PROVIDENCE — Police arrested 20 students at Brown University Wednesday night who held a sit-in on campus and refused to leave, demanding that President Christina Paxson publicly commit to a list of demands related to the Israel-Hamas war including divesting from companies with ties to weapons manufacturers.
“In light of the ongoing genocide occurring in Gaza backed by American aid, weapons, media, politicians, and academic institutions, we, BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now, call on Brown University to do its part to promote an immediate ceasefire and a lasting peace by divesting its endowment from companies that enable war crimes in Gaza,” their statement read. “We will not leave University Hall until President Christina Paxson publicly commits to include and support a divestment resolution in the next meeting of the Brown Corporation.”
The sit-in began around 1 p.m. Wednesday. The arrests began around 5:45 p.m., when students were escorted out of University Hall by Brown police and into Providence police transport vans outside the Van Wickle Gates.
Lily Gardner, a Brown sophomore and one of the organizers of the sit-in, said each student was charged with willful trespassing. She was among those arrested, and said students were released on personal recognizance. They are due back in court on Nov. 28, she said.
“I think this was really necessary to break through the rhetoric, and without claims that this belief is antisemitic,” said Gardner, who said each of the 20 students were Jewish. “We took a stand for Brown.”
The students were informed around 5:30 p.m. “that they would be taken into custody if they refused to leave,” according to a Providence Police incident report, which was obtained by the Globe on Thursday afternoon. Brown police took 20 students into custody over the next hour and a half, before turning them over Providence police, according to the report.
Brown spokesman Brian Clark confirmed Wednesday night that the university issued “multiple trespass warnings.”
The students “refused to leave a campus building where their presence after operating hours posed security concerns,” he said in an emailed statement. “Nearing and again after 5 p.m., the students were repeatedly informed that they would face arrest for trespass after the close of business, given security issues.”
The Providence Police Department did not immediately respond to questions from the Globe.
Clark said the university “respects and upholds freedom of expression,” but that the “time, place, and manner” are subject to regulation on campus only “to prevent interference with the normal functions of the university.” He said the students gathered in a hallway during the sit-in, which is against fire codes.
In the moments before the arrests began, more than 150 students stood near University Hall singing and shining phone flashlights, according to videos shared with the Boston Globe. Some supporters sang songs and prayed.
“As Jewish students, we’ve had enough of our university co-opting our identities to justify maintaining financial ties to an apartheid state and suppressing advocacy for Palestinian liberation,” said Ariela Rosenzweig, a BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now member.
Brown Students for Justice in Palestine also protested the Israel-Hamas War on campus on Wednesday, and also called for a ceasefire in Gaza. The SJP and the Brown Palestine Solidarity Caucus sent a petition and demands to the university, noting that Palestinian students and employees “face urgent threats to their safety, academic freedom, and futures.”
“President Paxson must immediately and unequivocally condemn the doxxing, Islamophobic and racist harassment, censorship, and political persecution of the Brown University community,” the petition read.
“As Israel commits mass killings of Palestinians in Gaza, it uses weapons from which Brown’s endowment profits,” read the group’s petition, which was signed by more than 1,300 Brown students and employees.
Paxson previously declined to make any statements calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
“Although I occasionally engage in public advocacy on policy issues directly related to higher education and Brown, it is precisely because of Brown’s commitment to academic freedom that I can’t take the actions that have been requested,” said Paxson during a Brown faculty meeting on Nov. 7.
“A university is not a single person, but a community of people who hold diverse views,” said Paxson in her remarks, which were posted on the university’s website. “My responsibility, as president, is not to place a stamp of approval on the views of a subset of the community, even if that subset is large.”
SJP also called for Brown to divest the endowment of weapons manufacturers that “profit from Israel’s apartheid regime, including Textron, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman,” and others.
Clark explained that divestment “from companies that facilitate Israel’s actions in Palestinian territories” was previously explored by the University’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Practices in 2020.
“The group’s recommendation to divest did not meet established standards for identifying specific entities for divestment or the articulation for how financial divestment from the entities would address social harm as defined in the committee’s charge,” Clark said. “Therefore, it was not brought forth to the Brown Corporation for consideration.”
SJP also called for Maria Zuber, a board member of both Brown Corporation and the Providence-based aerospace and defense company Textron, to resign from her position or be removed from the university’s board. Clark did not respond to questions from the Globe about Zuber.
Clark said the Brown recognized that the recent events in Gaza and Israel have brought to the forefront “deeply held and often conflicting views.” The university is focused on supporting students and employees who are “Israeli, Palestinian, Muslim, Jewish, have ties to the region, and are feeling impacted by current events,” he said.
“At Brown, we recognize our responsibility for being an educational institution that manages challenging discussions in a way that remains true to the fundamental principle of freedom of expression while emphasizing the importance of safety for all community members,” said Clark. “Brown leaders have met with many student groups in recent weeks to listen to and address concerns, and we will continue to do so moving forward.”
But some students feel the university has not done enough.
“I was raised knowing that the single most important thing I could learn from Judaism is the pursuit of justice and the repair of the world, tikkun olam,” said Rafi Ash, who was arrested during the sit-in. ”We should not need to use the violence that was perpetrated against our ancestors to understand the wrong we see before us. We cannot let our government and our educational institutions support ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and genocide.”
This story has been updated with the exact number of students who were arrested.