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RI HIGHER EDUCATION

Brown drops charges against 20 students arrested after sit-in over war in Gaza

Brown University students with Jews for Ceasefire staged a sit-in on Nov. 8 at the office of the university's president, demanding that the university call for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas, and divest itself from companies that the students say facilitate Israeli occupation.Talia LeVine

PROVIDENCE — Less than a day before their arraignment, Brown University announced Monday night that it was dropping trespassing charges against the 20 students arrested on campus earlier this month, after they held a sit-in and refused to leave, calling on the school’s leadership commit to a list of demands related to the Israel-Hamas war.

The students were scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday morning, just days after three students of Palestinian descent were shot near the University of Vermont campus is Burlington, Vermont.

One of the students attacked in Vermont was Hisham Awartani, a Brown University junior, who was walking to his family’s home in Burlington with two of his friends —Tahseen Ali Ahmad, who attends Trinity College, and Kinnan Abdalhamid, a student at Haverford College.

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“Given the unexpected circumstances of recent days, Brown University reached out to the city solicitor’s office today and asked that the trespass charges against the students be dismissed, and the city has agreed,” said a university statement shared by spokeswoman Amanda McGregor in an email to the Globe.

“The vicious attack against one of our students over the weekend in Vermont is reverberating across campus,” the statement continued. “It has shaken some of our community members deeply, while others are struggling to process what this means, not only for our campus, but for this country and world that we all live in.”

On Nov. 8, the 20 students, who each said they were Jewish and part of newly formed campus group, BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now, demanded Brown President Christina H. Paxson call for a ceasefire in Gaza and divest the university’s endowment of weapons manufacturers. The students were asked to leave multiple times during the sit-in that took place after hours, according to university officials, but they refused. Their presence after operating hours posed “security concerns,” according to McGregor.

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Edie Fine, a junior at Brown who is Jewish and was arrested during the sit-in, said they were “relieved” to no longer be facing criminal charges, and hopes it will “set a precedent of the university and of President Paxson when it comes to civil disobedience on campus.” In fact, Fine said, BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now and other campus groups plan on doubling down on their campaign for Brown to divest.

“We will do everything so the administration has no choice but to not look away,” said Fine.

After a four-day ceasefire in Gaza, Israel and Hamas agreed Monday to extend it for two more days. Paxson has repeatedly declined to make any statements calling for a ceasefire, and divestment from weapons manufacturers was explored in 2020 by the University’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Practices. But 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,” Brown spokesman Brian Clark told the Globe previously. The recommendation was not brought to the Brown Corporation for consideration.

Some faculty members had called on the university to drop its charges against the students.

It’s unclear what kind of academic consequences the students might face. McGregor said the university’s conduct process is “moving forward as appropriate.”

“Because of federal law protecting student privacy, the university cannot offer further comment on the disciplinary process for individual students, but in the face of recent challenging events affecting our campus, the university has asked that the criminal charges against the students be dismissed without conditions,” said McGregor.

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Brown hosted a vigil for “peace and healing” Monday night, to honor the students who were attacked in Vermont. It started with a cello player performing a somber tune, but quickly escalated into protest when Paxson was speaking.

“If you care, you will listen to your students,” said Rita Feder, a Jewish senior at Brown, during an interview after Monday’s protest. “Brown should be bold, and truly take a stance.”

This article has been updated with comments from some of the students who were arrested.



Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.