Date December 1, 2022
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Brown University adds caste to nondiscrimination policy

The Brown Corporation amended the University’s policy on equal opportunity, nondiscrimination and affirmative action to safeguard against the possibility of caste-based discrimination.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University has added a new provision to its nondiscrimination policy that explicitly prohibits caste oppression, in a move to underscore protections for members of the University community and to call attention to a subtle, often misunderstood form of structural inequality.

The Corporation of Brown University, Brown’s governing body, voted in Fall 2022 to adopt the change to the University’s Corporation Policy Statement on Equal Opportunity, Nondiscrimination and Affirmative Action.

Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Sylvia Carey-Butler, who developed the policy change presented to the Corporation, said that as the South Asian population in the U.S. increases, caste discrimination is a growing issue on college and university campuses across the country.

“Our nondiscrimination policies exist to ensure we’re protecting people and to ensure the University environment is free of hurt and harm,” Carey-Butler said. “We have a long-standing commitment to this work, and it is engrained into the fabric of who we are.”

Caste is a system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law or religion. It originated in South Asia, and caste-based discrimination and harassment can persist in some environments among groups of South Asian descent.

Carey-Butler said that Brown is the first Ivy League school to add caste to its campus-wide nondiscrimination policy, which she views as an important step, both symbolically and practically.

“The previous policy would have protected people experiencing caste discrimination,” Carey-Butler said. “But we felt it was important to lift this up and explicitly express a position on caste equity.”

A group of Brown students helped to inform the change by sharing research on caste discrimination with Carey-Butler in Spring 2022. The students said in a statement that Brown’s “institutional support and explicit recognition of caste discrimination legitimizes caste-oppressed experiences and provides a framework for reporting incidents.”

The students noted that South Asians are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, but much of that population comes from castes considered more esteemed. University students who are members of the castes classified as lower often report facing discrimination at educational institutions in the diaspora.

“Many caste-oppressed people remain ‘closeted’ about their caste identity in fear of experiencing retaliation or discrimination,” the students said in a statement. “The new language of the University’s nondiscrimination policy offers caste-oppressed students who may be hiding their caste identity an option to report and address the harm they experience.”

The amended Corporation policy is included among other formal policies on Brown’s University policies website.