A group of University alums published an open letter last week calling on the University, among other demands, to support a ceasefire in Gaza, grant amnesty to student protestors and divest from companies involved with Israel’s military. As of Wednesday evening, the letter received over 1,400 signatures.
The organization announced the open letter on the Instagram account @brownualumni4palestine. The account was created Nov. 9, one day after the arrest of 20 Jewish students who participated in a sit-in at University Hall. As of Wednesday evening, the alumni group comprises roughly 40 members.
On its Instagram account, the organization describes itself as “a diverse group of Brown University alums pushing for the university to use their power to stop Palestinian genocide.”
The alums were identified as a group due to concerns about safety and retribution.
The arrests have “raised serious, serious concerns about the University’s commitment to upholding democratic values and the right to peaceful protest,” the group told The Herald.
Group members told The Herald they aim to “advocate for ethical and principled actions by Brown University in response to the ongoing atrocities in Palestine” and “mobilize the Brown community around our collective responsibility to divest from the military-industrial complex.”
“This incident has highlighted the need for a thorough evaluation of the University’s leadership,” the group said. “These arrests set a dangerous precedent and go against Brown’s long-held tradition of campus activism.”
“We do not have a practice of responding indirectly, through news media or other channels, to matters expressed in online statements or demands,” wrote University Spokesperson Brian Clark in an email to The Herald. “Rather, we value direct dialogue and engagement with students, alumni, faculty and staff on matters of interest to the community.”
The group also started a letter-writing campaign for alums to write to the University, expressing their decisions to withhold donations for I Heart Brown Day — a 24-hour annual fundraising event contributing to the Brown Fund that occurred this Tuesday — until demands are met.
“We believe that we have to use our power to withhold financially from the university until they comply with our demands: to publicly condemn the ongoing genocide, to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, to review of the University’s investment portfolio, rectify excessive force against peaceful protesters and protect current students from retribution for speaking out against the ongoing atrocities,” the letter-writing campaign website reads.
Despite the group’s focus on I Heart Brown Day, the letter calls to withhold donations in general until the listed demands are met.
According to the University, 2,177 donors contributed to 2023’s I Heart Brown Day. In 2022, more than 3,500 donors participated, giving more than $3 million. The University's preliminary totals show that Brown collected roughly $2.5 million this year, including more than $1 million in online donations visible on the event's dashboard, Clark wrote in an email to The Herald.
As of publication time, over 1,100 have been sent to University mailboxes — including those of the Division of Advancement, the Brown Fund, the Office of Alumni Relations and President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20.
According to the group, at least 300 additional letters were sent outside of their platform.
“We are hearing daily from various community members, including alumni, regarding a full range of issues associated with the war in the Middle East and our students, including the protests and sit-in last week,” Clark wrote. “We continue to correspond and/or meet with members of our community about a range of questions and concerns as the situation continues to evolve on campus and globally.”
He added that priorities in their correspondence with alumni are “helping to clarify facts, explaining the ways in which we’re providing care and empathy to students and fostering open and respectful learning environments, and acknowledging that many members of the Brown community are feeling the effects of the events in Israel and Gaza in very deep and personal ways.”
Organizers and signers vary widely by age, profession and type of degree obtained at Brown, with signatories representing class years as early as 1977.
The group also motioned alums to express their decision to decline donations on social media platforms including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
“While current students have a more direct presence on campus, and can engage with the University through student organizations,” alums “have more financial leverage as well as networking positions that make Brown as exceptional as it is,” the group told The Herald.
The group plans to continue to stand in solidarity with Brown Students for Justice in Palestine, Palestine Solidarity Caucus and BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now, the group said.
“Collectively, we can make our university a more morally upright and ethically responsible institution, as we should,” the group told The Herald.
Clarification: A previous version of this article did not include the complete total the University received in gifts both online and through other channels in 2023's "I Heart Brown Day." The article has been updated.
Kathy Wang is a University News editor who oversees the student government and international student life beats. She is a junior from Beijing, China studying Nonfiction Writing and Comparative Literature. Growing up, she has changed her English name at least five times.