Office of the President
June 15, 2020
Tags Community Messages

Brown’s actions to address racial injustice

From the President

Dear Members of the Brown Community,

Unjust legacies of slavery and violence rooted in anti-Black racism have beleaguered this nation for centuries. These legacies appear today in both blatant and subtle ways, and are structural, systemic and persistent. They are obstacles to equity: in education, economic opportunity, policing, health care, housing, criminal justice and more, and threaten the lives and livelihoods of Black people in this country. These conditions are not new, but the brutal murder of George Floyd and countless others in the last few months have forced global attention on the realities that people of color, and especially Black people, face and fear in their daily lives.

Brown University, with its own well-documented direct ties to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, has sought to address the enduring presence and impact of racism and bias on campus, and to contribute to discourse, policy and outcomes through education, research and service. Through the extensive and deliberate work of so many students, staff, faculty and alumni, Brown remains deeply committed to this work, and to cultivating an environment in which every person is treated with dignity and respect.

While we have made progress in diversifying parts of campus, substantial work remains specifically in addressing anti-Black racism. Universities like Brown have a role to play in dismantling systemic racism by providing pathways for equity and access, advancing knowledge and enacting change locally and globally through teaching, research and public engagement.

We are writing to share steps that Brown will take immediately and over the longer term to more effectively drive necessary change on and beyond our campus to address anti-Black racism.

First, we want to acknowledge that Friday, June 19 (Juneteenth), is commemorated and celebrated in the U.S. by many as a day that marked the end of slavery. Brown will offer this as a paid day off for Brown employees, providing time to reflect on the national climate regarding issues of race, to learn more specifically about anti-Black racism, and to think about what each of us can do individually to promote change. There are a number of resources available to support this, including those offered by the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, and the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. Essential onsite staff who are unable to take June 19 as a day off should work with their supervisor to arrange for an alternative day.

The further steps outlined in this letter are a set of initial actions the University will pursue, aligned with Brown’s mission. Additionally, we know that including students, faculty, staff and alumni in identifying significant ways to effect real and meaningful change is essential for the work we will do together, and we’ll develop additional action steps following a process of community engagement.

Task Force

The scourge of bias, structural racism and violence against people of color, and particularly African Americans, runs long and deep, and addressing the origins and implications on and beyond the Brown University campus requires an intensive and comprehensive undertaking. The President will appoint a Task Force to focus on anti-Black racism, which will be asked to issue a set of recommendations by spring 2021. The Task Force will be co-chaired by Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Shontay Delalue and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Andre C. Willis, and membership will include faculty, staff, students and alumni, including members appointed through a process involving the various governance bodies (SAC, GSC, UCS, MSS, FEC, BAA, etc.).

Research and Education

Central to Brown’s mission is advancing knowledge, raising awareness and contributing to policy discussion, debate and change through research and education. Building on the exceptional work taking place across campus — in the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, and in many schools, institutes, departments and centers — the University will establish a seed fund to support research and education aimed at addressing anti-Black racism and police violence. The fund, to be administered by the Office of the Provost and the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, will provide grants to individuals or groups from academic and administrative departments to support scholarship and programming to advance awareness and understanding, and effect policy changes related to anti-Black racism specifically, and structural racism more generally. Details for proposal submission will be shared in the coming days.

In addition, through the various centers and departments on campus, the University will sponsor programming aimed at educating our community about the consequences of and strategies to combat anti-Black racism in the U.S. and throughout the world. Professor Tricia Rose, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, will coordinate these efforts.

Educational Equity and Access

The 2006 report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice underscores the importance of addressing today’s legacies of slavery through education, both by expanding access to Brown and also improving educational opportunities for marginalized students in Providence and Rhode Island.

In the coming year, the Office of College Admission will launch an initiative to intensify outreach efforts to attract and recruit more African American/Black undergraduate students to Brown with the goal of admitting a more diverse student body. Brown has a vibrant Black alumni community that, as students and now as alumni, has helped shaped the institution in innumerable ways. Brown is dedicated to continuing to recruit, matriculate and graduate more African American/Black students and those from other underrepresented demographics to ensure the institution continues to provide equitable opportunities to individuals who have been historically barred from access to higher education and to enhance the educational benefits of a diverse student body.

Brown has long and deep connections to the Providence Public School District, though engagement efforts have been diffuse and decentralized, often lacking strategic alignment with the school district’s priorities and overall accountability. Over the last year, Brown has been deeply engaged in discussions with city and state educational leaders to identify specific ways for the University to support efforts to strengthen teaching and learning in the Providence Public Schools. Drawing on the expertise and resources of Brown’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Department of Education, Swearer Center for Public Service, and other departments and centers across the University, we are developing a set of initiatives that align with the school district’s plans.

These efforts will require resources. We are committing to fully fund, no later than the end of this calendar year, the Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence, which was established in response to the report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. With discussions underway with the Commissioner of Education and the new Superintendent of Providence Public Schools, details on this initiative will be announced in the coming months.

Strengthening Partnerships to Improve Opportunities and Outcomes

Brown has a long and valued partnership with Tougaloo College, a historically Black college in Mississippi. As part of efforts to respond to the current national climate and fortify the partnership, Brown’s School of Public Health and Tougaloo College recently announced the Health Equity Scholars program. With the goal of expanding voices and perspectives in public health by changing the makeup of public health leadership, the scholars program will begin by admitting up to five Tougaloo graduates into Brown’s Master of Public Health program this fall and in subsequent years. Scholars will receive a full-tuition scholarship, enhanced mentorship and internships focused on training the next generation of public health leaders. We will work over the coming academic year to identify additional avenues for expanding upon the Brown/Tougaloo partnership in response to current times.

Review of Campus Policing Policies and Practices

Activism locally and globally is raising important questions about policing in the 21st century. It is important that we do this on our own campus in a thoughtful and rigorous way, and engage our community in the process. Brown University’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) was already scheduled for an external review this summer, and we have retained Margolis Healy, a nationally recognized campus safety and security consulting firm, to lead this comprehensive external assessment. Through this process, we will evaluate campus safety needs and consider the relevant policies, practices and organizational structure required to ensure security on our campus. The review will also consider critical questions related to the reimagining of community policing that are responsive to campus community voices and the national dialogue around policing. The process will include information gathering from diverse constituencies including students, specifically those from marginalized groups; student organizations; faculty; staff; DPS members; and other community members. 

Community Voices

We have heard from graduate, undergraduate and medical students, staff, faculty and alumni with voices of fear, anger, hope, exhaustion, urgency and duress. Many centers, departments and campus-based organizations have created forums to discuss recent incidents of anti-Black racism and violence, join in solidarity, plan protest, offer care and comfort, and become more educated and aware. The University will also convene a range of sessions organized through the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity to hear from the community. What we learn through this process, as well as information gathered in the past, will guide our work in the 2020-21 academic year.

We have heard from so many in our community for a call to action. We bring to this effort a shared sense of urgency as well as perseverance, as there is much to be done. We will need the entire Brown community to actively work together for real and meaningful change. By doing so, we can confront the entrenched forces that have prevented progress, equity and justice. We recognize this will not be easy and at times will be uncomfortable, but systemic change is never easy. This is Brown’s role and part of our mission, and thus it is our responsibility.


Christina H. Paxson

Richard M. Locke

Barbara Chernow
Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration