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While April's encampment was organized by the Brown Divest Coalition, other organizations across campus have contributed to the dramatic uptick in activism over the last year.
While April's encampment was organized by the Brown Divest Coalition, other organizations across campus have contributed to the dramatic uptick in activism over the last year.

As students across campus occupied libraries to prepare for their fall finals last December, Isabella Garo 鈥24 and 40 other members of the Brown Divest Coalition were occupying University Hall.

Dec. 11 marked the second sit-in calling for the University to divest its endowment from companies affiliated with the Israeli government and weapons manufacturers. The first came in November. Both led to student arrests. Inside University Hall, police processed the arrests of the sit-in participants.

Outside, approximately 400 protesters had gathered in support. But Garo said the activists were in a room with 鈥渘o windows鈥 that was 鈥渂asically soundproof.鈥 They had no lines of communication outside the building and didn鈥檛 know if others knew of the arrests.

After the first students were processed and left the building, Garo heard cheers from outside as the doors opened. Supporters, including members of BDC, had gathered outside. Other individuals in the crowd were members of groups in the Brown Activist Coalition. And others were unaffiliated with any activist group.

The crowd sang Jewish worship songs and chanted in Arabic, greeting the arrested students with hugs. 鈥淓veryone had been so sad because of how alone we felt at that moment,鈥 Garo said. But when the door opened, she "knew we weren鈥檛 alone.鈥

Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, campus activism has surged on Brown鈥檚 campus and across the country to levels not seen since the COVID-19 pandemic. While both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists have organized on campus, the majority of the demonstrations at
Brown have shown support for Palestine.


Different groups have spearheaded these efforts at Brown. Some, like Students for Justice in Palestine, are recognized by Brown鈥檚 Student Activity Office. Others, like Jews for Ceasefire Now and BDC, are informal groups that have formed this academic year.

BAC鈥檚 web of officially registered student groups has expressed support for many of these demonstrations 鈥 though no demonstrations have occurred under the BAC banner. But the network has brought a sense of solidarity and support to its member activist groups focused on social justice and accountability on campus, Garo said.

An eight-day hunger strike in February with similar demands to the sit-ins saw backing from BAC member groups such as Students for Educational Equity, Sunrise Brown and Housing Opportunity for People Everywhere.

In other instances, such as the December arrests or the April encampment that concluded in the Corporation committing to vote on divestment in October, BDC has spearheaded efforts on its own.

Caroline Sassan 鈥24, a lead organizer for the BDC, said that support across activist groups showed that 鈥 we can throw
our collective weight behind the specific cause of Palestine and that it matters to all of us.鈥

鈥淲e need to be supporting each other and standing together,鈥 she said. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 the only way that we can win these power struggles.鈥

What is the Brown Activist Coalition?

Niyanta Nepal 鈥25, lead organizer for BAC and incoming Undergraduate Council for Students president, explained that BAC offers space 鈥渇or students to find support and learn how to navigate institutional systems and get advice from people who 鈥 have been organizing for a longer time.鈥

Students from different activist groups across campus can brainstorm ideas, pool resources and bring support for mutually backed causes in BAC, Nepal said. The last Brown Activist Coalition conference in September was attended by representatives from the Student Labor Alliance, SJP, Resource Generation @ Brown, End Sexual Violence @ Brown, Students for Educational Equity, Sunrise Brown and the Teaching Assistant Labor Organization, The Herald previously reported.

It鈥檚 鈥渁 place for us to see that our missions and campaigns are really intertwined,鈥 Nepal added. BAC has also focused on issues such as agreements governing voluntary contributions from the University and three other higher education institutions to Providence known colloquially as PILOT.


Under the agreements, Brown will pay $174.4 million to the city over the next 20 years. The agreements drew criticism from BAC-aligned student activists as insufficient given the number of tax-exempt the University holds.

