Providence, RI: In a historic first, Brown University has added caste as a protected class to its Nondiscrimination & Anti-Harassment Policy, becoming the first Ivy League institution to include such protections for all students, faculty, staff, and other protected community members.
As a leading research university serving both undergraduate and graduate students from across the world, Brown University becomes the first Ivy League institution to affirm its commitment to supporting caste oppressed students, staff, and faculty. This follows after Brown University’s recent update to their anti-discrimination policy, available here that highlights that caste discrimination will not be tolerated on campus.
In 2021, Harvard Graduate Student Union became the first union in the Ivy League network to add caste protections, and Brown University has now successfully extended caste protections to its entire campus through the amendment of its anti-discrimination policy. With about 15 percent of its student population being international students, the addition of caste in the anti-discrimination will protect both domestic and international students, staff, and faculty from the caste discrimination rampant across American higher education institutions.
Across the country, from UC Davis and Colby College to Brandeis University, California State University, and many other institutions, this urgent movement continues to expand as caste-oppressed students, faculty, and staff stand up and demand an end to caste-based discrimination. As Brown University joins these leading institutions in its commitment to ending caste discrimination, Equality Labs congratulates them on becoming the first Ivy League institution in the country to add caste as a protected category.
Quotes from campus and community leaders around this critical win:
Neha, Brown University ‘24
I am incredibly privileged to bear witness to the Ivy League’s first show of solidarity and support towards caste-oppressed students. While this historic policy change will not eliminate caste discrimination on campus, it is a crucial first step to creating a positive, rather than adversarial, environment for caste-oppressed students. Hopefully, it will allow them to take full advantage of the resources and experiences Brown has to offer without fear of discrimination. On the other side of the coin, I hope this policy encourages those with caste privilege to reflect on the ways in which their caste background has allowed them to move in South Asian spaces unhindered, and think more critically about how they can contribute to the annihilation of caste, both in the public space and in their private lives.
As a member of the team that was able to make this happen at Brown, I want to extend my thanks to Equality Labs for providing consistent support and encouragement, as well as the resources we needed to succeed in the form of legal briefs and statistical reports. Our work would not have been possible without them. I would also like to thank Dr. Carey-Butler, Brown’s Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity, who took the time to meet with us and understand why caste protections are crucial at institutions of higher education. It was her support at the administrative level that enabled us to make change on an institutional level. Jai Bhim!
Rabia, Brown University ‘22
After over a year of organizing and working with administrators at Brown to make caste protections a reality, it is a joyous moment knowing that caste has been added to Brown’s nondiscrimination policy. I hope that this brave step sets an example for other institutions of higher education across the country to join Brown in protecting its caste-oppressed community members. I am proud to belong to the interfaith and intercaste coalition of student organizers who fought to achieve this win for caste equity.
While caste remains a mystery to many, this change will carve out space to hold conversations about the existence of caste within South Asian communities. As a caste-oppressed person, I have witnessed caste dynamics play out on Brown’s campus in ways that are often too subtle for those unfamiliar with caste to recognize. Some South Asian social circles reinforce caste hierarchies. This is a critical first step in protecting caste-oppressed community members and ensuring their safety on Brown’s campus. There is still much more to be done in terms of education around caste among South Asians and non-South Asians, to support research around caste, and to invest in uplifting caste-oppressed students. But it is equally important to celebrate this historic win for the incredible contributions it adds to the growing nationwide movement for caste equity in higher education.
prabhdeep singh kehal, Brown University, PhD ‘22
I am encouraged by the undergraduate students’ coalitional efforts to work with campus leaders in updating their nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policy, which applies to the entire University and its operations. Discrimination and harassment associated with casteism is often nuanced and easily justified away as ‘cultural differences’, but by adding protections against caste-based discrimination, all faculty, staff, students, and other individuals protected under existing definitions will now have one more resource on campus available to them to create an equitable campus environment. Through this policy update, campus community members – undergraduate students, graduate student workers, and staff – show the power and influence that they have when they work together in order to bring about change, and Brown University shows the importance and potential of listening to and learning with its campus constituencies.
Elena Shih, Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies, Brown University
“The absence of caste consciousness in DEI efforts has not been accidental, but a strategic form of erasure enabled by different sources of power and influence. I applaud the tireless Brown University student activist and organizing efforts that have brought these sources of erasure to light, and demanded that we address them. The fact that Brown has added caste as a protected class to its Nondiscrimination & Anti-Harassment Policy, will hopefully encourage other institutions of higher education to follow suit. The work of those to end caste-based oppression stems from long-standing tradition of political organizing and activism that is central to the founding of fields like Ethnic Studies and the subfield of Asian-American Studies. This important institutional change carves out space for marginalized South Asian voices and communities that have been left out of most scholarship in mainstream Asian American studies. We can all learn from anti-caste organizing–it opens up opportunities to consider and evaluate which histories have been prioritized in teaching and how to reenvision what narratives are included in our classrooms.”
Maria, Brown University ’22
As a non-South Asian person, learning how caste operates in the U.S. to disenfranchise, marginalize, and silence caste-oppressed people has been through the labor of caste-oppressed South Asians and other South Asian people who stand in solidarity. As an Asian and Arab American, who has studied Asian American studies, this institutional and systemic silence is undoubtedly purposeful. I am so proud of the work that student activists at Brown have done to take this essential and first step in creating a space for caste-oppressed students, staff, and faculty to speak about their experiences safely. I hope that in doing so, non-South Asian community members at Brown take the initiative to learn about caste, uplift the voices of their caste-oppressed classmates and colleagues, and invest in research and education on caste.
manmit singh, Caste Equity Organizer at Equality Labs
This is yet another historic moment and we are so excited to welcome Brown University to the growing anti-caste movement. We congratulate Brown for affirming its commitment to supporting all students, staff, and faculty, including on the basis of caste. As colleges and universities continue to add caste as a protected category, we are in awe of the power that students, staff, and faculty are building together through this inter-caste and inter-faith effort. Such a power rooted in justice is unstoppable and materializing in these beautiful ways. Although the road ahead towards transforming our higher education institutions to be caste equitable is still long, we are one step closer in community. We look forward to continuing to build together and celebrating the many more victories to come. Thank you and congratulations once again to the courageous leaders at Brown University whose labor, dedication, and love continues to guide the work for caste equity.
For more information please contact Equality Labs at email@example.com.