Respect Equality

Brown becomes first Ivy League institution to ban caste discrimination

The school’s governing body voted to pass the policy change earlier this fall.
The sculpture Reclining Figure No. 2 — Bridge Prop (1963), by Henry Moore, rests in a quad on the campus of Brown University, in Providence, R.I., Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Story at a glance

  • Brown University has become the first Ivy League school to craft protections against caste discrimination.  

  • A caste system is a means of dividing society into hereditary classes that are found across the world but persist in South Asian immigrant communities in the U.S.  

  • South Asian students applauded the move which they say gives them a framework to file complaints against the often misunderstood form of inequality.  

Brown University has updated its nondiscrimination policy to include caste, a system of dividing a society into hereditary classes that persists in South Asian communities.  

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

The successful passage of the change makes Brown the first Ivy League school to explicitly ban caste discrimination, according to the nonprofit the Equity Lab.  

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

Carey-Butler, who developed the policy change, said in a statement that caste discrimination is a growing issue on college and university campuses as the South Asian population in the United States increases. 

Some Brown University students helped craft the policy change by sharing research on caste discrimination with Carey-Butler. In a statement, the group of students said that the change allows for “legitimizes caste-oppressed experiences” and provides a framework for reporting incidents.  

Asian Americans are a diverse group and the fastest-growing population in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the current Asian American population of 19 million will balloon to 22.3 million by 2060.  

In their statement, the students noted that while the South Asian community continues to rapidly grow in the U.S., many immigrants come from “more esteemed” castes and discriminate against those in the diaspora who come from “lower” castes.  

“Many caste-oppressed people remain ‘closeted’ about their caste identity in fear of experiencing retaliation or discrimination,” students said in the 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.”