In 2023, SEE, Sunrise Brown and the Student Labor Alliance protested the agreements at demonstrations and testified at City Council hearings. The City Council approved both agreements, The Herald previously reported.

BAC constituent groups also lead their own campaigns. Sunrise Brown separately pushed for Brown to provide a fossil fuel-free retirement fund option, which was created in February, for Brown staff as part of its DIRE campaign. Earlier in May, it a report outlining the University鈥檚 alleged historic role in environmental injustice.

Sunrise had also planned a week of activities to 鈥渞eclaim Earth Day鈥 and highlight environmental injustice, although they their programming in solidarity with the students in the encampment and 鈥淧alestinian liberation鈥 according to an Instagram .

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鈥楥oncentric circles鈥: BAC鈥檚 structure and relationships with other groups

Nepal cofounded BAC along with Jada Wooten 鈥24 in spring 2022. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a more informal version of the activist coalition met to discuss their campaigns.

Nepal described it as a 鈥渟teering committee.鈥 But during the pandemic, many of the activist groups could not sustain themselves. The coalition dissolved with them. When Nepal was a first-year in 2021, she saw an uptick in campus activism. 鈥淏ut there was no way for all of us to share our information on (our) campaigns with one another to work together,鈥 she said.

That led to the reformation of BAC. Now, the coalition hosts meetings every two weeks. There, member organizations 鈥渢alk about what they鈥檙e doing and anything we might want to get going together,鈥 Garo said. Other organizations and individuals are welcome to attend. Garo said BAC is
a fairly open space: 鈥淲e鈥檙e not trying to be mean or kick anyone out,鈥 she said.

Wooten described BAC鈥檚 structure as 鈥渃oncentric circles.鈥 A group of formal member organizations, including SEE, HOPE, SJP and Sunrise, makes up the core of the coalition. An outer circle of peripheral groups also participates, but might not attend every meeting. Those organizations include labor and affinity groups like the Black Student Union and the Teaching Assistant Labor Organization, Wooten said.

Organizations interested in joining BAC must attend a meeting. Member clubs then vote on whether to accept them. Garo noted that BAC groups hold 鈥渁nti-white supremacist, anti-capitalist and anti-colonial鈥 values. Incoming groups are expected to share these beliefs.

Nepal added that BAC also holds foundational values of people power, accountability, solidarity and care. 鈥淜nowledge sharing is super important,鈥 said Gabi Venegas-Ramirez 鈥26, outreach chair for SJP and founder of Brown鈥檚 chapter of .

Some of that 鈥渋nstitutional knowledge鈥 lives in resources like the , a 2020 project that is now shared across groups in BAC.

Because every BAC member group is registered with SAO, they have access to Student Activities Office and Undergraduate Finance Board funding. Last fall, when SJP ran low on funding, BAC organizations helped 鈥渃rowdsource a lot of their materials,鈥 Garo said. Sunrise Brown also receives money from Sunrise鈥檚 national organization. 鈥淣ot every group has access to that sort of national or even international funding,鈥 she added. This means Sunrise can often buy more materials to support organizing efforts.

BDC is not part of BAC. Instead, it is a coalition of individuals, not organizations, committed to divestment. And each member of BDC does not participate in each action the coalition takes.

BDC does have members who are also members of BAC-affiliated groups and BAC鈥檚 leadership itself, like Nepal. And BAC groups have nearly overlapped into BDC actions.

For the Dec. 11 sit-in, BDC initially planned for members from each organization that signed an SJP statement following Oct. 7 to participate, Wooten said. Many of those groups are BAC-affiliated, and BAC itself signed the statement. That plan fell through, but some participants in the sit-in were members of BAC-affiliated groups.

Carla Humphris 鈥24, a lead organizer with the BDC and an active member of Sunrise Brown, said it wouldn鈥檛 make sense to register BAC or BDC with SAO: 鈥淎 coalition is not a formalized group,鈥 she said.

