“Whose campus? Our campus!”: The #OurCampus Student Walkout

On Wednesday 11/16, hundreds of students congregated in Wriston Quad for Brown’s largest student demonstration in recent history, centered around demands that Brown better provide for its vulnerable students, particularly by becoming a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants. Student organizers stood amid stacks of cardboard signs made the night before as students dressed in black entered the quad in groups, having walked out at 3 pm from classes across campus.

“We are walking out for our families, for our friends, and for our communities,” said one organizer, to a storm of applause, stomping, and cheering that echoed across Patriot Court. As one of many walkouts across the nation in middle schools, high schools, and universities, the #OurCampus student walkout at Brown was part of what its organizers described as a tradition of protest “in streets and in classrooms” alike, for the liberation and self-determination of undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Black people, trans and queer people, low-income people, and people with disabilities.

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A student organizer talks to hundreds of students on Wriston Quad. Photos courtesy of Bethlehem Desta.
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A student organizer reads demands on Wrison Quad. Photos courtesy of Bethlehem Desta.

In solidarity with #NoDAPL, Movimiento Cosecha, and the Sanctuary Campus movement, students marched from Wriston through the Main Green, chanting “Black lives matter,” “Water is life,” and “No human is illegal.” In accordance with the walkout’s goal to “direct and funnel attention and action back towards #NoDAPL, which needs support now more than ever,” many students carried signs with the hashtag in support of the Standing Rock Sioux.

“Brick by brick, wall by wall, this whole damn system has got to fall,” demanded student protestors, as DPS officers gathered on the intersection of George and Brown.

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Hundreds of students circle University Hall, chanting, “Administration, come out!” Photos courtesy of Bethlehem Desta.

As they funneled into the Quiet Green, students formed a ring around a group of organizers, who read the #OurCampus demands out loud: First were the #SanctuaryCampus demands regarding the protection of Brown’s undocumented community, then demands centering on #NoDAPL and the Native and Indigenous community at Brown and in Providence. These were followed by demands from Brown’s Black community, Muslim community, LGBTQ+ community, and underrepresented faculty and staff.

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Two student organizers hold a sign that reads, “Native Americans at Brown Stands With Standing Rock #NoDAPL #NABulous #WaterIsLife.” Photos courtesy of Bethlehem Desta.

As a small group of student organizers entered University Hall to deliver the list of demands to administration, the remaining hundreds of student protesters circled the building demanding immediate action from administration, chanting “Administration, come out!” for twenty minutes. Through their windows, administrators could be seen watching the protesters, filming them on their cell phones, or leaving their windowed offices for elsewhere in the building.

“As we have seen,” wrote the organizers on the event’s Facebook page later that night, “the administration does not wish to listen to us—even when hundreds of people in its community marched around University Hall… No one came out.”

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Student organizers tape student demands on office doors in University Hall. Photos courtesy of Bethlehem Desta.

After emerging from University Hall, the organizers opened the megaphone to the crowd to hold space for the voices of marginalized students. As students walked into the center of the circle to share their thoughts, they were greeted by the cheering and clapping of the other protesters. “To my fellow students of color,” said one student, “no matter how helpless and unimportant our government and society makes you feel, you are loved and you matter.”

“We are still here,” said two Native students, “and water is life.” They implored the protesters to “make sure people are remembering Indigenous people within our communities. Fight not just for ourselves but for this Earth, because she’s dying.

Another student emphasized the importance of talking about disability, and what the university needs to do to support its disabled students and staff – a disability program inclusive of multiple identities, buildings that are accessible on every single floor, and a bigger building for Student and Employee Accessibility Services (SEAS), among others.

One of the organizers, a first-year, stepped up to the megaphone. “To my beautiful Black people, keep fighting, ‘cause you beautiful.”

