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On November 12, Brown undergraduate and graduate students staged a “Blackout,” a demonstration of solidarity with black students at the University of Missouri. Mizzou’s students had been protesting their administration’s lack of response to a series of racist incidents on that campus and quickly pressured Mizzou’s president to resign. At issue, the students said, was not just the president’s inaction, but a history of institutionalized racism and underrepresentation of people of color at their university.

protest.jpg
Danielle Perelman '17
Several hundred students, faculty and staff members listened as students shared experiences of racism on campus and demanded that Brown effect real change.

For the Paxson administration, the issue of race on campus has been simmering since at least October 2013, when New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, who was visiting campus to discuss that city’s “proactive policing”—including the stop-and-frisk policy that disproportionately targeted black and Latino men—was shouted down and prevented from speaking. President Paxson apologized to Kelly, and the night after the incident held a campus forum to begin a conversation among students, faculty, and administrators about race and inclusion. When she issued her strategic plan, “Building on Distinction,” the same month as the Kelly incident, it admitted that the University’s attempts to diversify its faculty “have had only modest success.” 

The administration began examining what more it could do. Things became heated again last October, when the Brown Daily Herald published two columns that, after facing criticism, the editors apologized for printing and condemned as racist. Then, on November 10, the day after Mizzou’s president resigned, Paxson and Provost Richard Locke sent a campuswide e-mail acknowledging that Brown had yet to achieve a truly inclusive climate. In addition to the increased faculty diversity promised in the strategic plan, they vowed to take other actions. These became part of “Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University,” which was slated to be released at the end of the month.

Not good enough, said the protesters on November 12. They cited additional steps they believed the University should take. After the Blackout rally in front of University Hall, the crowd moved to the College Green, where Africana Studies graduate students led a “teach-in” on social justice, focusing on race but including all underrepresented or disempowered groups, including women and members of the LGBT community.

Grad student Shamara Alhassan read a list of demands that had been written by thirty-five graduate students of color from various academic disciplines. These included a call for increasing the number of faculty of color and “the introduction of compulsory, in-person, and regular anti-oppression training” for students, faculty, staff, and campus police (see sidebar, “Do Better”).

Then, two days later, during a conference at Brown of Ivy League Latino students, Dartmouth student Geovanni Cuevas alleged that he’d been barred from entering the campus building where he was staying and then assaulted and handcuffed by a Brown public safety officer. President Paxson immediately apologized “for the hurt, anger, confusion, and frustration that this incident has contributed to our ongoing discussions about racism and inclusion at Brown” and promised to send letters of apology to the presidents of the schools that had sent delegates to the conference. The public safety officer was assigned to “administrative duties,” and as of this writing the investigation continues.

As a result of the fall’s events, the Paxson administration released a draft of “Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion” nearly two weeks earlier than planned, calling it a “working document” open for discussion. (The campus community could comment anonymously online.) “Pathways” drew notice nationally for including a pledge of more than $100 million over ten years—about three percent of projected spending—to increase diversity on campus. Among the document’s many proposed actions was doubling the number of faculty “from historically underrepresented groups” by the year 2025. It also promised to increase support for students of color, to offer professional development in diversity issues to faculty, and to gather data on “the campus climate around issues of race, income and gender identity, and respect for intellectual diversity.”

Student activists argued the report didn’t go far enough. Doubling the number of faculty from underrepresented groups by 2025 would, they pointed out, keep Brown far short of the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. population, which is around 40 percent. Although students of color do make up 39 percent of the class of 2019, says Africana Studies grad student Bedour Alagraa, “It doesn’t matter if you get 70 percent students of color when you have faculty and administrators who are mostly white.” On December 3, a group of students confronted Paxson and Provost Richard Locke inside University Hall to denounce the diversity plan as “insufficient and illegitimate,” restating and adding to the November 12 demands and calling for more time to contribute comments. (Some staff members had also called for an extension for workers who have limited Internet access. The deadline was extended to January 8.)

Also on December 3, a dozen faculty members in ethnic studies sent Paxson their edits of the draft document —dubbed the “5 percent plan” after the percentage of Brown’s budget they believed should be spent on diversity efforts. The edits also replaced vague promises with specific goals, in one case, for example, changing “make a concerted effort” to “double the funding.” Locke reportedly thanked the group for its recommendations, saying it was just the kind of feedback the administration was looking for.

Despite the administration’s receptivity to the activists and willingness to keep up the conversation, the protesters remain skeptical. “I see the administration hiding behind a veil of vagueness,” says Watufani Poe, a graduate student in Africana Studies. “Brown needs to live up to its own expectations,” Alhassan says. She and other graduate student activists point to a long history, going back to 1968, of student demands and University promises that have not all been met. In fact, even the core 1968 demand to raise the percentage of black undergraduates from two percent to a more representative 11 percent has not been reached. (Only 6.7 percent of current undergraduates are black, compared to 13.2 percent of the current U.S. population.)

