In the Wake of George Floyd: How Brown University Responded

Following the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, and the subsequent outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, many of Brown University’s various schools, departments, and student groups joined the rest in proclaiming their support for Black Lives Matter. Below is a narrative describing who responded and how, though it is important to keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. A spreadsheet detailing responses by Brown-affiliated organizations can be found here. Furthermore, responses collected are those that are publicly available or were sent to the entire Brown University community. Internal communications within the various organizations on campus may not be included here or in the attached spreadsheet.

Brown’s Official Response

The University’s initial response was a statement released by Brown University Senior Leadership including President Christina Paxson, on June 1st, 2020. This statement, titled “Letter from Brown’s senior leaders: Confronting racial injustice,” offered condolences to victims of police violence and called on the Brown community to act against racism and police brutality. Following the University’s statement, the Office of the Provost established a special research fund titled “Addressing Systemic Racism,” which was meant  to “support research and programming aimed at addressing anti-black racism.” A number of  projects researching the causes, effects, and potential solutions to systemic racism, both within the University and in the United States as a whole, were supported by the Fund. These included exhibits, such as  the Warren Alpert Medical School’s “I Can’t Remember What I Yelled Back” photo exhibit, which featured photos taken by student John Johnson intended to “depict the beauty and joy of Black lives in the American South.” Other projects aimed to investigate the University’s ties to systemic racism, and how to best address and remedy these connections. One such project was the Library’s “Racial Justice Project,” which was guided by four goals: establishing a common vocabulary about racial justice, identifying how racism may have manifested in the Library, setting goals to move towards racial justice, and actively pursuing those goals. There were several other projects funded under the “Addressing Systemic Racism” initiative, including the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies’ “In the Wake  of George Floyd: Responses to Anti-Black Racism in Rhode Island” project. 

Several departments, Centers and schools also issued statements in solidarity with the BLM movement. The Continuum, the magazine for the Brown School of Public Health, published a piece documenting the experiences of several Public Health students at the historic June 5th BLM protest. Students from the Brown Alpert Medical School organized a protest for “health equity for black lives.” Statements were released by several Brown centers, including the Watson Institute, Swearer Center, Brown/RISD Hillel, CLACS, and Global Brown Center for International Students. Various academic departments also chose to release statements, including the Literary Arts, Education, Classics, Music, TAPS, CLPS, and Africana Studies departments. 

Student Responses

Various student organizations also offered their support and calls for action. Most of Brown’s political and/or cultural groups issued statements or organized events in support of BLM during the summer of 2020. Students for Justice in Palestine at Brown organized an event titled Black Members of SJP Speak: We have Us), intended to amplify the voices of Black students within the group and hold a discussion on what they mean when they say “Black Lives Matter”; this was held in addition to the statement they issued. The Brown College Democrats was one of the first student groups to release a statement. Some activist groups, such as Brown Asian Sisters Empowerment,  held virtual conferences or webinars. Others, like Brown Muslim Student Association, issued calls for donations towards activist foundations and charities. Black student coalitions like the Black Student Union and the Brown University African Students Association released their own statements of support, alongside documents detailing ways to support the cause. 

Brown political and activist groups were not the only groups to express support for the BLM movement. Several sororities and fraternities shared their condolences on the killing of Floyd, as well as resources on how to support the BLM movement. Alpha Chi Omega and Delta Gamma each released a statement detailing their mission of inclusivity and anti-racism, while also attaching links to various activist organizations, petitions, and charities. Other Greek life organizations to release a statement include Beta Omega Chi, Harambee House, and Kappa Alpha Theta

Virtually all of Brown’s student publications responded to the news of George Floyd’s death with relative swiftness. Most prominent of the publications on campus is the Brown Daily Herald, which released their first piece on the matter on June 3rd. The piece contained quotes from several Brown University students, detailing the feelings of distress felt by many students during this time. It also contained advice on how to contribute to the cause against anti-black racism and police violence. The Herald went on to release two more articles on the issue the following week, including a June 7th piece on BLM protests in Providence, and a June 8th piece on the various ways Brown University had responded to George Floyd’s murder. Both the Brown Political Review and XO Magazine released statements, and the College Hill Independent released an article about an Instagram account called @blackivystories, which was started in June 2020 to detail experiences of racism on Ivy League campuses.

Student organizations for the Arts also showed up in support of BLM. While various performing and visual arts groups released statements, many others participated in donation matching in order to support various BLM funds and organizations which help the larger Black community. These include Shakespeare on the Green, Brown Badmaash, Attitude Dance, the Intergalactic Community of A Capella, and the Brown Band; the Band matched over $5500 in donations on its own. Brown’s Ensemble Theatre group held an open board meeting to discuss anti-black racism in theatre and the necessary steps to create an actively anti-racist theatre community. Some of Brown’s sports teams  also responded with  brief statements and fund raising activities. Two members of Brown’s Women’s Soccer team began the Workout for BLM Initiative, in which they performed an 8 minutes and 46 seconds workout in honor of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality. Joined by Brown’s Baseball and Wrestling teams, this workout was used to raise money for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. There were also calls for action by the Football and Men’s Basketball teams.

Looking Forward

Though most Brown University departments, schools, and organizations took action immediately after the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020, the University’s work did not stop there. Following the conviction of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd, in April of 2021, Brown President Christina Paxson released a statement reiterating Brown’s stance against racism and detailing the steps Brown had taken since Floyd’s death. Also in the spring of 2021, Brown University reached an agreement with the Rhode Island Attorney General to improve the hate crime reporting process. Such actions displayed a lasting commitment to the pursuit of anti-racist practices in Brown and the larger Providence community. 

Though it may seem like this narrative contains a large amount of supportive responses from the Brown University community, this document only includes roughly one-third of the collected Brown responses to the murder of George Floyd. For a full list of Brown University’s responses, check out the spreadsheet here

While the overwhelming response was in support of Brown’s expressions of solidarity, one notable expression of dissent was issued by Professor Glenn C. Loury, who  released a rebuttal to the statement by Christina Paxon and Brown’s senior leadership in City Journal titled “I Must Object.”