Date December 3, 2018
Media Contact

Letter from President Paxson: Recognizing 1968 Black Student Walkout's 50th anniversary

Christina Paxson wrote to the Brown community as the anniversary of the historic 1968 Black Student Walkout approaches and a group of students outlines concerns for future change at the University.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, Brown University will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Black Student Walkout.

With that historic anniversary approaching — and with a group of students having outlined a list of concerns for further change at Brown — University President Christina Paxson wrote to the Brown community on Monday, Dec. 3. The text of her letter follows here.


Dear Brown Community,

This week, Brown will mark the 50th anniversary of the Black Student Walkout of 1968.

On December 5, 1968, 65 courageous black students at Brown marched down College Hill to Congdon Street Baptist Church. They camped there for three days while negotiating with Brown leaders for increased social, academic and financial support for black students.

The walkout ended on Dec. 9, when the students secured the University’s agreement to launch an effort to significantly increase the number of black students in each new class. Those students established a foundation for future generations of historically underrepresented students, including other black students, in advocating together for a better Brown.

As I write, many of you may be aware that a small group of students has outlined a list of concerns they have brought to the administration, pressing for further change at Brown. Because of community interest, I am sharing my response to those students, appended below. As we recognize the important milestone of the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Walkout, I hope that we are reminded of the hard and ongoing work Brown has been actively engaged in as a community. Brown has made tremendous progress since 1968. A community-wide process involving students, staff, faculty and alumni built the Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion action plan (DIAP), launched in 2016.

Although we know there is still work to do, I am proud of the accomplishments since the DIAP was launched. Today, there is the expectation that all members of our community — students, faculty and staff — are dedicated to the hard and steady work of advancing the principles of equity and diversity. The DIAP is explicit in its charge that all who live, learn and work on campus are proactively ensuring that Brown is taking the steps necessary to be a more diverse and inclusive community. We hold ourselves accountable to reporting progress in the DIAP annual reports online.

As detailed in these reports, Brown has seen dramatic increases in faculty and students from underrepresented groups, and we have made similar progress in hiring diverse staff at every level. Senior-level diversity officers hired in a number of academic and administrative units help sustain the important work of diversity and inclusion. And in the classroom, new academic programming and enhancements to the curriculum help educate on issues of diversity, equity and justice.

I can’t begin to list the broad range of efforts since the launch of the DIAP, but I’ll highlight a number of other meaningful steps forward. Brown has strengthened its Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity; opened the First-Generation College and Low Income Student Center in partnership with students; removed all packaged loans from the financial aid awards of all students through The Brown Promise; launched numerous programs and initiatives for mentoring, advising, professional development and support for students, faculty and staff; and improved access in a range of areas, including counseling and psychological services.

Brown acknowledged this progress and the work still ahead of us in September as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1968 walkout. A three-day Black Alumni Reunion brought more than 600 alumni and their families back to campus. Many of the original 65 students from the Black Student Walkout were on campus to honor a defining moment in Brown’s history and to talk about what lies ahead.

As we prepare to enter the fourth year of the DIAP, I am calling on the community to rededicate ourselves to its goals and principles. Now more than ever — when reports persist of bias incidents across the country against communities of color, and as the courts are being used to challenge the foundation of diversity in higher education — this is a moment to recommit. Brown knows academic excellence cannot exist without diversity.

As we mark this 50th anniversary, I hope each and every member of our community will take this opportunity to renew a commitment to working together to achieve the shared goals of diversity and inclusion.


Christina Paxson
President, Brown University

Message Sent to the NEO Group of Students Regarding Their Dec. 2, 2018, Concerns

Dear NEO students,

Thank you for your email. I understand and commend your desire to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 walkout. It was an important event in Brown’s history, and it led to a great deal of vital and positive change. 

Many members of the administration are committed to discussing your concerns with you and other members of the campus community. I believe a subset of you recently met with Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes, Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Shontay Delalue, and Assistant Vice President for Campus Life Nicole Truesdell and had a productive discussion of a number of issues, such as space, admissions and funding for student activities.

As they stressed in this meeting, Dean of Admission Logan Powell will be glad to meet with you to talk with you about Brown’s admissions goals. In addition, Dean Powell can tell you more about the legal framework — established and upheld by the Supreme Court numerous times over the past 40 years — that prevents universities from setting numerical quotas or racial balancing for the admission of students of different racial and ethnic groups. As you know, our holistic admissions practices consider race as one of many important factors in admissions, and we have been successful in enrolling a growing number of extraordinary black students at Brown. 

Brown holds itself accountable to reporting on progress in admissions and other goals of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan in the DIAP annual reports. As reflected in those reports, about 21 percent of undergraduate students in the three most recent first-year classes are from historically underrepresented groups (42 percent of all domestic students from the Class of 2022 identify as students of color, and students identifying as black or African American make up 11 percent). Among domestic graduate and medical students who enrolled this fall, more than 25 percent of first-year medical students and more than 31 percent of entering doctoral students identify as coming from historically underrepresented groups. Academic departments have hired 14 new black faculty members across the disciplines since the DIAP was launched.

While I support the concept of a walkout and rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the student action of 1968, it is not possible to address your many concerns without including the voices of other members of the Brown community. As you note in your own letter, NEO does not represent all black students. Nor does it represent the views of many others (students, staff, faculty, alumni) who have a stake in the issues you raise.

Brown’s administration and the campus community more broadly have been actively engaged in confronting issues of racial discrimination, equity and justice. Brown’s approach is to address issues like those you have raised by engaging in constructive conversation with a wide range of Brown stakeholders — students, staff, faculty and alumni. This is the inclusive approach we followed during the development of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, valuing the experiences and perspectives of our full community. Without a longer and more inclusive conversation, we risk diminishing the voices of others on campus who are not part of the group that developed the demands, but who have valuable perspectives.

I am out of the country this week for pre-scheduled travel, but VP Estes and members of his team will be available for in-person discussions over the next few days. 


Christina Paxson