Friday afternoon, Brown students have announced plans to walk out of classes for a third time in a month criticizing the arrest of 20 students who sat in at University Hall in addition to calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and divestment.
Brown Students for Justice in Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Caucus announced that the event — “Divest not Arrest” — will meet up with a larger protest of Textron, a $12.9 billion, multi-industry company involved in defense manufacturing.
In recent weeks, activists have called attention to Textron’s connection with the Rhode Island School of Design. On Nov. 9, students from the Rhode Island School of Design joined local community organizers in a pro-Palestine protest at the Textron world headquarters in downtown Providence. Demonstrators called for RISD to cut ties with defense manufacturer Textron, The Herald previously reported.
Textron is a multi-billion dollar company that works with the U.S. Department of Defense, various militaries and numerous commercial customers. The Israeli Air Force arsenal currently includes aircraft manufactured by Textron subsidiaries Bell and Beechcraft.
On Nov. 12, RISD Students for Justice in Palestine released an open letter demanding that the school “divest from Textron” — but while the school does have financial connections with Textron, RISD’s endowment is not invested in the company.
“RISD is not an investor in Textron,” Danielle Mancuso, associate director of public relations for RISD, wrote in an email to The Herald. Financial ties between Textron and RISD have consisted solely of Textron’s contributions to the school. According to RISD’s website, “Textron’s strong ties with RISD have endured over many decades.”
In 1944, RISD “received a gift from Atlantic Rayon, a textiles company that would later be renamed Textron,” Mancuso wrote. “This gift was used to establish an endowed fund for scholarships, which we continue to draw from today to support students doing textile or design work.”
Atlantic Rayon founder Royal Little donated this gift of $100 to the school to support further study of textiles. The gift, made by Little in his personal capacity, preceded the establishment of the endowed fund, known as the Rayon Foundation Trust.
The trust has grown to provide RISD with $7.3 million in quarterly distributions, according to RISD’s website. At the trust’s maturity, it held close to $19.9 million in value, amounting to a cumulative donation of $28 million, which “represents one of the most generous gifts ever by an individual to an art and design school.”
Mancuso declined to share additional information about how RISD has used money from the trust.
“The Rayon Foundation was not affiliated with Textron,” wrote Textron Spokesperson Michael Maynard in an email to The Herald. “It was started by Textron’s founder Royal Little but he started this as an individual.”
Outside of Little’s endowed fund, Textron itself has contributed to an assortment of “scholarships, fellowships and studios” at RISD.
A 2019 RISD Museum exhibition, “Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1850-1970,” was supported by Textron alongside other community organizations. The exhibition included over 1,000 pieces of silver manufactured by Gorham Manufacturing Company and donated by Textron.
Through affiliated individuals, Textron has also contributed various gifts to the RISD Special Collections, including five volumes of Leonardo da Vinci’s Madrid Codices.
“Separately, Textron gives $10,000 in grants per year to assist students with expenses related to unpaid internships,” Mancuso wrote. The RISD Undergraduate Internship Grants award $3,000 grants to undergraduates engaged in internships that “employ creative thinking to solve problems, drive economic development or address social issues.”
“From 2013 through 2022, the (Textron Charitable) Trust provided grants to the RISD Summer Fellowship program,” Maynard wrote. “Like any other organization, RISD is welcome to apply for grants for specific programs.”
The Textron Charitable Trust also facilitates the Textron Matching Gift program, which Maynard explains as “a benefit in which employees may request a company ‘match’ of their personal contributions to any qualified (nonprofit) organizations.”
Through that program, Textron has provided additional funding to RISD, including in 2019. The program has also matched donations to other schools, including Roger Williams University, Providence College and Yale.
Tom Li is a senior staff writer covering environment and crime & justice. He is from Pleasanton, California, and is concentrating in Economics, International & Public Affairs and French & Francophone Studies. He is an avid RIPTA enthusiast and enjoys taking (and criticizing) personality tests in his free time.