© 2024 Red River Radio
Voice of the Community
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Brown University holds vigil after student wounded in possible hate crime shooting


A Brown University student was among the three Palestinian college students shot and wounded in Burlington, Vt., last weekend. At a vigil held last night, Brown's president was shouted down as she spoke. Olivia Ebertz reports for Rhode Island member station The Public's Radio.

OLIVIA EBERTZ, BYLINE: Frustrations have been growing at Brown University, an Ivy League school in Providence, where students and faculty have been protesting their administration's stance on Israel. The campus has been a pressure cooker since 20 Jewish students were arrested earlier this month during a sit-in in the administrative building. The school forced criminal trespassing charges by calling city police. And then Palestinian Brown student Hisham Awartani was shot in the spine while visiting family in Vermont. Hundreds of Brown community members poured onto the main campus green last night for a vigil that included remarks from the school's president, Christina Paxson.


CHRISTINA PAXSON: We're powerless to do everything we'd like to do but there's so much that we are doing and continue to do.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You're a hypocrite. You're a hypocrite.

EBERTZ: Student activists say Paxson has not met their demands, which include calling for a permanent cease-fire. They also say she failed to protect Arab students from harassment by not releasing a statement acknowledging a growth in anti-Arab sentiment until Sunday. Talia Sawiris is the president of the Arab Society at Brown. She said it took a student getting shot for the president to finally speak out against anti-Arab hate.

TALIA SAWIRIS: While we welcome those condemnations, it came too late. That was the first time, and that was after weeks and weeks of students meeting with the administration recounting different instances of harassment, of discrimination on this campus.

EBERTZ: But the protesters' main demand...


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Brown divest. Brown divest. Brown divest.

EBERTZ: Students have been asking for a divestment since at least 2019. Brown's $6.5 billion endowment is indirectly invested in some companies that manufacture weapons that have been used against the Palestinian territories. Paxson has refused to bring the topic to the board. As protesters chanted refrains of Brown divest, she yelled back.


PAXSON: We're having a vigil for your friend, our friend, our student.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Brown divest. Brown divest.

PAXSON: This is how you want to honor your friend.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Brown divest. Brown divest.

PAXSON: I'm sorry.

EBERTZ: But Awartani, the student shot in Burlington, is part of Brown's divestment movement. Aboud Ashhab is a Brown junior who knows Awartani from growing up in Ramallah. He says Awartani attended the protest in which the 20 Jewish students were arrested.

ABOUD ASHHAB: I wouldn't say that we're student activists. We're Palestinians. We can't separate this aspect of our lives.

EBERTZ: The loud calls for divestment drowned Paxson out. The vigil resumed once she left. In an emailed statement, Brown said students, quote, "expressed themselves in the way they felt moved to." Just before the vigil, the university announced the 20 students arrested in the sit-in would no longer be charged. Twenty-nine-year-old graduate student Beckett Warzer says it was too little, too late.

BECKETT WARZER: It's the bare minimum. And also, it was very clear that it was a PR move.

EBERTZ: Student activists say they'll continue to ask the university to call for a cease-fire and to divest until their demands are met. For NPR News, I'm Olivia Ebertz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Olivia Ebertz