The criticism from students and faculty, however, is not that Brown has done nothing. In the years right after 1968, the percentage of black students increased sharply, from two percent to a high of nine percent in 1978. A black admissions officer was hired. The Afro-American Studies program (now the Department of Africana Studies) was founded, as well as a summer transition program for black students. The Third World Center opened. Since then, there have been many other advances for students of color, including Latinos and Asian Americans. In a 1992 follow-up to a 1986 report by a University committee on minority affairs, 160 pages detailed how Brown addressed each recommendation. And last fall, writing about colleges and universities grappling with their historical connections to the slave trade, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund and a longtime civil rights pioneer, praised Brown as a model, citing its 2006 slavery and justice report.

But Brown’s actions have fallen short, activists say. As a result, they argue, some of the most basic problems remain, such as a lack of diversity among the faculty and a campus where students and faculty of color do not feel fully included. Some alumni understand their frustration. Ken McDaniel ’69, who was a spokesman for the 1969 black student walkout, says he hopes the University can move past “numbers and structures” and find ways to build a community that’s not just diverse, but truly inclusive. Tesmerelna Atsbeha ’01, a black alumna and former student activist, says she’s been impressed by Brown’s examination of its past connections to slavery. But when she read about grad students’ demands last fall, her reaction was: “Wow, they’re dealing with the same stuff we were dealing with, and it’s fifteen years later. It’s just disappointing. While you’re away, you hope things are improving.”

President Paxson says what’s different is that the new plan has more teeth. “Pathways” requires that all departments develop diversity plans and mandates yearly progress reports. It calls for a committee, which will include students, to meet quarterly to assess progress. A new staff position, director of inclusion engagement, will be created to keep Brown moving forward. “We’re not asking that our community simply take it on faith,” she says.

At a December 4 forum with Brown staff, Provost Locke acknowledged the University’s repeated failure to fulfill all its stated diversity commitments. “If you actually read the plan of ’68 or ’92 or 2006,” he said, “many of the goals are the same. We hope that this time is going to be different. We’d like to show the rest of the country what can be done.” 

 

Do Better

Thirty-five graduate students from a coalition “of concerned graduate students of color,” representing departments in the social sciences, sciences, and the humanities, released a statement November 16 aimed at the Paxson administration. Included were these demands:

• an increase in faculty-of-color hiring and retention

• visible and administrative accountability for departments and centers with “racist hiring and retention policies,” as well as anti-black pedagogy

• better quality of life for graduate students of color

• in-person and compulsory Title IX training for faculty, staff, administrators, students, and members of the Department of Public Safety

• that Brown “hold itself accountable for the past, accepting its burdens and responsibilities along with its benefits and privileges” by meeting fully the recommendations from a number of reports and letters on diversity going back to 1968  

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Comments (5)
01/13/16
 
I find it interesting that your mention of the incident involving Geovanni Cuevas , leaves out some crucial facts, but at the same time reporting only Mr. Cuevas' allegations. 
 
Initially Mr. Cuevas, while waiting to enter Machado House, interjected himself into a stop of a drunk person by a Brown public safety officer. As of a result of this interjection and its escalation he was told to not enter Machado House. He then admitted ignoring this direction and snuck into Machado House by way of a back, door. It was then that a confrontation took place between him and a Brown public safety officer wherein he alleges he was assaulted. 
 
But what is more disturbing is that before determining if anything was done wrong by the Brown public safety officer, "President Paxson immediately apologized for the hurt, anger, confusion, and frustration that this incident has contributed to our ongoing discussions about racism and inclusion at Brown and promised to send letters of apology to the presidents of the schools that had sent delegates to the conference."  
 
Maybe an apology is due, but surely not till a determination is made that the Brown public safety officer did something wrong. Regrettably by apologizing President Paxson may have effected the result of the investigation by prejudging the conduct of the Brown public safety officer and putting pressure on those responsible for the investigation to find that he did do something wrong.  
 
And then to add insult to injury President Paxson in response to demands from the Latinx conference said that she would fund a rescheduled Latinx conference so that every student could attend for free and would reimburse Latinx for the suspended conference. 
 
Unlike the action of students that forced a cancelation of the talk by Commissioner Ray Kelly in 2013, here, what ever activities were suspended, were done so voluntarily by the organizers of that conferences and not because they could not proceed. I don't recall the University offering to pay to bring Commissioner Kelly back and insure that those who wished to hear what he had to say could do so.  
 
Decisions have consequences but apparently President Paxson feels that that should not be the case here. A bad precedent is being created. 
 
