Dear President Paxson: A Letter from A Former Disciplined Protestor

Dear President Paxson,

Despite my support for students and community members involved in the disruption that took place on October 29th, I had no plans to write you a letter. I believe that my fellow alumni and current undergraduates, many of who have much more at stake than you or I in the matter of Stop-and-Frisk have been exceedingly insightful and more informative than I could hope to be on the issue of Ray Kelly’s alleged right to be paid to speak at Brown.

That’s right, I was happy being a passive supporter until I read your most recent letter to the Brown community (sent November 6th 2013). As I read your letter I realized there was something I could contribute, something that I have personal experience with. Now allow me to educate you.

I am very upset and saddened that you are considering subjecting students involved in the action against Kelley to “established processes for resolving alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct.” You see I was involved in a “similar instance” as you say, five years ago as a first-year at Brown. I, along with seven other students directly ignored the demands of Brown University administrators and vocal members of the Brown Corporation in entering University Hall during one of two bi-annual Corporation meetings; our goal was to deliver a petition.

What followed for myself and other students involved was months of being funneled through “the established processes for resolving alleged violations.” From the beginning of the inquiry into action I took part in, the Brown administration went to great lengths to ignore the University’s code of conduct during judicial and pre-judicial proceedings. Brown’s own regulations dictate that students have the right “To be assumed not responsible of any alleged violations unless she/he is found responsible through the appropriate disciplinary hearing.” However, during my first meeting with the dean in charge of handling the case I was told that some charges were simply “inarguable.”

Furthermore, as part of the official processes, I and the other students were barred from seeking legal counsel, however, Brown University was able to consult their own lawyers in building their case against us. We were given the option to get faculty members to serve as our advisors. In the weeks before our actual hearing, meetings were scheduled without regard to our faculty advisors’ schedule and we simply told that it was inevitable that some of our faculty would miss meetings. This obviously made us worry about the fairness the University’s handling of our case. However, Vice-President Klawunn reassured us by pointing to our right to disqualify members on the hearing panel if they were shown to be biased (a right given to students in Brown’s community guidelines). Unsurprisingly, one of the undergraduate members on the hearing panel was a student who had been vocal about how she thought that all students involved in the protest I participated in should be expelled. We requested that this member be disqualified. Our request was denied.

When it came time for our actual hearing, several of the witnesses we called were not allowed to testify and the ones which were allowed were cut off several times due to “time constraints,” however, in presenting their case against us, Brown allowed itself over 10 hours to interview their witnesses, until midnight during finals period.

One of the most serious charges levied against us was that of injuring University personnel. It was alleged that protestors injured Brown police officers during the action. Bizarrely, injury reports filed submitted as evidence were filed more than a week after the protest despite that all injury reports clearly state that reports MUST be filed within 48-hours of the incident. Those who filed the injury reports revealed that they filled said reports only after being asked by higher-ranking officers and admitted never having their injuries verified by medical personnel. President Paxson, I can honestly tell you I have never assaulted a police officer, it’s just not me. Unfortunately, despite having no witnesses, or photographic/video evidence, I was found guilty of injuring a Brown University police officer.

I, along with the other students involved, was told I had to sign a confidentiality agreement. We requested our confidentiality be waived and for the hearing to be open (as recommended by the Brown chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union) and were told it could not be waived for our own good and protection. Where was Brown’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas here? Why were my supporters and detractors robbed their ability to be completely informed of nature of Brown’s “established processes for resolving alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct[?].” This is not a series of rhetorical questions.

While I do hope you take the time to read my letter and that you fully understand that the University’s disciplinary processes are beyond unfair to student activists, I must admit I did not write this letter for you. I wrote it for the students who stand to be punished for standing up for what’s right. I want them to know that there is a supportive community of alumni, alumni that learned of Brown’s fundamentally unfair judicial processes first hand, and we want to help in any way we can.

I can be reached at to.atilio@gmail.com.

By Atilio Barreda, Contributor
Brown University, Class of 2012

P.S. I did not sign the confidentiality agreement.

The original article was posted on the author’s blog.

All Images via Google Images

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