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RISD students occupy and barricade building, calling for disaffiliation from Israel

Organizers demand fiscal transparency, “holistic divestment,” establishment of a student oversight committee on investments, public condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza

A group of 21 students at the Rhode Island School of Design announced an indefinite “building occupation”  on the first floor of 20 Washington Place Building, the administrative building better known as Prov-Wash. 

At around 7:00 p.m. student protestors barricaded entrances to the second floor with tables and chairs. RISD Department of Public Safety officers cleared out visitors not affiliated with the sit-in and stationed protest marshals at each door. At that time, crowds outside Prov-Wash — which hosts several of RISD’s administrative offices, including RISD President Crystal Williams’ office — grew to approximately 100 community members while the occupation grew to 24 participants. RSJP spokesperson Luca Colannino said the rally will continue indefinitely alongside the sit-in. 

In a press release, RISD Students for Justice in Palestine — which organized the demonstration — wrote that they would not leave the building until Williams met demands for fiscal transparency around investments, “holistic” divestment from groups involved with “sustaining Israel Apartheid,” establishing a student oversight committee on investments, and publicly condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza as a genocide. 

The sit-in comes after five days of indefinite strike from classes at the arts school.


In a statement to The Herald, RISD Senior Director of Public Relations Jaime Marland wrote in response to the sit-in that RISD continues “to affirm our students’ right to freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and peaceful assembly. RISD condemns violence and injustice, and we decry antisemitism, Islamophobia and all forms of hate. The wellbeing of all of our students has been and remains our top priority, and we continue to support all members of our community.”

Marland did not respond to specific questions about whether RISD would potentially call police to the sit-in, but referenced RISD’s stance on police presence as outlined in an April 26 letter from Williams to the RISD community.

In that letter, Williams wrote, “there is no moment when I, as your president, want to see police action taken against students who are peacefully protesting.” Referring to an April 26 rally, she said that “If you see Providence Police today, be assured that we did not request their presence. If they are present, their aim is to protect the peace.”

At a 6:30 p.m. “emergency rally,” organizers announced that they will refer to Prov-Wash as Fathi Ghaben Place, named for a Palestinian artist who passed away in February due to health complications exacerbated by his inability to leave Gaza, according to demonstrators. 

Sit-in participants attached a banner above the building’s main entrance that reads “Disclose, Divest, Defend Gaza.”

The renaming follows similar pro-Palestine demonstrations at Columbia, where protestors renamed Hamilton Hall to Hind’s Hall in honor of Hind Rajab, a 6-year-old Palestinian girl who was killed in the Israel-Hamas war.

“The sit-in comes after starting the strike on May Day where we released our demands to the administration and ahead of the Cabinet meeting occurring on Tuesday May 7,” Colannino wrote in an email to The Herald. He clarified in a later statement that RSJP has not yet been made aware of a meeting time with the RISD administration. 

Colannino wrote that the strike follows in the legacy of a 2013 sit-in for divestment from fossil fuels and is “in solidarity with the hundreds of students around the globe who are occupying and reclaiming their own institutional centers.” 

As previously reported by The Herald, more than 300 RISD students, faculty and Providence community members attended a rally at the start of the academic strike on May 1. 

On May 2, student leaders of RSJP met with administration to discuss their demands. RSJP stated that the administration said establishing an advisory committee on investments, similar to Brown’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility and Investment Policy, was “impossible because of fiduciary laws.” RSJP also said administrators declined to publicly condemn the war in Gaza.


“The senior leadership team has committed to the students with whom we spoke to confer early next week on next steps, and will provide an update to those students and the community soon thereafter,” Williams wrote in an email to the school community on May 3. 

The demonstration comes at the tail of encampment protests at campuses across the country, including at Brown, for divestment from companies with ties to Israel. Nationally, protests in late April and early May have led to over 2500 arrests. Similar sit-ins at Brown in November and December prompted the arrests of a combined total of 61 students. 41 of the arrested students currently face trespassing charges. 

This story is developing and was last updated at 7:40 p.m. on May 6, 2024.

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Tom Li

Tom Li is a Metro Editor covering the Health & Environment and Development & Infrastructure beats. He is from Pleasanton, California, and is concentrating in Economics and International & Public Affairs. He is an avid RIPTA passenger and enjoys taking (and criticizing) personality tests in his free time.

Avani Ghosh

Avani Ghosh is a Metro Editor covering politics & justice and community & activism. She is a sophomore from Ohio studying Health & Human Biology and International & Public Affairs. She is an avid earl grey enthusiast and can be found making tea in her free time.

Ciara Meyer

Ciara Meyer is a Senior Staff Writer covering the Beyond Brown beat. She is from Saratoga Springs, New York and plans on concentrating in Statistics and English nonfiction. In her free time, she loves scrapbooking and building lego flowers.

Megan Chan

Megan is a Senior Staff Writer covering community and activism in Providence. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she spends her free time drinking coffee and wishing she was Meg Ryan in a Nora Ephron movie.


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