I know many alumni who are concerned with the direction the University is taking with the loss of perspective, civility, freedom of thought, and speech on campus. Her actions have only added to that problem.
 
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01/18/16
 
The state of race relations at Brown is no different than what it was link when I was at Brown more than 30 years ago. All the same complaints and same responses. Why don't you try something new? Just three steps would do the trick: 
 
* End all racial preferences in admissions to ensure that all students of all races are properly prepared to compete academically. 
 
* Stop encouraging segregation by race with special houses, dining halls, Third World Centers, segregated orientation for freshman and so forth. 
 
* Fire all vice presidents involved in diversity and inclusion.  
 
And if you want real diversity, start hiring conservative professors and admitting students with conservative political views. Until then, the university is just a bunch of liberals of all races feeling slighted by offenses real and imagined and whining about it all day long. Please ... this is 2016, not 1964.
 
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02/09/16
 
^Brown will always have our conservatives rattling off on the latest news of amends that the administration has had to make. Louis, I have no idea where you get your information. Probably the same place where Bush got his about yellowcake. Jeffrey, it is long past the days when we can call conservatism a legitimate "point of view." A position such as yours, which you've clung to despite the privilege of an American Ivy League education, never mind Brown's too-liberal one that you complain about (Why didn't you transfer to a school that would've saved your sensitive soul from having to encounter any of these silly programs that seemed so unscholarly?), is simply something personal and emotional and it's got to stop. You don't know what in God's name you're talking about and might need to go back to Brown to get schooled.
 
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02/11/16
 
Ms. Ichikawa, I am far from being a conservative, having never voted Republican in any national election and in fact have always voted for the Democratic candidate. So you really should not make assumptions about that which you don't know. 
 
As for where I obtained my information, it was the BDH, The ProJo, and The Dartmouth. It however appears from your lack of comment on the facts in this matter that you have not conducted any search into the Cuevas affair other than reading the article to which my comment relates, if in fact you read the article. 
 
And I have no problem with the University apologizing when they should, but here it was clearly premature and may have infected the investigation. And as Mr. Cuevas initially refused to be interviewed for the investigation that he instigated, I don't know if he has changed his mind, I suspect that things did not go down the way he said they did inside the Spanish House. In fact it has been reported that he has told different stories as to what happened inside the Spanish House. But it is clear, that he, by his own admission, was directed not to enter the Spanish House and then proceeded to sneak in. He also has no business sticking his nose into the interaction of the campus police and a drunk person which started the events that transpired.  
 
And I must say that your response to Mr. Shapiro's comment and mine, shows that total lack of respect for another's opinion, that is lacking on the Brown Campus of today, but desired by President Paxson. And your suggestion to Mr. Shapiro that if he didn't like the liberalism at Brown, he should have transferred, reminds me of the view often made in my days at Brown that if you didn't like the Vietnam War, you should move to another country. 
 
I hope that you avoid your knee-jerk reaction to views different than those held by you in the future. In that way, an intellectual discuss might be held. 
 
P.S. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are products of that American Ivy League education, and clearly feel that conservatism is a legitimate "point of view." As does a good percentage of the American people, who minds will not be changed by the type of response you have made here.
 
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05/17/16
 
Reading the list of demands in "Do Better" I am struck by "better quality of life for graduate students of color". What exactly does that even mean? Don't all graduate students get the same opportunity for "quality of life"-- at least as it it determined by or administered by the university? Given the same circumstances (like, two graduate students receiving the same stipend, living in the same housing, working the same number of hours), an individual's "quality of life" is very much the consequence of individual choice. There's simply no way that specifying "better quality of life for graduate students of color" isn't flat-out racist, since it implies that quality of life for white graduate students will remain unchanged. 
There are complex issues of race in America, and institutionalized racism is real. People of color have great challenges in our country, challenges that often begin before birth and extend throughout their school years. Those disadvantages result in a skewed readiness for higher education: It's a statistical fact. Brown's mission should not be to simply bump the numbers for the sake of numbers, but to seek out, admit, support, and engage those students who show themselves ready and able to take full advantage of the competitive and challenging academic opportunity Brown presents. Since high-performing students of color are highly prized applicants for top-tier schools, that may mean that Brown will never have a student body that, enumerated by race, perfectly reflects national statistics -- at least until we can address the entrenched problems that impact student readiness. Instead, our mission should focus on educating all students -- white, brown, black, or rainbow-striped -- on how to see the world more inclusively, how to accept the truth of our own privileges, and how to embrace the challenge to remake the future in a fairer way. I'd like to see programs that ensure that graduates of Brown, of whatever race or creed, are prepared to contribute to changing the systems, institutions, and attitudes that perpetuate racism in America.
 

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