Brown University Students and Officials Make Deal to Dismantle Encampment

As pro-Palestinian protests continued to escalate across the country, officials and students at Brown University set a rare example on Tuesday: They made a deal.

Demonstrators agreed to dismantle their encampment at Brown, which had been removed by Tuesday evening, and university leaders said they would discuss, and later vote on, divesting funds from companies connected to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The agreement came even as scenes of chaos continued to overtake U.S. universities, with protesters at Columbia in New York and Portland State in Oregon occupying buildings, and demonstrators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill replacing an American flag at the center of campus with a Palestinian one.

More than a thousand people have been arrested over the past two weeks after a crackdown on a pro-Palestinian encampment at Columbia in New York resulted in a cascade of student activism across the country.

At Brown, in Providence, R.I., students began pitching tents on the main campus lawn on Wednesday. Many said they would stay until they were forced out, adding that they were concerned about trying to end the violence in Gaza — not about violating university policies.

After discussions with administrators, Brown Divest Coalition and Jewish Voice for Peace said in a joint post on Instagram that they had reached an agreement with the university, which “would not have been possible without the hard work of university encampments across the country, whose collective power has forced university administrators to acknowledge the overwhelming support for Palestine on their campuses.”

The agreement lays out a series of steps for the months ahead:

  • In May, five students will meet with five members of the Corporation of Brown University to argue for divesting funds from companies connected to the Israeli military.

  • In September, Brown’s advisory committee on resource management will be expected to advise the university on the same issue.

  • In October, the committee’s recommendation will be brought to the corporation for a vote.

“Although the encampment will end, organizing to ensure that the Brown administration fulfills our calls to act on divestment will continue until the corporation vote in October,” the Brown Divest Coalition said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This feels like a real moment of realizing our collective power,” said Rafi Ash, a sophomore at Brown who participated in the protests. “This is something that demonstrates that the mobilization of the student body can force the university to listen.”

A spokesman for Brown, Brian Clark, said that divestment was not as simple as some students might perceive, though. The university doesn’t invest its endowment directly, he said. Instead, it relies on “external specialist investment managers, all with the highest level of ethics and all whom we believe share the values of the Brown community.”

Administrators said in a statement that it would still hold disciplinary proceedings related to the encampment, which broke the university’s rules. Reports of harassment and discrimination will also be investigated, the statement said.

“The devastation and loss of life in the Middle East has prompted many to call for meaningful change, while also raising real issues about how best to accomplish this,” Christina H. Paxson, Brown’s president, said in the statement, adding that she did not condone the encampment and had been concerned about inflammatory rhetoric.

“I appreciate the sincere efforts on the part of our students to take steps to prevent further escalation,” she said.

Gaya Gupta contributed reporting.

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