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Students at Brown University hold pro-Palestinian hunger strike

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

At Brown University, pro-Palestinian activism has become very visible on campus. Since November, more than 60 students have been arrested during sit-ins. Now students are taking even more drastic measures. For the last week, more than a dozen have been refusing food as part of a hunger strike. Olivia Ebertz from Rhode Island member station The Public's Radio has been on campus in Providence this week talking with student activists. Hi there.

OLIVIA EBERTZ, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What are the striking students asking for?

EBERTZ: So throughout all of these protests at Brown University, the through line has always remained divestment. The students really want their universities endowment to be divested from companies that they say profit from human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories. So that could include companies like weapons manufacturers, aerospace and defense contractors. It also includes companies that make motors for construction equipment that could be used to build Israeli settlements.

I talked to one of the students who is on hunger strike, Nour Abaherah. She is a Palestinian American student. She's at Brown's School of Public Health. And her grandparents live here in Rhode Island, but they're also Palestinian. And she says that they've been really proud to watch her through all of this.

NOUR ABAHERAH: They are, like, extremely happy to see that so many students that are not necessarily Palestinian are so dedicated to the Palestinian cause.

EBERTZ: And so besides all the students who are on hunger strike right now, there have also been hundreds of other campus community members who have been participating in rallies and events to kind of support these students. I've covered these protests for months now going on at Brown, and this is a movement that seems to be building. And things kind of feel like they're coming to a head right now.

SHAPIRO: Well, what has the university said or done in response?

EBERTZ: So the university's president, Christina Paxson, has repeatedly refused to bring a divestment measure up for a vote. The body that could actually vote on divestment is meeting this week at Brown - that's the Brown Corporation board. But it's really hard to know what they're thinking. The school is being super tight-lipped on anything that's going on behind these closed-door meetings, and members of the board aren't talking to me. These meetings are also coming as 41 students who were arrested last semester for similar protests are set to be arraigned next week.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell how widespread the view of these protesters is among Brown's student body?

EBERTZ: I would say it's pretty widespread. The school's paper of record, The Brown Daily Herald, has been publishing a lot of Op-Eds in support of these students - not just the students on hunger strike, but students who have participated in past actions. There have been a few letters also, calling some of these actions antisemitic. But I would say that there are far more letters in support of these students than against them.

SHAPIRO: And how invested is Brown's endowment in the companies that the protesters object to?

EBERTZ: So we know from SEC filings that Brown's $6.6 billion endowment is indirectly invested in some aerospace and defense contractors. And the school has used this idea of indirect investments as a defense, but students like Ariela Rosenzweig are pushing back against that.

ARIELA ROSENZWEIG: Any amount of money, which is going to war profiteering, occupation, Israeli settlements - we feel that it's blood money.

EBERTZ: So students like Rosenzweig think that an Ivy League school of Brown's stature can sort of set an example for other schools to maybe divest in the future, and they think that Brown could even help sway U.S. policy.

SHAPIRO: Olivia Ebertz of member station The Public's Radio in Rhode Island, thank you.

EBERTZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF AKON SONG, "CRACK ROCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Olivia Ebertz