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Brown University becomes first Ivy League school to add official caste protections


Brown University is the latest in a series of schools to add caste protections to their non-discrimination policies, a move aimed at giving Dalit students official channels to report bias.

The private university in Providence, Rhode Island, is the first Ivy League school to mention caste in its general policy, according to the civil rights organization Dalit Equality Labs. But the push for caste equity has swept through schools and institutions across the United States in recent years.

“If you add caste to a non-discrimination policy, now everyone who has to abide by that policy has to know what caste is,” said a caste-oppressed Brown grad who spent more than a year to push for change. “People will have to learn about it. They have to make an announcement. It makes people think more and learn more.

The former student asked to remain anonymous to avoid the retaliation and doxxing that commonly happens to caste-oppressed activists.

Experts say casteism, or discrimination based on this system of social stratification, defines many lives on the subcontinent and persists in South Asian communities as they immigrate to the West. People born into lower castes face violence and oppression on the subcontinent and often exclusion and hatred in the diaspora.

“Caste follows the South Asian community wherever it goes,” said Neha Narayan, a student who has advocated for policy change. “I’ve heard of several instances where people have been asked coded questions…even a few instances where students have been asked, ‘Hey guys, what’s everyone’s caste?'”

Brown said Thursday when announcing the policy change that there is a need for such protections as the South Asian American population grows.

“The previous policy would have protected those who experienced caste discrimination,” Sylvia Carey-Butler, Brown’s vice president for corporate equity and diversity, said in a statement. “But we felt it was important to raise this and explicitly express a position on caste equity.”

The anonymous graduate says that during her time at Brown, casteism made her feel unwanted in spheres intended for all South Asians.

“I avoided a lot of South Asian social spaces because of this exclusion,” she said.

Although she is no longer a student there, she hopes that Brown’s formal recognition of casteism will change that reality for future students.

“I’m so thrilled,” she said. “It’s a first step. It opens doors for a dialogue that didn’t happen. It’s a concept that’s really misunderstood, and most people ignore it.

Before the policy change, caste wasn’t something that came up a lot when discussing South Asian identity on campus, Narayan said.

“It’s the most openly held secret,” she said. “Even as a caste-privileged student, I can see how very alienated someone would be in that environment. In an environment where caste is never discussed, how difficult is it to talk about caste discrimination.

With casteism now explicitly outlawed in Brown’s politics, she hopes caste-oppressed students will have more ways to talk about their experiences and seek safe spaces with a better understanding of leaders.

Other schools, like the University of California-Davis, Brandeis University in Boston and the entire California State University system, took similar action after pressure from student activists backed by EqualityLabs.

Harvard University last year added caste protections for graduate students, but unlike Brown’s overall measure, Harvard’s updated policy did not extend to the entire student body.

“While there is still a long way to go to transform our higher education institutions to be caste-equitable, we are one step closer,” organizer Manmit Singh said in a statement from Equality Labs. .



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