Date March 3, 2022
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Amid crisis in Ukraine, Brown community unites to provide support, host discussions

Scholars and others at Brown are joining together to provide support for Ukrainian scholars and people directly affected in the country, and to convene scholarly discussions about the unfolding war with Russia.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In the midst of Russia’s rapidly escalating siege of Ukraine, which has already leveled sites in key cities and forced 1 million Ukrainians to flee, scholars and other community members at Brown are uniting — both to offer support for people most affected in Ukraine and to make sense of the unfolding war.

In a Feb. 27 letter to the University community, Brown President Christina H. Paxson offered heartfelt empathy to those impacted by the conflict, shared resources for campus community members who may need support and pledged to welcome displaced Ukrainian scholars.

“As a university, we have tremendous resources that can help support our community and inform our global society,” Paxson wrote. “As we have done in the past — most recently after the conflict in Afghanistan erupted — we are working with several partner organizations, including the Scholars at Risk network and the New University in Exile Consortium, to provide a safe academic home for Ukrainian scholars.”

At a faculty meeting two days later, Paxson noted that there are 10 Brown students who are known to be from Ukraine, and the University has reached out to them directly to offer guidance and support. But many more students, faculty and staff may have family or other personal connections to the country, she said, and faculty and staff across campus should aim to connect with anyone who may need assistance.

“These are truly harrowing experiences for affected members of our community, and it’s hard to imagine how people can focus on being a student, being a good employee, not knowing if their families are safe,” Paxson said. “We reach out to individuals from affected areas and make sure they’re okay and offer support.”

“ As always, our University stands together in times of crisis. ...We encourage you to stay informed and continue to support one another. ”

Christina H. Paxson Brown University President


Michael D. Kennedy, a professor of sociology at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Tony Levitas, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute, and Natasha Rybak, an assistant professor at the Warren Alpert Medical School who leads the longstanding Brown University Ukraine Collaboration through the University’s Global Health Initiative are among several University-affiliated leaders of Friends of Ukraine R.I., a private ad hoc group formed to provide funds for Ukrainian citizens mobilizing to defend their borders from Russian attacks. As of March 3, their fundraising campaign had raised $42,000 in less than a week for the purchase and delivery of medical supplies — such as medical splints, sterile wipes and thermal blankets — to Ukrainians who were setting up makeshift hospitals to tend to the wounded.

Levitas, who spent much of his adult life working in Ukraine, said the group connected with Ukrainians on the ground via a network of 11,000 former Peace Corps members who had worked in Ukraine and Poland.

“We really started this out of a feeling of helplessness,” Levitas told ABC 6 television in Providence on Tuesday, March 1. “You’re getting calls from friends about where they’re going and what they need help with, and you don’t know what you can really do. So we just said, we’ve got to raise money.”

Meanwhile, scholars across campus worked to share historical context and provide forums for discussion and debate. 

The Choices Program, an arm of Brown’s Department of History where students and faculty work together to create innovative K-12 curricula on important topics in history and current issues, created a free, downloadable lesson on the Ukraine crisis available to all teachers. The curriculum guides teachers through a one-day lesson that uses news and political cartoons to explore the current situation in Ukraine and its historical origins.

Nicole Jarvis, a ninth-grade teacher in Vancouver, British Columbia, said on Twitter that the curriculum helped her guide her class through the history of the conflict and the current international response this week.

“They’re supporting high school teachers like me who legitimately need relevant lesson resources and materials,” Jarvis said of the Choices Program. “This lesson sequence is a wonderful thing for me.”

On Tuesday, March 1, the Department of History hosted a teach-in and panel discussion on the crisis. The event featured short reflections from several faculty members with personal and scholarly connections to Ukraine, including history and Slavic studies faculty members Masako Fidler, Fabrizio Fenghi and Ethan Pollock, history Ph.D. candidates Alexandra Morehead and Julia Gettle, alumnus Harry Merritt and student Brehan Brady.

On Thursday, March 3, the Watson Institute convened a crisis seminar on the invasion of Ukraine, where visiting professor Lyle Goldstein led a group discussion among students, faculty and staff. Earlier this winter, the Watson Institute hosted a panel discussion highlighting Ukrainian, Russian and European perspectives on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, and its Trending Globally podcast featured an interview with Kennedy, who provided historical context for the current tensions between the two countries.

“As always,” Paxson wrote in her letter to the Brown community, “our University stands together in times of crisis. We have resources to support members of our community and scholars and students displaced by conflict. We encourage you to stay informed and continue to support one another.”