Another organizer discussed the position of Brown students with regard to the prison industrial complex. Rhode Island has passed “ban the box” legislation that prohibits employers from asking “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” on job applications, but formerly incarcerated applicants are still required to check a box on the Common Application, which Brown University uses for admissions. And in places like Bristol and Woonsocket, the number of people incarcerated or criminalized for offenses like drug use and domestic violence are drastically different from the number of people in Providence and Pawtucket, which have much higher Black and Latino populations. “The elections on Tuesday didn’t mean much for these people – it didn’t change anything,” said the organizer. “We are not just anti-Trump, this is not just at Brown.”

As the organizers closed the action, they announced a list of further actions students can take to hold the university accountable and invest in community resistance:

  • Show up for the Providence Community Safety Act (CSA), a proposed city ordinance spearheaded by a coalition of community organizations that would keep Providence Police accountable to the community. A City Council meeting on the CSA was held on Wednesday evening, and several more are scheduled for 5:15 pm on Monday 11/28 and Thursday 12/1.
  • Text “sanctuary” to 662266, which will put you in contact with #SanctuaryCampus organizers.
  • Sign the pledge to withhold donations to the university until all demands have been met, and share this pledge with parents, guardians, and alumni.
  • Support water protectors at Standing Rock by donating to their operations and legal defense funds, which will be used for legal, sanitary, and emergency purposes.
  • Post on social media using the #SanctuaryCampus hashtag, in order to drown out the racist platforms currently dominating the hashtag.
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Students hold signs that read, “My Body, My Choice,” “Sanctuary Campus,” “Black Lives Matter,” “#NoDAPL,” and “No Human Is Illegal.” Photos courtesy of Bethlehem Desta.

The #OurCampus walkout has garnered a significant amount of media attention, both for its unprecedented turnout and its role as one of many demonstrations for a sanctuary campus. Yet there remain a number of important things to remember, regarding this action:

First, the marginalized groups that were the focus of the walkout – undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Black people, trans and queer people, low-income people, and people with disabilities – are groups that have been marginalized not just by the recent election results, but over the past years and generations. “This walk out is about something bigger than a single election,” wrote the organizers on Facebook, as they urged protesters to avoid “Hillary Clinton/I’mWithHer/Love Trumps Hate” signs. We need to remember that a Clinton presidency would not have solved the problems that are fundamental to the violent project of the American nation-state, and that resistance has continually been happening, even under Democratic administrations.

“The struggle for liberation doesn’t come every two or four years,” said a student to the crowd towards the end of the walkout.

Second, students organized and gathered not just to express sentiments of anger and frustration, but to exact specific demands upon the institution. The centrality of that concrete goal has been elided in much of the coverage, particularly (and unsurprisingly) in institution-affiliated coverage by News at Brown. It’s heartwarming to flip through photos of the hundreds of students who gathered, or watch a video of protesters chanting “ain’t no power like the power of the people” as the sun set over the Quiet Green.

But it is important we do not forget that this demonstration was not just a show of solidarity and togetherness in the abstract. It was a clearly oppositional stance to the way the administration has repeatedly refused the demands of the people – particularly the many groups of people who have been marginalized throughout Brown’s history.

Third, we must refuse the narrative of Brown as a liberal and progressive institution. The university was quick to post social media updates about its student activists, deradicalizing students’ demands as simply “concern for students whom they see as marginalized after a divisive election season,” with no mention of the institution’s role in upholding this marginalization. The official Brown University Twitter was updated with photos of activists at 4:15 pm, as students outside University Hall were still chanting for administration to come out.

As Brown students, we hold incredible privilege from our role in an Ivy League institution. We acknowledge that we contribute to the ongoing occupation of Wampanoag and Narragansett lands, and the ongoing dispossession of Black and brown communities in the Providence area. But in understanding the university as an institution founded on violence, we at bluestockings are also determined to leverage our privilege against these systems of oppression in whatever ways we can. Documenting and amplifying the voices of those who are critical of the institution is one of the ways we pursue this commitment and hold institutions accountable.

This piece was edited by Annie Furuyama. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please email bluestockingsmagazine@gmail.com.

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