Brown University has become the first Ivy League school to explicitly ban caste discrimination throughout its campus.
The institution announced on Thursday that it included caste in its non-discrimination policy for students, faculty and staff. The policy, which the university updated following a vote from its governing body this fall, also included other categories such as race, religion, sex and gender identity.
In a news release, Brown University’s Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Carey-Butler explained that while their previous policy already had provisions that would protect people from caste discrimination, they “felt it was important to lift this up and explicitly express a position on caste equity.”
The caste system is a social hierarchy in ancient India that ranks the order of groups, determining an individual’s occupation, diet and even marital choice. While South Asian countries have already outlawed the caste system, those in the oppressed castes continue to experience forms of discrimination. Even in the U.S., where Indians have become among the largest groups of immigrants, many still face slurs and microaggressions.
The release further noted that Brown administrators worked with students to develop specific protections for caste that would legitimize “caste-oppressed experiences” and provide a “framework for reporting incidents.”
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“Many caste-oppressed people remain ‘closeted’ about their caste identity in fear of experiencing retaliation or discrimination,” the students said. “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.”
Advocacy organization Equality Labs commended the university for extending “caste protections to its entire campus.”
“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,” the group said in the release.
Similar provisions in other colleges and universities were adopted earlier this year, including the California State University system, the University of California, Davis, Colby College and Brandeis University.
Two faculty members filed a lawsuit against CSU, claiming the policy would only bolster discrimination against the school’s Hindu and South Asian populations. Harvard University also instituted caste protections last year but only for student workers, which is included in its contract with the Harvard Graduate Student Union.