Members of the Brown Divest Coalition confronted President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 on her response to protesters’ calls for divestment at a Monday meeting of the Brown University Community Council attended by roughly 40 community members.
In her opening report, Paxson highlighted a “rocky” atmosphere on campus precipitated by “what’s going on in the Middle East.”
On Feb. 2, 19 students began a hunger strike calling on the Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — to “hear and consider” a resolution to divest from companies “which profit from human rights abuses in Palestine.” On the morning of the BUCC meeting, members of the Brown Divest Coalition began court arraignments for trespassing charges following a Dec. 11 sit-in for divestment.
Paxson also expressed concern over instances of antisemitism on campus. On Feb. 11, an unidentified individual emailed violent threats to leaders of Brown-RISD Hillel, including “specific violent threats” to them, their families and Hillel’s Weiner Center building, The Herald previously reported. Police searches found “no imminent threat” within the building. “We have to take proactive steps to keep our community safe,” Paxson said at the council meeting.
Alongside the need to protect community members is the “need to protect academic freedom, … community building and civil discourse,” Paxson added. “People have listened to the congressional hearings that featured several of my colleagues at other universities. And a lot of the real questions are, where does free speech end and where does harassment begin?”
After an audience member questioned the University’s decision to not drop charges against the 41 students facing arraignment this week, Paxson said the arrests were a “hard decision.”
“You (have to) make it really clear to students that this is a choice,” Paxson said. “There’s a long history of civil rights activism where people willingly violate rules (and) the law, knowing what the consequences will be, and being willing to accept those consequences.”
Garrett Brand ’26, a BDC member facing arraignment Wednesday, asked about the Corporation’s lack of response to student protestors during the Feb. 9 demonstration.
“Students (tried) to have a difficult conversation and they were ignored,” he said. “We sat there on the top floor of the Watson while you all walked past and didn’t look at us.”
During a luncheon hosted for Corporation members following their Feb. 9 meeting, protesters repeatedly addressed members as they moved around the building and received no response, The Herald previously reported.
Responding to Brand’s comments, Paxson noted that she has met with “a wide range of students with very different views about different issues” since Oct. 7.
“I think there’s a difference between being listened to and having things go exactly the way you want all the time,” she added. “I’ve been really clear with everybody from the beginning … I don’t have to bring things forward to the Corporation, but I’ve said that I will.”
On Feb. 2, Paxson told protesters she “would not commit to bring a resolution” in front of the Corporation, suggesting protesters file a proposal with the Advisory Committee on University Resource Management.
BDC member Hanna Aboueid ’24 then asked, “why won’t you bring (the BDC’s divestment proposal) forward to the Corporation? It’s what students are demanding.”
Paxson responded, “Because the Corporation knows what the proposal is and they didn’t want to hear it … You asked to put something on the Corporation agenda. The answer from the Corporation was no.”
Paxson noted that ACURM traditionally hears divestment proposals before bringing its recommendations to the Office of the President.
For Brand, this formal mechanism is a way “that this University weaponizes bureaucracy to stifle student protest,” criticizing Paxson’s decision to reject a 2020 recommendation by the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies for the University divest from “companies identified as facilitating human rights violations in Palestine.”
Paxson previously declined to bring the ACCRIP recommendation to the Corporation, writing that she “found that the recommendation to divest still does not meet the standard as stated in the committee’s charge.”
During Friday’s protests, members of the Brown Divest Coalition handed out edited versions of the 2020 ACCRIP report to Corporation members.
For Brand, the formal process for divestment is too slow. He said that “by the time they got around to it … there might not be a Gaza.” He pointed to the Brown Divest Coalition’s revised report, which he says addresses Paxson’s concerns with the 2020 ACCRIP report.
Paxson urged students to go through official channels — like ACURM, which includes from student, faculty, staff and alum stakeholders — for more holistic input. “Rushing something forward … with no thorough vetting and no discussion would be unfair to others.”
Paxson concluded the meeting by encouraging the community to look ahead to information sessions on divestment for faculty and students later in the week.
The next BUCC meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 20.
Anisha Kumar is a section editor covering University Hall. She is a sophomore from Menlo Park, California concentrating in English and Political Science who loves speed-crosswording and rewatching sitcoms.
Tom Li is a Metro Editor covering the Health & Environment and Development & Infrastructure beats. 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.