Students of Color Release Diversity Demands

Emma Jerzyk, Brown Daily Herald, December 4, 2015

Students of color gathered outside President Christina Paxson’s P’19 office Thursday to serve as “diversity consultants” for the University after the release of a draft of the diversity and inclusion action plan Nov. 19.

As part of the “Day of Reclamation,” they developed a list of demands in response to the University’s action plan throughout the day before reading the demands aloud in the Leung Family Gallery in the late afternoon. Demands included disarming Department of Public Safety officers, making a Diverse Perspectives in Liberal Learning course a curricular requirement, adding $50 million each [year] to the endowments of the ethnic studies program and the Department of Africana Studies during the BrownTogether fundraising campaign and creating several new concentrations that focus on traditionally marginalized identities.

When the draft of the University’s diversity plan was released, administrators opened an online form, initially slated to close Dec. 4, for students to provide feedback on the plan. But in response to the students’ demands, Paxson announced in a community-wide email Thursday night that she would extend the deadline to submit feedback on the plan to Jan. 8.

Developing the demands

During Paxson’s office hours from 1:30 to 3 p.m., the students occupied the rotunda outside her office. They attempted to “reclaim” the space to conduct their work: drafting and sharing their demands.

A statement on the Facebook event page reads: “The diversity action and inclusion plan is illegitimate and insufficient. As a result of the arbitrary deadline of the feedback forum for (the plan) closing on Dec. 4, 2015, the administration has not acknowledged our countless and persistent demands to this institution.”

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The students confronted Paxson when she declined to speak with them during her office hours because other students had signed up beforehand.

Citing another obligation, Paxson said she would have another administrator go to Leung at 4:30 p.m. to hear the demands. When a student pressed her to specify what the obligation was, she said it was “none of (their) business.”

“I don’t know how I can persuade you that I really want to work with you and the faculty, and I do value our black students,” Paxson said.

“Just do it,” a student responded.

A number of students then brought up that Paxson has not agreed to disarm DPS officers.

“Valuing people and agreeing with them are not the same thing,” Paxson responded. When asked whether she thinks DPS officers should be armed, she said, “Absolutely, I do.”

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When Provost Richard Locke P’17 asked if he could make a suggestion, several students responded, “No.” When one said that heterosexual white males always dominate the conversation, Locke clarified that he is not heterosexual. But the student said it didn’t matter, adding, “Cisgender white males are at the top of the hierarchy.”

“What percent of 3 billion is 100 million?” a student asked Paxson, referring to the proposed $100 million in diversity and inclusion investments compared to the BrownTogether campaign’s overall goal of $3 billion. When she didn’t respond, a student said, “It’s 3.33 percent, and it’s not enough.”

Students asked whether, once they assembled their demands, the administration would actually use them, rather than just reading them. They also demanded that students not be subject to disciplinary action for their activism.

Paxson said, “You have amnesty for this action. You are doing nothing wrong.”

Sharing the demands

Chrysanthemum Tran ’17, one of the organizers of the event, asked all administrators in the audience to identify themselves. Though several top administrators were in attendance, students pointed out that both Paxson and Locke were not present.

Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 said, “The provost is going to be here in just a few moments,” prompting laughter from the audience.

Locke arrived a few minutes later. “With Provost Locke finally in the room, let’s begin with the demands from people of color,” Tran said.

The demands, recorded in a 14-page document, were compiled by Asian American/Pacific Islander, black, Southwest Asian and North African and Latinx students, students with disabilities and members of Students Against the Prison-Industrial Complex.

The demands were sweeping and included changes to the administration, faculty, staff, curriculum, financial aid, admission, the Office of Residential Life, DPS, Title IX, student health and the University’s relationship with the Providence community. Many of the demands entailed disaggregating and publicly sharing data regarding racial and ethnic diversity, adding excluded groups to the diversity and inclusion plan, making departmental action plans more transparent, adding intersectionality for issues related to LGBTQ identity, womanhood, class and disability to the plan, and boycotting companies and countries with objectionable records.

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