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Group of Brown University tour guides picket for coordinator dismissed following Slack message

Demonstrators previously organized strike, changed plans hours before rally

Up until less than an hour before the rally, demonstrators had intended to initiate a strike in support of an unfair labor practice complaint that Schaller submitted to a federal mediator last week.
Up until less than an hour before the rally, demonstrators had intended to initiate a strike in support of an unfair labor practice complaint that Schaller submitted to a federal mediator last week.

Roughly three dozen tour guides and 150 student supporters picketed on Waterman Street Friday afternoon in support of Janek Schaller ’24, a tour coordinator demoted from his role after making comments on a staff Slack channel.

Schaller was demoted from his position and prohibited from giving active tours last month after sending a Slack message in the channel #fun-tour-guides on Feb. 2, the first day of a week-long hunger strike in support of a divestment resolution.

In the message, Schaller explained plans from divestment demonstrators to disrupt tours and said he “cooperated with other organizers” to allow for “tour disruptions to happen in a safe and controlled manner.” Schaller verbally resigned four days later. 

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#fun-tour-guides
Janek Schaller: @channel Hi everyone -- by now, you have probably all learned that 19 students are engaged in an indefinite hunger strike to protest the University’s investment practices with regard to the situation in Palestine. As part of a week of coordinated actions leading up to the Corporation Meetings on February 8th and 9th, there are plans to disrupt Campus Tours. As someone who is actively involved in organizing on this front, I have cooperated with other organizers to allow for tour disruptions to happen in a safe and controlled manner that does not target any members of the guiding community. Possible disruptive actions include passing out flyers, silent demonstration along the tour route, and postering. All of these tactics are directed primarily at prospective students and their families -- in essence, it is an attempt to both raise awareness on the issue generally but also to leverage pressure on Brown administrators via the potential impressions visitors to campus might form of the institution.

I wanted to reach out to you all to make a few things clear. First: anyone scheduled to scheduled to give tours next week is more than welcome to ask Emily and me for a sub -- we don’t want anyone to feel as though they have to occupy their roles as public-facing employees of the University at a time when tensions are running high and many students are feeling considerable resentment towards their institution. We also recognize that giving a tour while actions are taking place is not something that everyone feels comfortable doing, and that is totally valid, too. For all of you who have struggled to reconcile personal and shared identities with everything going on in the world and on campus right now, we want to give you leave to take the time you need -- this week, and at any point in the rest of the semester. Second: if the current situation on campus makes you feel like your role as a representative of our student body is more important than ever, we are prepared to support you unequivocally as you give tours over the course of the coming days. The reason I’m writing in this channel is because it is Emily and my well-considered opinion that tour guides should always feel empowered to address events going on on campus, particularly at a time like this, but we wanted to exercise some pragmatism in discussing this with all of you. That being said, if you want to give a tour this week, we will back you up, all the way.

We are so grateful for each and every one of you, and know that we know how firmly you believe in the importance of being ambassadors for this school. That ambassadorship might look a little different for you know, and whether that means you need to take a step back, or you’d like to take a step up, we are here for you. We’ll be reaching out individually to everyone scheduled to give a tour next week to see how you’re feeling, but if you’re not on the schedule and you know that you’d be happy to give a tour if needed, please reach out to us.

Much love,
Janek
Feb. 2, 4:20 PM • ❤️ 17

The Slack message sent by Janek Schaller '24 to tour guides.

Logan Powell, Brown’s associate provost for enrollment and dean of undergraduate admission, said he cannot comment on “individual, confidential employment matters.” 

"We are supportive of all of our tour guides and want to provide them with the time, space and safety they need in their roles as campus ambassadors,” he wrote. “We are committed to a positive and productive partnership with the tour guides within the framework of University values and policies.”

Organizers announced the Friday demonstration at the end of a rally for International Working Women’s Day that was hosted by the Graduate Labor Organization’s Palestine Solidarity Caucus on the Main Green at noon.

Up until less than an hour before the rally, demonstrators had intended to initiate a strike in support of an unfair labor practice complaint that Schaller submitted to a federal mediator last week. According to a March 7 press release by organizers, “a majority of Brown University student tour guides” — 37 of the 71 actively on payroll — were originally planning to participate in the strike, which would have involved a picket on Waterman St from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily during the work week.

Organizers spent weeks gauging support among tour guides before reaching a “critical mass” of 37 tour guides committing to strike on Feb. 27.

But organizers decided to postpone the strike, instead waiting for a town hall hosted by the Admissions Office on Thursday March 7, according to Caroline Sassan ’24, one of the organizing tour guides.

After the town hall, which Powell described at "honest and thoughtful," the organizers reached out to the individuals who had previously committed to a strike, but were unable to confirm that they still had majority support, according to tour guide John Bellaire ‘25.

"The floor was open to discuss any topic, and we expressed our commitment to listen, build community, and chart a clear path forward," Powell wrote in an email to The Herald describing the town hall. "Tour guides are faced with a number of difficult questions and we spent considerable time discussing how to be honest, authentic and positive. As campus ambassadors, we place a great deal of trust in the tour guides and they do a wonderful job representing Brown.”

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The demonstrating tour guides called on the Office of College Admissions, the department that oversees campus tours, to reinstate Schaller to his former role. They also alleged that dismissing him for his comments on Slack constitutes an unfair labor practice.

In a Feb. 8 email shared by organizers and reviewed by The Herald, Powell wrote to Schaller that his Slack message “caused considerable distress” and that the Admissions Office “made the decision to shift your tour coordinator duties to other staff in College Admission.” In his email to Schaller, Powell also acknowledged that Schaller had verbally resigned on Feb. 6. 

In a March 4 letter addressed to Powell and the Admissions Office, demonstrators also demanded that the Admissions Office commit to a meeting by March 22 in order to conduct “collective negotiations on codified policy regarding free speech protections.” 

The demand follows an email from the Admissions Office sent Feb. 23 to tour guides outlining guidelines for conduct during tours. 

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In the email, which was reviewed by The Herald, a representative from the Admissions Office wrote that “sharing your individualized negative experiences is not part of the mission or purpose of the tours.” The letter  also called on the Admissions Office to revoke this statement.

Demonstrators also called on the University to bring to the Corporation a 2020 ACCRIP report which recommended Brown divest from companies that facilitate the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory,” or a revised “critical edition” created by the campus group Brown Divest Coalition.

President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 previously declined to present the report directly to the Brown Corporation, instead directing protestors to the Advisory Committee on University Resource Management, which considers divestment proposals. Paxson pledged to “fast track” the Brown Divest Coalition’s proposal in an interview with The Herald last month.

For Sassan, participating in the demonstration is part of her role as a campus ambassador. “If you want us to keep talking about this school, we won’t do that in a very one-sided way,” she said. “You’re going to have to listen to what we have to say, too.” 

During the demonstration, Schaller said he’ll “never give another” tour. For him, tour guides should share “unvarnished truth for the benefit of prospective students.” 

The rally was supported by the Graduate Labor Organization, Teaching Assistants Labor Organization, Palestine Solidarity Caucus, Third World Labor Organization and Brown Divest Coalition. 

This story was updated on March 8 at 6:13 p.m. with additional comment.


Dana Richie

​​Dana Richie is a senior staff writer for Arts and Culture and the photo chief. She enjoys using multiple forms of media to capture peoples’ stories and quirks. In her free time, she loves knitting, learning about local history and playing ultimate frisbee.



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