Ben Bernstein ’09: All the small things

Monday, November 19, 2007

In honor of the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning of “midterm” season – which at Brown describes any test that is not a final – I decided to do significantly less reporting than usual. And by “in honor of,” I obviously mean that I didn’t have the time to write the great column of which I’m capable. This column, then, is about mysteries. Not unsolvable ones, like why the loudest door in the entire school is located at the entrance to the Absolute Quiet Room of the Rockefeller Library. Instead, I will discuss fixable problems that make preparing for midterms that much more difficult, like the following.

Just as some rules were made to be broken, some traditions were made to ruin student’s weekends. On Parents Weekend at around 9:30 in the morning, Brown students were rudely awakened to a marching band playing outside our windows. This display, which occurs on Parents Weekend every year, defies logic and something called common courtesy. Sophie McCoy ’08, tenor saxophonist and president of the Brown Band, explains that the ritual is scheduled to coincide with early-morning Parents Weekend programming. It seems to me that another intention of playing the Brown fight song on full blast is to rally students for the game – but this mission fails. As one of my suitemates put it at 9:37 that morning, “They want me to go cheer at the football game, but now I’m going to never attend another Brown athletic event for the rest of my time here.” Fearing a trombone slide to the face, she prefers anonymity.

This is the easiest problem to fix of any problem ever. Brown Band, despite your noble (mobile?) intentions and truly excellent tone quality, please stop doing this. Play later in the day, or maybe just don’t play in front of the dorms. Just please remember that this a liberal arts university, which is both by definition and in practice not the kind of place where many people wake up early on Saturdays so they can pre-game a 1 p.m. football game to the tune of “When the Saints Come Marching In.” As a letter to The Herald from Elizabeth Baecher ’57 (“Alum exhorts students to support football team,” Oct. 25) pointed out, “Here was a team that won the 2005 Ivy League trophy, and only a smattering of their classmates showed up to support their efforts.” That smattering can wake up to their own alarm clocks. The rest of us want to sleep.

Another minor irritation comes in the form of the Sciences Library. It’s bad enough, as Herald Opinions Columnist Sean Quigley ’10 pointed out (“Aesthetics matter,” Oct. 12), that the new Friedman Study Center in the SciLi has made going to study there so social, loud and, frankly, impossible that you might as well be going to a frightening 1970s nightclub. On the floors above the mezzanine, the study space is like a more distasteful version of what I imagine a prison library to be like. Our library staff deserve better. What is more frustrating, however, is that above the third floor of the SciLi, one can only get weak-to-zero wireless Internet service. To summarize, we make the main study areas either too cool for school, literally, or too depressing and technologically backward to be useful. Walking to the Rock, where construction has rendered the second floor’s popular red room and computer lab uninhabitable, is also a weak option. Instead, why not just make the SciLi wireless? And maybe provide some more comfortable tables, chairs and lighting for the upper levels of the SciLi while we’re at it? Please, Brown spending gods? Please?

One final request to ease my midterm experience goes out to safeRIDE. While nothing makes me happier than taking safeRIDE to the library in the evening, few things make me more miserable than realizing I left some necessary study item like a textbook or my lucky study pencil in my room. This is because safeRIDE runs in only one direction, and thus it is the wrong direction half the time. One might object that some streets only run one way. Well, some don’t. And we can use these streets to run safeRIDE in both directions and make campus travel faster and easier for Brown’s enormous lazy-student population.

This column sounds like a lot of complaining. And as one student observed to me recently, “Complaining, mostly about how tired they are, is all anyone does here.” That said, sometimes I get distracted by bigger projects while the small things that make our lives as students easier or harder get lost. Well, I think I’ve found them, and I hope we make these changes before another midterm season (read: entire semester) is corrupted by noise, indolence and evil.

Ben Bernstein ’09 writes a regular column on campus issues. If there is an issue you would like to bring to his attention, email