urge lawmakers or other universities to take specific actions or, more generally, express their beliefs on matters of conscience,” adding that these are “the rights that freedom of expression guarantees.” We agree wholeheartedly, and would further note that freedom of expression is not restricted to speech but includes the right to protest and to perform civil disobedience. The students in question undertook a peaceful act of civil disobedience, following a time-honored American tradition. Protest in the form of sit-ins is a vital part of the legacy of Brown University, of which we can all be proud. Brown’s most important historic commitments, including the increased matriculation of students of color in 1975, partial divestment of $4.6 million of holdings from corporations “aiding South African racism” in 1984-85, need-blind admissions in 1992 and our signature Open Curriculum, emerged partly as outcomes of such sit-ins and occupations by which students “express(ed) their beliefs on matters of conscience.”

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As each student was led out handcuffed from University Hall, they were greeted by hundreds of students — Jewish, Arab, Black, Hispanic and many others — singing prayers and songs of solidarity in Hebrew. Many were watching the livestream of this event and sharing videos that have now received tens of thousands of views nationally and internationally. At a time when peer universities are experiencing unparalleled levels of conflict, tension and toxicity, Brown’s students enacted on Nov. 8 the kind of moral courage and peaceful solidarity that we at Brown have historically cultivated and defended. Their action illustrates dramatically that Brown has a singular history and legacy.

In your opinion piece in the New York Times on April 21, 2023 defending free expression as the “bedrock principle of this country,” you wrote of college campuses as “a place for controversial issues and emerging ideas to be taught, discussed and debated.” You wrote, stirringly, that the “proponents of censorship and repression” who had through history repressed such views as those of Galileo, Darwin or those accused of Communist leanings during the McCarthy era, “all had one thing in common: they were on the wrong side of history.” As we all know, the movement of history is one in which views deemed marginal or unpopular gather the moral or evidentiary force to become collectively held commitments. We join the people of the world (as represented by the majority vote in the United Nations General Assembly and protests across the globe) in affirming that a ceasefire is not a radical thing to ask for but the very minimum that the world should ensure — a call to stop the killing and to give the bereaved the time to bury and mourn the dead.

The next few weeks are likely to continue to be very difficult, both in terms of the suffering wrought by the war in Gaza, as well as the continued clashing of viewpoints on the situation. Please let what happened yesterday at University Hall be not a crisis but an opportunity for Brown to show its moral leadership and to provide a model for how a community may come together and what it may thoughtfully do. 

We call on you, Madam President, to lead the way in proactively initiating a conversation on the important issues raised by the BrownU Jews For Ceasefire students: the call for a ceasefire in Gaza, the active and explicit protection of students’ and faculty’s right to speak up for Palestinian rights and the call to reopen discussion on divestment, starting from the basis of the 2020 ACCRIP recommendation on this subject. We note that Yale University is reconsidering its own policies regarding investments in weapons manufacturing companies following student protests.

Once again, we call expressly on the University:

1. To insist that all legal charges against the students be dropped immediately
2. To exempt the students from any University disciplinary proceedings
3. To open a campus-wide conversation that engages seriously with the students' demands, which are in line with our educational mission and our collective commitment to "liberation and life for all," as described in a Nov. 8 open letter from Jewish students in the Brown Daily Herald.  

We urge you to exercise thoughtful, moral leadership at this critical time, Madam President, and thus enable Brown University to be on the right side of history.

Sincerely, 

Nadje Al-Ali, Department of Anthropology, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and Center for Middle East Studies

Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Departments of Modern Culture and Media & Comparative Literature

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Anthony Bogues, Simmons Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice

Beshara Doumani, Department of History

Elias Muhanna, Departments of Comparative Literature and History

Matthew Shenoda, Department of Literary Arts and Brown Arts Institute

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Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, Departments of Comparative Literature and Italian Studies

Thangam Ravindranathan, Department of French and Francophone Studies

Vazira Zamindar, Department of History

To see a full list of signatories, click here

Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.



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