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RISD will not sever ties with Textron following occupation, President Crystal Williams announces

Williams halts advocacy for student demands until demonstrators end building occupation

The announcement follows a six-hour Monday evening negotiations meeting with student organizers affiliated with RISD Students for Justice in Palestine during a 22-person occupation at 20 Washington Place, better known as Prov-Wash.
The announcement follows a six-hour Monday evening negotiations meeting with student organizers affiliated with RISD Students for Justice in Palestine during a 22-person occupation at 20 Washington Place, better known as Prov-Wash.

RISD President Crystal Williams released information regarding the college’s investment portfolio and responded to student protestors’ demands in a Tuesday evening email sent to students and faculty.campus-wide email.

The announcement follows a six-hour Monday evening negotiations meeting with student organizers affiliated with RISD Students for Justice in Palestine during a 22-person occupation at 20 Washington Place, better known as Prov-Wash. Students yesterday barricaded themselves in the second floor of Prov-Wash, an administrative building which hosts Williams’s office.

RJSP representatives did not respond to The Herald’s request for comment by press time.

In a Monday press release, RSJP 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 Herald previously reported.

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RISD administration gave the students until 8 a.m. Tuesday to clear the occupation, The Herald previously reported. Students continued to stay in the building past this deadline. RISD Spokesperson Jaime Marlard wrote in an email to The Herald that classes scheduled to take place in this space were relocated. 

In her email, Williams noted that while she has “been in conversation with members of RISD's Board of Trustees regarding RSJP demands,” she will not continue to advocate for student protestors until “RJSP students vacate academic spaces and agree to not disrupt Commencement.”

Williams shared that RISD administration “received an email from the students occupying the second floor of 20 Washington Place preemptively rejecting any offer from us” at 3:30 p.m. today. “This follows the national playbook from Students for Justice in Palestine and is disappointing,” Williams continued.

In a press release the next day, RSJP wrote that they were not aware of plans by the RISD administration to make “another offer in the de-occupation.” Organizers were also unaware of the President’s intentions to meet with the RISD Board of Trustees Investment Committee. 

RSJP alleged that Williams and Ghadessi employed “extensive stall tactics and gaslighting” throughout their negotiations, including “calling the second half of the meeting unproductive and stating that the 4 newly-joined students had wasted the efforts” of earlier negotiators. 

“We do not organize through a ‘playbook,’” added RSJP. “Our actions are international and specific to RISD.”

At 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, RSJP released an “open letter” in response to proposals made by Williams and RISD Provost Touba Ghadessi. In the letter, they detailed their rejection of terms they say Williams and Ghadessi verbally suggested during negotiations. 

Students have demanded RISD to suspend “all funding from the Rayon Foundation Trust,” a trust fund donated to the school in 1944 by Atlantic Rayon founder Royal Little. Atlantic Rayon would later become Textron; the Israeli Air Force arsenal contains aircraft manufactured by Textron subsidiaries Bell and Beechcraft.

Williams argued that suspending all funding from the Rayon Foundation Trust “would significantly negatively impact the academic program and student financial aid.” Williams added that the money in the trust is not related to the “current entity named Textron.” 

Williams rejected protesters’ demand that RISD refuse future partnerships with Textron stating that “in taking the long view, we cannot support this request.”

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RSJP also demanded that RISD disaffiliate from AirBnB, a vacation rental company co-founded by RISD alumni Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia. Williams wrote that RISD is “proud” of the founders, but that the school has no business ties with the company. Gebbia, who has served on RISD’s Board for 12 years, is scheduled to step down at the end of the year, Williams added.

RSJP sought RISD disaffiliation from Israeli universities and study abroad programs. Williams wrote that the college’s affiliation with Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design ended in 2018, but that “we will not promise to refrain from future partnerships or study abroad programs in any country.”

In terms of the protesters’ demand that Williams publicly condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza and call for a ceasefire, Williams wrote “I have foresworn making public statements” and said she will share her reasoning for that policy “at some future point.”

Addressing students’ demands for fiscal transparency, Williams also shared information regarding the school’s $420 million endowment of “restricted and unrestricted funds.” 

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According to Williams, RISD has engaged Global Endowment Management as the Outsourced Chief Investment Office for the school’s endowment. The school’s investment portfolio is “a multi-asset, diversified portfolio invested in public and private managers and investments,” Williams explained.

As of March 31, 2024, GEM reports that RISD holds no direct investments in the aerospace and defense industry, Williams wrote. She noted that the portfolio holds “indirect exposure through third-party managers in pooled funds,” with 1.2% of the endowment invested indirectly in seven aerospace and defense companies — two of which receive over 50% of their revenue from defense. 

Williams also highlighted indirect exposure to the aerospace and defense industry via the endowment’s private investments. GEM estimates that RISD’s endowment experiences 0.8% exposure to “private companies that operate in the aerospace and defense industry” as of December 2023, according to Williams. She added that the endowment also has 1.2% indirect exposure to SpaceX

While RSJP sought increased “student oversight” of the endowment, Williams wrote that “we cannot cede oversight to students, nor would it be responsible to do so.” She proposed “to host an annual presentation and conversation with Senior Vice President David Rosati about RISD's finances and investments” and opened the door to student proposals of “other means of engagement.”

Williams added that two Cabinet members are currently developing a “World Events toolkit” so that “when world events happen, members of our community can proudly talk about how RISD showed up in to support students, staff, and faculty.” Williams wrote that the toolkit should be completed by “early summer.”

“A meeting once a year is not enough and pointless,” RSJP wrote in reference to William’s alternative proposal to student oversight. They emphasized their demand for “a student oversight committee that helps make advisory recommendations.”

RSJP also “did not request a Worlds Events toolkit,” stating that it would not “constitute towards meeting (their) demands,” the group said. “The genocide is escalating rapidly. We do not have time.”


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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