Date December 7, 2023
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Brown University students organize card writing in support of injured Palestinian friend

In a show of support for junior Hisham Awartani, who was injured in a Nov. 25 shooting in Vermont, students convened in the Global Brown Center to write cards and be in community together.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University senior Ellis Ward is among the members of the campus community grappling with the Nov. 25 shooting of his friend and schoolmate Hisham Awartani and seeking ways to care for him during his recovery.

In a show of support for Awartani, Ward and a group of fellow international students organized a card-writing event on Wednesday, Dec. 6, in Page-Robinson Hall on Brown’s campus. The organizers — Ward, juniors Nishitha Chaayanath and Nazarii Koval, and senior Claire Park — all serve as leaders in Brown’s International Mentoring Program, in which Awartani participated as an underclassman and Park served as his mentor.

“A lot of people wanted a way to show their support for Hisham and also be in community with each other,” Ward said. “We felt as a team that we needed to do something.”

Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Hisham Awartani
Childhood friends Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Hisham Awartani were shot and injured during a Thanksgiving weekend trip to Vermont to visit Awartani's family. Image courtesy Support For Hisham's Recovery fundraiser. 

Hosted in collaboration with the Global Brown Center for International Students, the event provided students with an opportunity to convene, support each other and compose messages for Awartani and his childhood friends, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad. All three, who grew up together in the West Bank, were shot in Burlington, Vermont, during the Thanksgiving break and may have been targeted based on their Arab ancestry and identity.

“This event has two main purposes,” Park said. “It’s good to have a space where you can come together in solidarity and support. And the second purpose is the card-writing, where we can do something tangible and write handwritten cards collectively and deliver that to Hisham and his friends.”

During the two-hour event, students quietly filtered in and out of the Global Brown Center, where a cluster of large tables were equipped with an array of markers, a basket of snacks, and 18-by-24-inch white sheets of paper that slowly filled with messages and even a few illustrations.

Attendees shared reflections about Awartani, who is Palestinian Irish American and is a junior at Brown, concentrating in mathematics and archaeology, and remains hospitalized.

“Hisham is a very well-liked at Brown and knows a lot of people,” Ward said.

View through the windows of the Global Brown lounge“I hope he feels that he has a support system at the University and a community that cares about him,” Park said.

Awartani’s family started a fundraiser to help cover the costs associated with his recovery and rehabilitation. In an earlier show of support, members of the campus community held a vigil for peace and healing on the College Green on Monday, Nov. 27, organized by the University Chaplain’s Office.

Protests, including calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and for divestment of the Brown endowment, interrupted President Christina H. Paxson’s remarks during the vigil, a reflection of strong emotions about the conflict in the Middle East that are manifesting in heightened tensions at Brown and on college campuses nationwide.

Ward said the card-writing event was designed to create an opportunity to focus on Awartani’s healing, amid the context of those tensions.

“It’s such a politically charged moment and Hisham’s attack is embedded in a much greater context, which Hisham cares very deeply about,” Ward said. “I think also it’s important for him to know that people are thinking of him and supporting him.”

The organizers said the cards will be hand-delivered to Awartani as an expression of the Brown community’s love, support and wishes for a speedy return to College Hill.

“The act of coming together as community and writing letters shows that we are thinking about him, we care about him and we want to show our support in a very tangible way,” Chaayanath said. “A horrible thing happened, so this event is also a safe space for us to support each other, hear each other’s experiences and come together as a community.”