Welcome back to the Bruno Brief. I’m Finn Kirkpatrick, podcast editor and arts and culture editor. On this week’s episode, we spoke with section editors Haley Sandlow and Sam Levine about their coverage of BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now’s sit-in at University Hall on Wednesday and their subsequent arrests later that night.
On Wednesday evening, the Department of Public Safety arrested 20 Jewish students who began a sit-in at University Hall that afternoon. The students had refused to willingly leave the building until President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 publicly supported a ceasefire in Gaza and committed to “include and support a divestment resolution in the next meeting of the Brown Corporation,” according to demands the group posted on Instagram.
The demands specifically called for the resolution to be based on a 2020 report from the University's Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies recommending that the University divest from “any company that profits from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.”
At a Tuesday faculty meeting, Paxson declined to make a public statement in response to a letter signed by over 160 faculty urging the University’s administration, also calling for a ceasefire. Paxson’s response follows multiple student demonstrations in response to Israel’s ongoing retaliation — including airstrikes, a ground invasion and an escalated blockade — to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks. These demonstrations have called on the University to demand a ceasefire and divest its endowment from companies they claim are enabling war crimes in Gaza.
Over the last month, students and community members have also held vigils and built public installations to process the escalation in violence, including an empty Shabbat table set up at Brown-RISD Hillel last week to represent the estimated 242 hostages that were captured by Hamas on Oct. 7.
So, Sam, what happened on Wednesday? How did the walkout, and eventually the sit-in, start?
So Wednesday’s events began when over 400 students and community members gathered on the Main Green in a walkout that was organized by Brown Students for Justice in Palestine. The walkout was actually the second that SJP has held in the past two weeks and was centered around the same set of demands, which urge the University to call on Rhode Island’s federal lawmakers to support ceasefire legislation, to protect students and faculty advocating for Palestine and to divest the endowment from companies that are affiliated with Israel and the military-industrial complex.
The protestors first gathered outside the campus center to hear speeches before starting to circle University Hall, which is home to Brown’s administrative offices, including Paxson’s office. Soon after, the attendees gathered in front of University Hall, and organizers with BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now, a new student group, announced their sit-in, which at that point was already under way. The group posted on Instagram that they would “not leave University Hall until President Christina Paxson publicly commits to include and support a divestment resolution in the next meeting of the Brown Corporation.”
Organizers also live-streamed part of the sit-in and claimed that they were told by a University administrator that Paxson would not change her stance on divestment. The Herald was not able to immediately, independently verify this claim.
And can you talk a little bit about how the sit-in ended?
So, according to University Spokesperson Brian Clark, the students were told repeatedly that they were not allowed to remain in the building after it closed at 5 p.m. and that they would face “disciplinary action,” as well as a trespassing charge, if they chose not to leave.
Eventually, around 5:45 p.m., the Department of Public Safety began arresting the students participating in the sit-in and transferred them into Providence Police custody, where they were taken for processing downtown.
Clark told The Herald that the students were offered “every opportunity for a different outcome” and that the University issued “multiple trespass warnings” before the arrests were made. He added that the student’s presence in the building after operating hours posed “security concerns.”
And Haley, what was that scene like?
So after the initial walkout, there was a crowd that remained outside of University Hall of students expressing their support and solidarity with the students participating in sit in. They called it an informal gathering or a camp-out. And throughout the afternoon, they sang Jewish songs and prayers. So that crowd fluctuated in size throughout the afternoon, and then organizers issued a call for students to again join them late in the afternoon outside of the building. And then in the early evening, police began entering University Hall and hundreds of students were singing. They were singing songs and phrases. One of them was “ceasefire now, divestment now.”
When it became clear that students were being escorted from the back of University Hall, through the Quiet Green to the Van Wickle Gates and the Providence Police vans that were waiting on the street there, the crowd coalesced there, lined up along the path from the building to the gates. Students were recording the events on their phones. It was dark at that point, and so there were hundreds of flashlights shining, and they were singing “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” which is a song that translates to the world is built on kindness, and is sometimes heard in Jewish spaces of prayer or services. The rest of the students joined the crowd in singing as they were walking through the Quiet Green and continued to sing even when they sat in Providence Police vans.
Is there a precedent for student sit-ins at University Hall?
So, yes, there is. This isn't the first time that students have entered University Hall with a list of demands, sitting in as a form of activism. The Brown Daily Herald has reported on a couple of these protests. So in 1975, there were 40 students from the Third World Coalition who occupied University Hall for 38 hours, and they were protesting the university's limited matriculation and recruitment of non-white students and faculty. That sit-in eventually ended in negotiations with the University. And a finalized agreement which The Herald reported, included a commitment from Brown to increase the number of black and Latinx students applying and being admitted to the University. And then a little bit more recently, in 1992, Students for Aid and Minority Admission also occupied University Hall. They were calling for the University to partake in need blind admissions. We reported that all three floors of the building had been occupied. And at the end of it, 253 students were arrested and charged with five criminal counts.
And what happens next for the students who participated in this week’s sit-in?
So, the arrested students were released that same night from police custody, and organizers told The Herald that they have an expected court date on Nov. 28 on charges of willful trespassing. Beyond that, we will have to see.
Sam and Haley, thanks so much for coming on.
Thanks so much for having us.
Thank you for having us.
Now here is a recap of other important stories from last week.
On Thursday, Rhode Island School of Design students and other local community organizations protested Textron, a multi-industry company involved in defense manufacturing, as part of a national walkout for Palestine. Approximately 100 students and community members rallied in front of the company’s headquarters on Westminster Street, carrying signs with slogans like “Textron supports genocide.”
In other news, from Nov. 3 to 5, Sunrise Brown hosted the inaugural College Climate Gathering, with over 160 students from over 40 universities attending workshops and panels on campus climate organizing. Sunrise Brown stated that the event aimed to build solidarity and connections among college climate organizers while addressing the loss of institutional knowledge around organizing from the pandemic.
Finally, last Friday, RISD celebrated the five-year anniversary of the mural “Still Here” in downtown Providence, which aims to serve as a representation of local Indigenous communities. Lynsea Montanari, the subject of the mural, expressed her hopes that the mural remains a source of visibility for local Indigenous people.
Thanks again for tuning into the ninth episode of this season of the Bruno Brief. This episode was produced by me, Finn Kirkpatrick and Jacob Smollen. If you like what you hear, subscribe to The Bruno Brief wherever you get your podcasts and leave a review.
And be sure to check out our other special series, “On The Green,” and “Pandas On Ice,” which is releasing next week.
Thanks for listening. We'll see you next week.
Denzel Sprak: https://app.sessions.blue/browse/track/203142