Graduate Solidarity Statement and Demands

35 graduate students across the social sciences, sciences and the humanities and across 5 graduate organizations have co-authored this document.

As a coalition of concerned graduate students of color at Brown University, we come together to express our thoughts on the racial climate in higher education, and more specifically on our campus. Brown students of color recognize the urgency for Brown’s administration and leadership to respond with effective and immediate actions to our demands. On Monday, November 9, the president and chancellor of the University of Missouri resigned after weeks of student protest regarding administrative inaction amidst increasing violence against Black and other racialized students on campus. In an incredible display of solidarity with graduate student Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike, students and student-athletes at the University of Missouri confirmed the historical importance of student-led struggles in the broader projects of democratizing and decolonizing universities and society at large. We, the Samuel M. Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association, the Graduate Students of Color Collective, Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees, the Queer Students of Color Collective, and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science at Brown University release this statement in solidarity with the Black student movement at the University of Missouri, and in solidarity with those student movements underway at Amherst College, Ithaca College, Yale University, here at Brown, and elsewhere. We also express solidarity with the Fees Must Fall movement across South Africa, as we recognize that economic inequality is also one of the issues faced predominantly by students of color throughout the world. We recognize that in an era of colorblind racism and the derailment of social justice conversations via neoliberal assertions of free speech, Black students’ activism continues to be neglected and condemned while the academic-corporate complex, the growth of the prison economy, and the persistent destruction of and disregard for Black and Brown people’s lives remains largely uninterrogated by university administrators.

Following the wave of student protests, President Christina Paxson and Provost Richard Locke circulated an email that expressed Brown’s commitment to diversity initiatives and support for students of color. While the email acknowledged the unproductive and racist polarization of “diversity” and “free speech” in the national conversation, we are disappointed that the administration has yet to recognize the polarizing times in which we already live, both in the United States and here at Brown, that make the notion of absolute free speech fallacious. On Friday, November 13, the Brown Daily Herald published a statement written by Brown faculty members in support of students of color which argued: “Calling out racism, we submit, is not an impingement on ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘academic freedom.’ It is an act of self-defense.” In addition, a Brown University professor has argued that “weaponizing” free speech has the effect of silencing groups and individuals whose perspectives are already underrepresented.

Brown University needs to do much more than support the perspectives of students of color and increase the numbers of students of color on campus. There are other specific exclusionary practices in which Brown has been engaged and diversity issues to which it has continued to turn a blind eye. There are several examples of these: Currently, in a faculty community numbered at 720, there are only five tenured Black women professors and one tenured Native professor in the social sciences and humanities; Brown University continues to celebrate the genocidal rampage of Christopher Columbus by refusing to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day; and the transformative work of departments and programs such as Africana Studies and Ethnic Studies has been excluded from the university’s recently published strategic growth plan. Many of the solutions to Brown’s structural racism and institutional oppression are already on campus in the power of faculty and graduate students who work on these complex issues every day. Yet, we remain marginalized and our expertise is underutilized in the fight to confront key issues of structural oppression that persist within the Brown University community.

Brown University, like the University of Missouri, is not exempt from being on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of social justice. We commend and stand in solidarity with Black students across the country and indeed the globe for their resolve in the face of increasing hostility to Black student dissent and protests. Furthermore, we would like to affirm our own commitment to resist and speak out against anti-Blackness, racism, sexism and gender-based violence, transphobia, classism, and queerphobia, especially at the interstices. In the wake of the November 14 assault of a visiting undergraduate Latinx student from Dartmouth College by a Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer, we would also like to affirm our commitment to the disarmament and demilitarization of campus police and the eradication of racial profiling and anti-Black police violence.

We make the following specific demands to the administration of Brown University:

          1. We demand an increase in faculty of color hires and retention. The current plan to double faculty of color is insufficient due to the dearth of tenured faculty of color, as well as the countless faculty of color who have left Brown due to a lack of competitive pay. Brown must set higher goals and expectations than the federal expectation of diverse hiring practices to which it adheres. The 2013 Diversity Action Plan outlines that, by 2025, Brown will double its current faculty of color ratio. Doubling the current number of 64 faculty of color—out of 720—to 128 is not enough, and we cannot wait 10 years for such a fundamentally important goal to manifest. We demand that the Corporation of Brown University fund tenure-track hiring lines for specialty positions in each department across disciplines, and the continued cluster hires of junior faculty of color as done in the Departments of American Studies and History. By “specialty positions” we are referring to the deliberate hiring of faculty who work on critical issues related to social justice such as topics on race, gender, sexuality, ability, and class as they pertain to specific disciplines. Furthermore, we would like the instantiation of hiring committees that would ensure Brown offers competitive salaries to top faculty of color working in the aforementioned areas. In accordance with this demand, we implore Brown’s administration—with the inclusion of undergraduate and graduate students of color—to create an external board tasked with the responsibility of reviewing each department’s progress in hiring, retaining, offering competitive salaries, and creating opportunities for advancement for faculty of color who work on social justice issues.

