Confronting Issues of Race and Inclusion at Brown 

As part of the development of Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University (released February 1, 2016), the University compiled a timeline of significant milestones in Brown’s journey to become a more diverse and inclusive campus. This timeline recognizes the commitment and essential contributions of past and present generations of students, faculty and staff to improve diversity and inclusion at Brown.

The very foundation of Brown University is built upon the belief held by its students, faculty, staff and alumni that they are obligated to identify ways to make Brown stronger and better. The Pathways plan (DIAP) builds on a long legacy of work and activism; the timeline is presented as an appendix of the DIAP that recognizes the critical role of this campus activism. The timeline includes links to an archive of documents that provide the details and historical context of some of the events listed.

It is not possible to capture all the extraordinary efforts that have contributed to the long history of efforts to confront issues of racism and discrimination at Brown. Other projects, such as the Blacks at Brown, History of Brown Women, the LGBTQ timeline, and others trace a more detailed history of representation of underrepresented groups at the University. They were an invaluable resource in developing this timeline focused on activism leading to major milestones. 

The timeline project is the first time Brown has sought to compile a unified history focused on University efforts, campus activism and alumni initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion. It would not have been possible without the contributions of alumni, archivists and administrators across campus assisting in the review and documentation of generations of efforts.

Starting in the 1960s

The timeline represents only a partial span of Brown’s 251-year history. At the University’s founding in 1764, Brown opened its doors to students without regard to religious affiliation (ahead of its time among institutions of higher education). In 1850, Brown’s fourth president, Francis Wayland, sought to reach a more diverse mercantile class through flexible, elective degree programs—a model of open and rigorous liberal education that was embraced even more fully in 1969 when Brown adopted the “New Curriculum.” Women were first admitted to Brown in 1891 through the Women’s College that became Pembroke College, and women increasingly took classes with men on the Brown campus through the 1930’s.

Yet it was not until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s that Brown was compelled to look more critically at its practices, policies, and campus environment with respect to race and other areas of inclusion. Campus efforts to foster inclusion across race and ethnicity were fueled largely by student activism in the form of such large-scale events as the 1968 Walkout, the 1975 takeover of University Hall, and the 1985 occupation of the John Carter Brown Library. Women’s issues also came to the fore in the decade before full coeducation became official in 1971. The examination initiated in 2003 of Brown’s historical ties to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the exploration of race and inclusion at Brown after what has become known as the “Ray Kelly Affair” of 2013 further contributed to a decades-long journey toward building a better Brown for all members of the campus community.

The development of what has become the Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion plan commenced shortly after the 2014 release of the report on the Ray Kelly Affair. It has been informed by later activism ignited in early fall 2015 by campus reaction to columns focused on race that were published in the Brown Daily Herald student newspaper, as well as subsequent activism around issues of race at Brown and at colleges and universities across the country. It culminates with the release of the DIAP.