Navigating disagreements

While BAC is united by values, the groups aren鈥檛 a monolith. 鈥淭heories of change vary,鈥 Humphris said. 鈥淭here are times when initiatives or ideas have not gone through.鈥

Before many BAC-aligned groups began expressing support for pro-Palestine activism, Sunrise did not initially sign on to SJP鈥檚 statement following Oct. 7. The statement held 鈥渢he Israeli regime and its allies unequivocally responsible for all suffering and loss of life, Palestinian or Israeli.鈥

Garo initially voted against Sunrise signing onto the statement. She said she later regretted voting against it. But at the time, she was aiming to avoid doxxing that had occurred at other universities, as well as 鈥渞emain as respectful as possible of those who lost loved ones on Oct. 7.鈥

Garo added she initially thought that if the statement鈥檚 language was different, signers could avoid having their beliefs misunderstood.

鈥淚n hindsight 鈥 if you chose to even criticize Israel or the Israeli occupation, no matter how gentle your language, how considerate you are, how kind you are, whether or not you鈥檙e Jewish, it does not matter,鈥 she added, noting that blowback will come regardless. Sunrise eventually signed on
to the statement after a few weeks of offering private support.

HOPE鈥檚 decision to sign on came earlier but still involved 鈥渉ours and hours of conversations,鈥 said Hanna Aboueid 鈥24, one of HOPE鈥檚 leadership coordinators. After signing the statement, she reached out to members to let them know 鈥渨e鈥檙e committing to having whatever conversation is needed to get people to feel okay with this moving forward.鈥

HOPE later held a meeting to discuss the choice. Aboueid said conversations included 鈥渃ritically thinking鈥 about HOPE鈥檚 ideals. 鈥淎re we going to put our beliefs into action or are we going to take a step back?鈥 she asked. At the meeting, members discussed Palestinian history.

There was 鈥渁 lot of unlearning鈥 that had to occur, she said.

Wooten emphasized the importance of supporting members emotionally and creating a culture of care within BAC.

鈥淚 was really intentional about developing things like capacity check-ins and accountability partners,鈥 she said.

As president of the Black Student Union, Wooten was also conscious of positionality in certain advocacy. She said she took issue with BDC鈥檚 initial plan for each group that had signed the SJP statement to send members into the December sit-in.

鈥淣ot all the organizations have the same level of commitment, and not all of them have the positionality to put themselves on the line,鈥 Wooten said. In the end, the sit-in was purely voluntary with no 鈥渜uotas鈥 for the different organizations.

Humphris said that during discussions with students about participating in the sit-in, BDC was aware that the 鈥渕ajority of students who sat in were people of color.鈥 That meant those students faced unique risks 鈥渃oming in contact with the justice system.鈥

Wooten, now a graduating senior, is no longer particularly active in BAC. 鈥淢ember diversity and care was probably part of the reason why I left,鈥 Wooten said.

鈥淔or the coalition to be sustainable, I felt like I didn鈥檛 need to be as involved in facilitating as a senior,鈥 she added.

鈥淎t times, white ignorance was frustrating for me,鈥 Wooten said.

Around January 2023, in BAC's earlier days, she said there were tensions about 鈥渃are and centering white voices鈥 within BAC groups like Sunrise Brown.

鈥淪unrise Brown was only about a semester old. We were still finding our footing. And one issue we knew we would need to face head-on was the long history of white-washed and exclusionary environmentalism,鈥 Garo wrote in an email to The Herald. 鈥淎s a person of color and a Sunrise Brown
co-founder, this problem was very personal to me.鈥

鈥淲e had to do the hard work of educating people who maybe didn鈥檛 know what it meant to center justice in environmentalism, or who were from very privileged (i.e. white, male, wealthy) backgrounds and took up too much space,鈥 Garo wrote. She thinks the group has improved since.

鈥淚 am proud of the work we have done to make the group as inclusive and justice-oriented as possible,鈥 she added.

