Clad mostly in black, hundreds of Brown University students were joined that Wednesday afternoon by members of the local community in marching through the central part of campus to University Hall, Brown’s central administration building. The event, organized via social media with the #OurCampus hashtag, was one in a series of college and university campus “walkouts” around the country this week. Organizers said on a Facebook page that the march was “a walkout against white supremacy, xenophobia, classism, transphobia, sexism and other systems of oppression that now have a platform in this nation.”
The marchers during the November 16th event at Brown, many of whom held signs including “No human is illegal” and “Refugees are welcome here,” focused in particular on a deep sense of insecurity many feel amid pledges from President-elect Donald Trump to call for millions of deportations and tight restrictions on new immigration. They also spoke, held signs and chanted in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and in support of students with disabilities.
“This walkout is for our families, our friends, our communities, for us,” said a student organizer through a megaphone as the crowd massed around a statue of Caesar in Wriston Quad, one of Brown’s residential quadrangles, which served as the starting place for the march. “While this march is not solely directed at the election results, we recognize that recent events have instilled fear of attacks against marginalized communities.”
Scenes of the Walkout
Students gathered and then marched, chanting in unison on behalf of diversity. Later in the march, a delegation of students entered University Hall to present a sheet of demands before returning to the Quiet Green where the megaphone was left open for any one of the marchers to speak. At one point a female student told the marchers, “My fellow students of color, no matter how helpless and unimportant the government decides to make you feel, you are loved and you matter.” Among the organizing hashtags of the event was #SanctuaryCampus, which refers to requests that universities protect immigrants facing deportation.
Earlier in the day, Brown University President Christina Paxson and Provost Richard Locke published an op-ed in the Brown Daily Herald responding to three recent petitions to make Brown a sanctuary campus. “We join our faculty members, students and alums in expressing the feelings of deep empathy and desire to protect members of our community that have motivated these petitions,” Paxson and Locke wrote.
They discussed what the University has been doing to support undocumented students, including those brought here as children. “Even before the recent election, Brown had taken concrete actions to increase support for undocumented students and students enrolled in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program,” they wrote. “These measures have included providing increased guidance and support through a faculty advisor; offering services through the new First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center; and eliminating the distinction between domestic applicants and undocumented and DACA-status students in the admission process-continuing to meet 100 percent of these students’ demonstrated financial need at Brown.” Many students at the march also raised issues about diversity on campus, citing enrollment of historically underrepresented minority students and hiring of faculty from underrepresented backgrounds.
Signs of Concern
Students showed support for immigrants, refugees, and minorities while denouncing racism and other threats to marginalized populations. In advance of the March, the student organizers had sent a list of demands focused on these issues to Brown’s president and provost, who informed the students they would be unable to attend the march.
In an emailed response to the students, Provost Richard Locke wrote on behalf of himself and President Christina Paxson: “Like you, we are committed to supporting the needs and interests of our undocumented and DACAmented students, who are justifiably uncertain, fearful and anxious about their futures. We have been working with these students to provide care and support, and remain committed to protecting them. We have also been very clear that this University will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, or any form of hateful targeting of marginalized groups.
“Regarding the other concerns raised in your document, the University community has been working very hard over the last year to implement the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, which has the specific aim of confronting the issues of safety, value, respect, equity and justice raised in your document.” The email referenced Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion, a plan that details a set of concrete, achievable actions that aim to make Brown more fully diverse and inclusive. Last year the University engaged in a campus-wide process to develop the plan, and implementation has been underway since then. “Although much work remains to be done,” Locke continued in the email to students, “working together as a community, we have made significant progress, which you can read more about here. We look forward to working with you and others to continue to advance this work and to make Brown the inclusive community that we all want and need it to be.”
Photos by Nick Dentamaro/Brown University