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Ouyang P’26, Rojas P’25, Garo P’24: Brown must drop charges against 41 student demonstrators

Editor’s note: this op-ed was signed by 17 parents of protestors arrested during a Dec. 11 sit-in at University Hall. The full list of signatories appears at the bottom of this op-ed.

We are concerned parents of Brown undergraduates who were among the 41 students arrested while holding a peaceful political demonstration in University Hall on Dec. 11, 2023. Brown has declined to drop charges against them. While we express no position on the issues underlying the protest, we respectfully request that the University address the students’ actions in a way that is consistent with Brown’s ethos of civic engagement by dropping the criminal charges and taking no severe disciplinary measures against them.

On Dec. 11 our children — Brown students — participated in peaceful, collective action that they believe reflects the University’s proud history of non-violent activism. They exercised their freedom of expression while avoiding property damage, discrimination or harassment. Their action was consistent with the request in President Christina Paxson’s P’19 P’MD’20 all-community letter, as it was “grounded in (Brown’s) mission of advancing knowledge and understanding within a caring and inclusive environment.” As parents, we feel let down by the University’s decision to pursue criminal charges against them for peacefully voicing their concerns.

The University encourages young people to think critically and to challenge conventional ideas. This diverse group of students decided to attend Brown — and we supported their decision — largely because of this reputation. Furthermore, Brown promotes its history of student protest as a significant part of its identity. The University Library website hosts an extensive virtual exhibit on the history of student protest on campus. Its introductory page presents the case for dropping criminal charges perfectly: “The smart and gifted leaders of tomorrow make efforts to change Brown and the world while they are here. … (A) reputation for activism sets Brown students and alumni apart.”

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As members of the Brown community, we agree. These students are “the smart and gifted leaders of tomorrow.” They foster positive change at Brown, in Providence, and worldwide, not only by peaceful protest, but also by actively assisting the unhoused, advocating for racial and environmental justice and participating in research, the arts and peer advising. They are the kind of students and community members both the University and we as parents encourage them to be. We are dismayed by the University’s overly punitive response that may hinder their future contributions to society. For example, many of the students aspire to become school teachers. In many states, an applicant for a teaching license must disclose a criminal record even if it has been expunged.

Finally, we are deeply concerned that our children face disparate treatment compared to the earlier group of twenty student protesters whose charges were dropped for a comparable protest by President Paxson, who cited “tensions on campus” as a motivating factor for dropping the charges. As parents who have put our trust in the University, we expect the consistent application of standards for our children — who represent diverse racial, ethnic, religious, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds — in accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act referenced in President Paxson’s all-community letter. We encourage her to similarly drop the charges against the 41 students who participated in the peaceful sit-in on Dec. 11.

We urge Brown to address internal dissent through dialogue rather than criminal prosecution. President Paxson’s position grants her significant influence over the University's response. We look to her leadership to ensure that our students' protest is addressed in a manner consistent with Brown University's legacy of justice, its dedication to fostering a caring and inclusive environment, and its recent decisions related to similar protests on campus.

We request a response and open dialogue from University administrators on this matter. We appreciate the consideration of our concerns and we eagerly await President Paxson’s response.

Signatories:

Quan Ouyang P’26, Rene Rojas P’25, Jason Garo P’24, Julia Bentley P’24, Desi Bradley P’25, Vince Bradley P’25, Li Cai P’24, Graciela Ensenat P’24, Kristina Garo P’24, Jun Hu P’24, Wan Ji P’24, Diana Ramirez-Baron P’26,P’27, Thomas Schaller P’24, George Theoharis P’24, Maribel Tineo P’25, Xiaojun Xu P’26 and Sarah Zhou P’25.

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