          2. We demand visible and administrative accountability for departments and centers that have a tradition of racist hiring and retention policies and anti-Black pedagogy. With regards to accountability, we demand that these departments and centers meet with representatives from graduate organizations that have signed below along with the Vice President of Academic Development, Diversity, and Inclusion, and the incoming Dean of Diversity Initiatives and comply with all prescribed actionable steps provided to them at these meetings. Furthermore, we demand annual public fora and an annual report be made publicly available to assess all racist hiring and retention policies and anti-Black pedagogy. Furthermore, we demand that the university support monetarily and otherwise departments and centers committed to social justice, as evidenced through anti-oppressive pedagogy, and the satisfaction and retention of undergraduate and graduate students and faculty of color. These departments and centers must be incentivized to continue their work with increased departmental resources and faculty hiring lines, like target-of-opportunity hires, cluster hires, postdoctoral fellows, and additional funding for centers.

          3. We demand better quality of life for graduate students of color. Significant numbers of graduate students of color are leaving campus due to referrals to Counseling and Psychological Services or extremely hostile environments. We demand the introduction of compulsory, in-person, and regular anti-oppression training for faculty, staff, DPS, and administration. Anti-oppression trainings should be led and organized by people of color with significant experience in anti-oppression activism or scholarship. Furthermore, those leading these efforts should be compensated and acknowledged for their labor. This needs to be implemented beginning spring 2016, since many of these key facilitators of anti-oppression training are already present at Brown and in the Providence community.

          4. We demand an in-person and compulsory Title IX training for faculty, staff, DPS, administrators, and students that includes an intersectional framework. The current non-compulsory online Title IX training module is ineffective and does not address the structural racism, queerphobia, economic violence and transphobia that is foundational to sexual violence on campus. Women of color––particularly Black, Brown and racial minority trans* people––are at the highest risk for sexual assault on college campuses, yet the debate over Title IX has thus far been framed as predominantly White. Statistics from across North America show that women of color, and especially trans* women of color, are at a higher risk for sexual assault than their white counterparts on college campuses and beyond.

          5. We demand that Brown “hold itself accountable for the past, accepting its burdens and responsibilities along with its benefits and privileges” by meeting fully those recommendations set forth in the following: (1) The spring 2015 Graduate Student Diversity Forum; (2) the report on Title IX issues facing graduate students submitted to the Sexual Assault Advisory Board last spring; (3) the Samuel M. Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association response to the Committee on the Events of October 29th, 2013; (4) the second report from the Committee on the events of October 29th, 2013; (5) the 2006 Diversity Action Plan; (6) the report by the Center for Slavery and Justice committee in 2006; (7) the 2001 letter by the Third World Coalition to the Visiting Committee on Diversity; (8) the 1991 letter from the Third World Coalition on the Visiting Committee on Minority Life and Education at Brown; (9) 1986 Report of the Visiting Committee on Minority Life and Education at Brown; and (10) the initial demands of the 1968 Pembroke student led walkout. Ways in which Brown can better follow through and be consistent with the recommendations made by this group include:

  • Reissuing the history of slavery and justice report and circulate the document to new faculty, staff, and students;
  • Integrating the history of Brown’s role in the slave trade into orientation for both graduate and undergraduate students;
  • Designating an annual day of remembrance and a series of sponsored events;
  • Publicly and regularly assessing the ethical implications of Brown’s current global investments;
  • Committing resources to bettering educational opportunities across the state;
  • Providing low or no cost professional advancement opportunities for state educators.

We demand that the Brown Corporation and administration comply with the demands of the graduate and undergraduate students. President Christina Paxson, Provost Rick Locke, and Graduate School Dean Peter Weber must provide, at minimum, a written response to the graduate students’ demands by November 24, 2015. The written response should include a timeline of actionable steps to meet our demands. Furthermore we demand a public forum within the first two weeks of the spring 2016 semester to assess what progress has been made over winter break.

Signed,

Samuel M. Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association

Graduate Students of Color Collective

Queer Students of Color Collective

Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees

Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science

Concerned Graduate Students of Color

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