Brown statement on proposed agreement with the Pokanoket

Brown University issued this statement on Thursday, Aug. 31, regarding a proposed path toward an agreement to resolve concerns of Pokanokets encamped on University-owned land in Bristol, R.I.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On Wednesday, Aug. 30, Brown University proposed a path forward toward an agreement with the Pokanoket tribe, which established an encampment on Brown-owned property in Bristol, R.I., on Sunday, Aug. 20. On Thursday, Aug. 31, the Pokanokets refused the proposed path forward.

Brown issued the following statement at approximately 4:45 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31. Previous Brown statements related to the encampment can be viewed here.

Brown Statement on Proposed Path Forward with the Pokanoket

Brown University is committed to a respectful process that resolves the Pokanoket encampment and addresses the future stewardship, conservation, preservation and sustainable access to the Haffenreffer / Mt. Hope property in Bristol, Rhode Island. Toward this end, the University has proposed a plan that respects the interests of the Pokanokets, as well as the interests of the multiple Native peoples with historical connections to Brown’s property.

The University is deeply concerned and saddened that this plan — as well as all efforts and entreaties to work toward an inclusive resolution — has been refused by the Pokanoket, based on their contention that other Native tribes do not have a legitimate interest in or a connection with this land.

The Pokanokets established their encampment on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. Representatives from Brown met with the Pokanoket leadership on Tuesday, Aug. 22, and were presented with documents that demanded that the University grant them exclusive ownership of the Brown-owned Mt. Hope property. These documents had not been previously sent to Brown, and the Pokanokets have acknowledged publicly that Brown had no previous knowledge of their efforts to work with the State of Rhode Island to secure title to the land. Brown has record title to and ownership of the land, which was donated to the University by the Haffenreffer family beginning in the 1950s. It houses a museum, research center and nature preserve.

The University met again with the Pokanoket leaders on Aug. 28 to better understand their concerns. On Aug. 30, the University presented the Pokanokets with a “Path Forward Principles and Parameters” document. It outlines a proposed process to develop and implement a plan for the Brown property in Bristol that ensures conservation, preservation and sustainable access to Native tribes with ties to the property.

Key aspects of the plan include the following:

  • “a consultative process … that respects the historical interests of the various Native peoples related to this land”;
  • “conservation and preservation of, and sustainable access to, the historically significant and sacred sites on the property in a manner that is beneficial and respectful to the Native peoples that are related to this land, to the University, and to other stakeholders”;
  • “consultation and engagement with all Native peoples with an interest and stake in the past, present and future of the Bristol property,” consistent with principles of open access to Native peoples;
  • “a thorough cultural and environmental resource survey, including oral history, geographical information, and archeological and historical research, of the Bristol property;”
  • development of “consensus recommendations for the future of the property”;
  • Brown’s commitment to provide funding and staff to carry out the process; and
  • an end to the encampment to initiate this process.

Brown is disappointed that the Pokanokets (responding through legal counsel) have asserted that they are not concerned about the claims of other tribes to the land, and that such claims are “totally wrong.” The encamped Pokanokets have proposed another meeting to take place soon, and Brown is committed to further discussions with the hope of reaching agreement about a stewardship approach that is inclusive of the Native peoples that have a historical connection to the Bristol property.

Unfortunately, the modern Pokanoket group refuses to recognize the connection of the other peoples to the land, and that is something Brown does not find ethical or acceptable as owners and stewards of the Bristol property.

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Scientists find RNA with special role in nerve healing process

The discovery in lab mice that an “anti-sense” RNA is expressed after nerve injury to regulate the repair of damage to the nerve’s myelin coating could lead to a treatment that improves healing in people.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Scientists may have identified a new opening to intervene in the process of healing peripheral nerve damage with the discovery that an “anti-sense” RNA (AS-RNA) is expressed when nerves are injured. Their experiments in mice show that the AS-RNA helps to regulate how damaged nerves rebuild their coating of myelin, which, like the cladding around a cable or wire, is crucial for making nerves efficient conductors.

Nikos Tapinos, associate professor of neurosurgery in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and senior author of the study in Cell Reports, said his team was able to control expression of the AS-RNA in the lab and therefore the transcription factor Egr2 that prompts myelin-building Schwann cells into action.

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What to expect: the FDA’s plan to limit nicotine in cigarettes

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationannounced on July 28 a new push to substantially reduce and limit the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, the policy was informed by an evidence base developed with critical contributions from Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies (CAAS) in the School of Public Health.

