This story is part of The Herald's coverage capturing community reactions to the University Hall sit-in on Nov. 8. To read more coverage, click here.
Last week, over 160 faculty signatories called for President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 to urge lawmakers to support a ceasefire in Israel-Palestine in addition to affirming academic freedom. Paxson discussed these demands with faculty members on Tuesday, asserting the University’s support for academic freedom and stating that there is no “Palestine exception” to free expression, though she declined to comment on calls for a ceasefire.
Wednesday evening, after The Herald published the initial faculty letter addressed to Paxson, University community members witnessed the arrests of 20 students part of BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now, who staged a sit-in at University Hall following a campus-wide walkout organized by Students for Justice in Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Caucus. The 20 students arrested refused to willingly leave University Hall until Paxson committed to supporting “a divestment resolution in the next meeting of the Brown Corporation,” The Herald previously reported.
The students who participated in the sit-in have been charged with trespassing and have an expected court date set for Nov. 28.
On Thursday, faculty members held an emergency meeting to plan a course of action in light of Wednesday’s events. At this meeting, faculty met with representatives from Jews for Ceasefire Now, several faculty members told The Herald. Jews for Ceasefire Now declined to confirm their presence at the meeting.
“The main spirit of discussion was to find ways to support our students,” Yannis Hamilakis, professor of archeology and modern Greek studies, said in an interview with The Herald.
After Thursday’s meeting, over 190 faculty members signed off on a second letter sent to Paxson which called on the University “to insist that all legal charges against the students be dropped immediately, to exempt the students from any University disciplinary proceedings (and) to open a campus-wide conversation that engages seriously with the students' demands.”
Nadje Al-Ali, director of the Center of Middle East Studies, presented the second letter to Paxson Friday at a meeting originally scheduled to discuss the first letter.
Several faculty members also met with Paxson Monday to discuss the second letter in support of Jews for Ceasefire Now.
Associate Professor of History Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar said she believes Paxson “listened to what the faculty had to say,” adding that faculty will “see what will unfold from” the meetings.
The Herald spoke with multiple faculty members about their reactions to Wednesday’s events.
‘Incredibly moved and incredibly inspired’
Al-Ali said she arrived on campus as soon as she heard about the arrests. She was “shocked” at the police presence, she said.
Al-Ali described feeling “incredibly moved and incredibly inspired” when she saw hundreds of spectating students singing a song in Hebrew while standing in solidarity with the students being arrested. “In its horror, it had beauty as well,” she said.
“Police walking out handcuffed students who protested peacefully, nonviolently, beautifully, singing songs and giving statements — how did we get to this?” Al-Ali recalled thinking.
Zamindar, who signed both faculty letters, said she was “deeply moved by the courage of the students,” particularly those affected by Wednesday’s arrests.
She said that the events of Wednesday night were an example of “civil disobedience,” which she noted has a long history at Brown.
Andre Willis, associate professor of religious studies, wrote in an email to The Herald that he felt the arrests “left a chilling effect on (the University) community.” Willis also signed both faculty letters.
“I experienced the peaceful sit-in … as an eloquent expression of solidarity, a veritable workshop of grace and a virtuous enactment that reflected the best of what we can say and do in the world: To ‘build this world from love,’” Willis wrote, echoing the words sung by the students gathered outside University Hall Wednesday.
‘A new kind of solidarity’
Multiple faculty members expressed that they hope a larger dialogue can be started on campus around the demands made by student groups like Jews for Ceasefire Now.
“We have an opportunity at Brown to be the kind of place that brings people together to have difficult conversations. … We can model a new kind of solidarity,” Zamindar said, citing the events of Wednesday as an example of such solidarity.
To Zamindar, academic freedom entails “a basis for thinking not simply from the demands of business as usual … but to also be able to reflect, debate and consider.”
The arrests on Wednesday complicated Paxson’s stated support of academic freedom from Tuesday’s faculty meeting, several faculty members noted.
“Many of us were encouraged by her remarks saying that there is no ‘Palestine exception,’” Hamilakis said. “In terms of the principle of academic freedom, these were important remarks.”
“To have the arrests (a day) after was surprising,” he added, noting that there was “a sense of bewilderment and disappointment” among community members.
Willis wrote that he hopes the Brown community can come together and move forward following the arrests.
“To repair this damage and help our community heal requires thoughtful, sensitive responses, from the heart and soul of the best of Brown's visionary intellectual leaders, not a technocratic, managerial response,” he wrote. “Brown is an institution that can be creative in the execution of rules towards ends.”
“Wise flexibility and courageous vision will help us move together towards a greater trust so that we can join, again, to raise our voices in solidarity against violence.”
Additional reporting by Owen Dahlkamp and Sam Levine
Anisha Kumar is a senior staff writer covering Graduate Student Life. She is from Menlo Park, California, and enjoys doing crossword puzzles in her free time.
Ryan Doherty is a senior staff writer covering faculty, higher education and science & research. He is a sophomore concentrating in chemistry and history who likes to partially complete crosswords in his free time.