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RISD Students for Justice in Palestine begin indefinite strike for divestment

Demonstration joins wave of pro-Palestine, May Day protests across the country

Organizers demand that RISD divest from weapons manufacturer Textron and the vacation rental company AirBnB.
Organizers demand that RISD divest from weapons manufacturer Textron and the vacation rental company AirBnB.

More than 300 students, faculty and community members rallied at the Rhode Island School of Design Wednesday morning, initiating a pro-divestment strike from classes that was organized by RISD’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.  

The strikers are demanding that RISD divest from companies “implicated in sustaining Israeli apartheid, the occupation of Palestinian land or contributing to and profiting off of the ongoing genocide in Palestine,” according to an RSJP’s Instagram post. They also called on RISD to establish a student committee to oversee future investments and on RISD President Crystal Williams to publicly support a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

In December, South Africa brought a case in front of the International Court of Justice alleging that Israel has committed “acts and omissions” in Gaza that are “genocidal in character,” the BBC reported. On Jan. 24, the ICJ ruled that Israel should “take all measures to prevent genocidal acts,” but the Court is yet to rule on the accusation of genocide itself.

“The strike will not end until RISD meets our demands,” strike organizer and RISD student Luca Antonio Colannino wrote in an email to The Herald. 


The demonstration is the latest pro-Palestine protest at RISD amid a growing national movement on college campuses demanding that universities support a ceasefire and divest from companies with ties to the Israeli government. At Brown, organizers voluntarily dismantled an encampment Tuesday after University administrators agreed to bring a divestment resolution in front of the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, at its meeting in October.

The rally began at a green space known among the RISD community as the “RISD Beach,” before moving to the Providence Washington building at around 10:30 a.m. RSJP also organized other activities throughout the day, including a workshop in Dabke — a traditional folk dance — as well as an art build and a teach-in addressing the recent protests at Columbia and the City College of New York by a RISD painting professor.

“We are here today because there are no universities left in Gaza,” an organizer said during the rally’s opening remarks. 

At 5:30 p.m, strikers were redirected to a May Day protest organized by the R.I. branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Protesters gathered outside of Textron, a multi-billion dollar defense manufacturing company headquartered in Providence. The Israeli Air Force arsenal includes aircrafts manufactured by Textron subsidiaries.  

While RISD does not hold any investments in Textron, the college’s website affirms “strong ties” with the company, including a history of gifts and partnerships.

Colannino said that divestment from Textron would entail the “cessation of all funds being taken from the Rayon Trust,” a trust established by Textron founder Royal Little to support RISD’s operations. But Little founded the trust in a personal capacity, and Textron Spokesperson Michael Maynard previously wrote to The Herald that the Rayon Foundation is “not affiliated with Textron.”

Organizers also called on RISD to divest from AirBnB, which has been targeted by the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement due to their 2019 decision to allow listings of rental properties in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Jaime Marland, RISD’s senior director of public relations, said that AirBnB, which was co-founded by RISD alum Brian Chesky, is not part of RISD’s investment profile. 

Spokespeople from AirBnB did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

The RISD administration has not recently addressed either the ongoing conflict or the encampments which have sprung up at other schools, Colannino said in an interview with The Herald. In his eyes, RISD’s silence contradicts the college’s stated diversity and inclusion values and has incited confusion and anger among students.


Marland did not address recent encampments in her email to The Herald. 

“We just want to remain visible so people can’t ignore our presence here and our support for Palestine,” Colannino continued, citing clashes between SJP and RISD administrators in the past few months. 

In late April, Williams acknowledged the “right to freedom of expression” in a letter to the RISD community before an April 26 rally. She urged students to demonstrate peacefully and assured demonstrators that RISD would not request the presence of law enforcement. 

As of April 30, over 160 RISD faculty and staff members have signed a statement in support of Palestine and pro-Palestine activism on RISD’s campus. 

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Jessica Brown, an associate professor at RISD and a signatory of the staff letter, attended Wednesday’s rally and publicly voiced support for the strike. Brown said the faculty supporting student activism on RISD’s campus are frequently non-tenured, queer and people of color. 

“We talk about what it looks like to be an activist in your artwork,” Jessica Brown said in an interview with The Herald. “We know the power of art and creation and I feel like this (moment of activism) is the classroom.”

Jessica Brown echoed the organizers’ demand for increased financial transparency from RISD. “As students, I feel they are paying for a product and they have a right to be able to know where their money is going,” she said. “As faculty, I want transparency in my institution.” 

She also referenced the recent agreement between Brown and the Brown Divest Coalition in which the University agreed to hold a divestment vote. “I hope that promise rolls down the Hill,” she said. 

In an email shared with students, RISD’s Painting department stated that they would not penalize students for missing classes due to participation in the strike.

According to Marland, “RISD takes an environmental, social and governance (ESG) approach to investing, which means we aim to invest our funds in companies that endeavor to make the world better,” she wrote. “This ethical investing strategy helps RISD align investment choices with our mission and values.”

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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