For years, a group of faculty members, postdoctoral researchers and students has been studying many dimensions of nicotine reduction, including the impact such a policy might have on smoking behavior in general and on specific populations of smokers, some of whom might face unintended consequences. Among those researchers is Jennifer Tidey, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior and of behavioral and social sciences, who co-authored a particularly influential paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015.

In the wake of the news out of Washington, we asked Tidey to share thoughts on Brown’s nicotine-reduction research and its impact on the FDA’s new initiative.

Q: What can your 2015 study tell us about the FDA’s plan to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes?

This study was designed to model the potential effects — positive and negative — of a nicotine-reduction policy for cigarettes. More than 800 smokers at 10 sites across the country were randomly assigned to receive either their usual cigarette brand or research cigarettes with varying levels of nicotine for a six-week period. The nicotine content of the research cigarettes ranged from a level similar to commercial cigarettes down to having less than 5 percent of the nicotine content of a commercial cigarette.

After six weeks, participants who had received the very low nicotine cigarettes smoked fewer cigarettes per day, were less dependent, had less cigarette craving and had minimal withdrawal discomfort. Even though none of the participants was trying to quit at study outset, those who had used very low nicotine cigarettes were more likely to try to quit when the study ended. The study supports the idea that this policy could be an effective regulatory method of reducing tobacco dependence in the U.S., making it easier for people to quit if they want to.

Q: How else has recent research at Brown contributed to the evidence base for this policy? 

Rachel Denlinger-Apte, a doctoral student in the School of Public Health, is an investigator in a study with more than 1,200 smokers that has been comparing the effectiveness of reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes immediately or gradually over a number of months. That study was recently completed and results should be available soon. And along with our co-investigators from the 2015 study, we have been looking at other measures collected in that study to see, for example, how acceptable people find these cigarettes, how supportive they are of a nicotine-reduction policy, and whether nicotine reduction has deleterious effects on weight gain, alcohol use, cannabis use or depressive symptoms.

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With lessons from the Holocaust, medical students consider health care ethics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — By the time the students arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, they were prepared — they had read texts about the Holocaust, spoken with a survivor, viewed Berlin’s memorials and toured the halls where the Nazi regime planned its “euthanasia” and Final Solution campaigns to murder millions. But for Hyunwoo June Choo and Alexa Kanbergs, standing on the grounds of the Nazi killing center transformed merely knowing of these historical events into feeling them, vividly and palpably.

Monday, June 26, was a lovely summer day in Poland, Kanbergs recalled. She was struck by how the buildings of Birkenau, where Nazis gassed as many as 6,000 Jews a day to death, stood in juxtaposition with the beautiful surrounding landscape and the ubiquitous sounds of chirping birds.

“I viscerally felt something when I went to that site,” said Kanbergs, a third-year Warren Alpert Medical School student from Portland, Ore. “We had been reading about it, but you are removed from it because you are just learning about it. Then when you actually visit, it makes it a lot more real.”

Choo, a fourth-year medical school student from Los Angeles, was similarly struck. Organizers of the two-week program that had brought them to Germany and then Poland, the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics, had told them that “place has power.” In a huge camp built for the sole purpose of genocide, the meaning was clear.

“The entire week, we had been building up to this point,” Choo said. “We went to where the leaders had planned and strategized how to exterminate large masses of people. When I was actually there, I was just standing aghast at the expanse and the sheer vastness of this institution. Everything was deliberate. Everything was calculated.”

The Fellowships at Auschwitz program teaches medical, legal, business, journalism and divinity students to consider the ethics of their future professions in the context of the Holocaust’s catastrophic moral failings. Choo and Kanbergs had applied to the competitive fellowships out of a desire to transcend and therefore contemplate the day-to-day experience of their medical training.

“In medical school as students, we’re sort of thrown into wards and hospital systems and we see things — a lot of injustices play out on individual bodies,” Choo said. “We don’t really have the time or space to think through the systems behind a lot of the social circumstances that bring a patient in front of us. What this program allowed us to do was to think about ethics not as this lofty, abstract idea, but as something grounded in history.”

The point is not that inequities and injustices in the U.S. health care system have equivalence with the Nazi regime’s meticulously planned policies of mass murder, Kanbergs said. Instead, the point is to learn how to recognize and sustain clear moral vigilance in systems that produce injustice, regardless of its scale or whether it was intended.

“I don’t ever want to take away from the events that happened in the Holocaust and say that this is the same situation,”  Kanbergs said, “but I think about prisoners a lot, and I think about how we incarcerate individuals of color. I see these parallels with how we strip the rights of individuals and target certain classes of individuals. As physicians, we are put into these systems that allow for that to happen.”

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