Welcome back to the Bruno Brief, I’m Amanda Sun, podcast producer and contributing writer. On this week’s episode, we spoke with Neil Mehta and Kathy Wang, University News editors, about their reporting on Monday night’s vigil for Hisham Awartani ’25 — a Palestinian student from Brown who was shot in Vermont in what police have described as a possible hate crime — and the protests which ensued after President Christina Paxson took the podium.
Last Saturday, Awartani was shot along with his friends Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, both also Palestinian college students, in Burlington, Vermont. All three students are expected to survive, and currently, the police and FBI are investigating whether the incident was a hate crime.
At Monday night’s vigil, which about 400 community members attended, Paxson condemned the violence. After telling community members that quote “we are powerless to do everything we’d like to do,” protestors interrupted her remarks, chanting “Brown divest” and booing, compelling her to leave the lectern before she finished her speech. Another speaker, Professor of Palestinian Studies Beshara Doumani, read a message from Awartani to the crowd and reiterated the protestors’ demands.
So Neil, can you talk about what happened in Vermont?
On Saturday, three college students including a junior at Brown, all of whom are Palestinian, were shot in the city of Burlington in Vermont. On Sunday, a suspect in the shooting was arrested and is currently being held without bail. That suspect pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder. None of the three students were killed, but the Brown University undergraduate, Hisham, is currently in the hospital. The FBI launched an investigation into whether the shooting was a hate crime. Following the shooting, President Christina Paxson sent an email out to the Brown community, calling for a vigil on the Main Green.
And Neil, what happened at the vigil on Monday night?
At the vigil, Paxson began speaking to some of the broader context surrounding violence against Palestinian people. And she said, “we can't disentangle what happened to Hisham from the broader events in Israel and Palestine that sadly we have been dealing with for decades. After that, she described the University as “powerless to do everything we'd like to do when it comes to events happening across the country.” After that statement, students in the crowd began chanting “Brown divest” and “shame on you,” and booing in response to her statement. So, from that moment forward, students began protesting, and some students ascended Faunce and out of the Faunce building held a banner saying “Brown invests in the Palestinian genocide.” So Paxson left, the lectern, and the vigil continued.
Who spoke? What did they say?
So CPax wasn't the only speaker at the vigil. There were some of Hisham’s peers and other community members. One was Beshara Doumani, who's a professor of history at the University. And when he ascended the lectern on the Main Green, he read out a statement that Hisham sent him via text. In the statement, Hisham said, “had I been shot in the West Bank where I grew up, the medical services that saved my life here, would likely have been withheld by the Israeli army.” The statement was met with approval from many members of the crowd. And cheers.
So during the vigil, a friend of Hisham spoke, and the friend shared what kind of a person Hisham is, that he has a talent for archaeology, he's a math genius, he also is a polyglot. He is a person that's intensely focused on others who always cares for others.
And what was the scene like at the vigil?
So, there were hundreds of community members, mostly students that stood in a semi-circle around the Faunce steps just before the sun began setting on the Main Green. After the official vigil ended and students began chanting for Brown to divest, into the evening, the students formed a crowd that shifted toward University Hall where President Christina Paxson presumably was after the vigil.
Now here is a recap of other important stories happening this week.
On Monday, the University requested that Providence’s City Solicitor’s office drop the charges against the 20 Jewish students who were arrested in the sit-in at University Hall earlier this month on charges of willful trespass. The arrests drew criticism from student organizations, faculty and alumni alike, and President Paxson noted that the motivation behind the decision to drop charges was to get “the campus to focus on things that are important to us right now.”
In other news, the University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture on Feb. 15 will feature a speech from Sherrilyn Ifill, former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Ifill, who has worked in civil rights law and academia, was recognized one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2021, in part due to her advocacy related to police violence and systemic violence.
Lastly, the University’s annual financial report for the 2023 fiscal year showed a 2.2% increase in its net assets, which are valued at $7.7 billion. The report findings indicate that this increase was driven by gifts to the endowment and capital projects, as well as investment returns.
Thanks again for tuning into the 11th episode of this season of the Bruno Brief. This episode was produced by me, Amanda Sun, Jacob Smollen and Finn Kirkpatrick, edited by Finn Kirkpatrick, Jannu Ramesh, and Christine Okulo, and scripted by Grace Hu. If you like what you hear, subscribe to The Bruno Brief wherever you get your podcasts and leave a review. Thanks for listening this semester. We’ll see you in 2024.
Denzel Sprak: https://app.sessions.blue/browse/track/203142