Other failures to recognize positionality have posed challenges, Wooten said. In PILOT-related organizing, she noted that some white BAC members called for Brown to pay the full amount it would owe to Providence if it were taxed as a for-profit institution 鈥 despite the fact that community
organizing partners had indicated that activists should instead advocate for a lower amount.

鈥淒iversity is an issue within activist spaces on campus and one we are trying to work through,鈥 Nepal wrote in a message to The Herald. She did not specifically respond to questions regarding disagreements surrounding PILOT.

鈥淧ositionality hugely impacts activism and is also something individuals must be aware of as they engage with activist spaces,鈥 Nepal wrote.

She added that she believes BAC鈥檚 membership includes a diverse group of students, highlighting the coalition's caucus for students of color. Still, she said 鈥渞oom for growth鈥 remains.

Over time, Wooten said she鈥檚 been inspired by changes in BAC鈥檚 composition and approach to care. 鈥淭his new generation of leadership that鈥檚 coming in 鈥 it鈥檚 diverse,鈥 she said.

Efficacy, the future of activism at Brown

Following the April encampment, the Corporation has committed to vote on divestment in its October meeting.

As a result of previous activism, Paxson had previously offered to fast-track a divestment proposal to the Advisory Committee on University Resource Management. But she had not indicated if she would advance it to the Corporation. The future of divestment remains uncertain. University
Spokesperson Brian Clark previously stated in an email to The Herald that Brown is 鈥渘ot directly invested in any defense stocks or large munitions manufacturers.鈥

The University has also cast doubt on its ability to divest given that private asset managers independently oversee 96% of the endowment, The Herald previously reported. Past divestment movements occurred when the endowment was more directly controlled by the University itself, rather than third-party asset managers.

Nepal said one of BAC鈥檚 biggest successes is increasing student engagement.

鈥淪tudent activism acts as a way for students to hold university systems accountable, but also to learn about what it means to be an organizer, what it means to be an advocate and test that out while (they are) at university,鈥 she said.

鈥淪tudents are capable of using our voices and our bodies to create some sort of change or shift public discourse,鈥 said Venegas-Ramirez. Garo referenced the impact student activism had during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement.

鈥淐an you say for sure that SNCC created 鈥 massive particular policy changes? No. But their ability to mobilize and educate members of the organization resulted in a lot of extremely important civil rights activists,鈥 she said.

Aboueid said the 鈥渞enewed sense of boldness鈥 and 鈥渞ighteous anger鈥 that has spread across college campuses over the past few months has inspired her.

On college campuses across the country, activists encampments calling for divestment from companies affiliated with the Israeli government and weapons manufacturers.

鈥淏rown loves to promote its legacy of student activism and walkouts,鈥 Venegas-Ramirez said. 鈥淲e know that legacy. We鈥檙e like 鈥榦kay, we鈥檙e going to put it to use.鈥欌

Nepal, the UCS president-elect, added that she aims to bridge the gap between UCS and activist voices on campus. She aims to hold more open general body meetings and bring in more voting representatives. After running on a pro-divestment platform, she hopes to facilitate more conversations between student activists and University administrators.

鈥淗aving a foot on both sides (is) crucial to be able to properly represent what鈥檚 going on,鈥 she said.

Nepal anticipates that future BAC endeavors will focus on ending legacy admissions after Brown delayed a final decision on them this spring, removing the University鈥檚 recently reinstated standardized testing requirements, continued pro-Palestine activism and working toward
environmental justice.

Avani Ghosh

Avani Ghosh is a Metro Editor covering politics & justice and community & activism. She is a sophomore from Ohio studying Health & Human Biology and International & Public Affairs. She is an avid earl grey enthusiast and can be found making tea in her free time.

Ciara Meyer

Ciara Meyer is a Senior Staff Writer covering the Beyond Brown beat. She is from Saratoga Springs, New York and plans on concentrating in Statistics and English nonfiction. In her free time, she loves scrapbooking and building lego flowers.


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