Last week, Brown University became the first Ivy League school to add new policies against caste discrimination.
Casteism is discrimination based on social class or ranking, according to NBC News. Often, people born into lower castes may be subjected to violence, oppression, exclusion and even hate. The caste system started in South Asia and continues to affect the community today.
“Caste follows the South Asian community wherever they go,” NBC News was told by Neha Narayan, a student who advocated for the policy change. “I’ve heard of multiple instances of people being asked coded questions … even on a couple of instances of students being asked, ‘Hey guys, what’s everybody’s caste?’”
A group of students at Brown helped inform the change by sharing research on caste discrimination to the creator of the policy change, Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Sylvia Carey-Butler.
One of the students said in a statement that caste-oppressed students may hide their identities to avoid discrimination. The new additions to Brown’s nondiscrimination policy provides those students with the option to report the harm they might experience.
South Asian organization Equality Labs congratulated the decision to revamp the university’s already existing discrimination policies to include anti-casteism-based ones.
“With about 15 percent of its student population being international students, the addition of caste in the anti-discrimination will protect both domestic and international students, staff and faculty from the caste discrimination rampant across American higher education institutions,” Equality Labs wrote on their website.
Brown University assistant professor Elena Shih told Equality Labs about being grateful for the change as it could provide a space for marginalized South Asian voices that have not been considered in mainstream Asian American studies.
“We can all learn from anti-caste organizing,” Shih said. “It opens up opportunities to consider and evaluate which histories have been prioritized in teaching and how to reenvision what narratives are included in our classrooms.”
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