Jake Heimark ’10: TWTP fails its mission

By
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

When Brown welcomed the majority of the class of 2012 for Orientation, nearly an eighth of the class had arrived four days before to participate in the Third World Transition Program. Despite the Third World Center’s best efforts to publicize the event, many first years will not learn of the program until they begin unpacking boxes and carrying fridges up crowded staircases, only to notice that some of their classmates have already settled into the dorms.

The current form of the Third World Transition Program does more harm than good for our community, and until the program is changed, it will continue to negatively impact race relations at Brown.

The program goals listed on the Third World Center’s Web site are noble: to welcome new students to Brown, introduce the resources available to them and break down barriers in order to build understanding. But when such a small portion of the entering class is involved in the program, it is nearly impossible to have any real effect on breaking down those barriers.

Brown was a white-only school for a long time and has institutional barriers that we must break down together. The report released in 2006 by the Slavery and Justice Committee highlighted some of the changes we can make. But after talking to my classmates, I fear that few students actually read the report. And I wonder if many students who did not attend TWTP dedicated any portion of their Orientation to thinking about the legacies of racism at Brown.

The problem with TWTP is not the program itself, but the location of the event within the orientation timeline. Inevitably, allowing one group of students to arrive on campus before the rest has a negative impact on the community. One can make only so many new friends in the first week at Brown, and often those initial groups of friends stick together for the remainder of the first year.

When first years arrive on campus, they are infinitely more likely to bond with the other students on their floor who have never heard of the “Ratty,” can’t find Antonio’s without a map, and think the Fish Company is some sort of flounder processing facility. Likewise, students who already know one another from TWTP are more likely to sit together at lunch, shop classes together, and wave good morning in the hall.

Those first few nights at Brown set the tone for the year, and the Third World Transition Program participants have already gone through that crucial stage with one another by the time most freshmen arrive. Some students who did not participate in TWTP, especially white students who feel as if they were not invited to participate, are immediately curious why some students of color appear to have had an unfair advantage in starting their career at Brown. By the time other students arrive on campus, TWTP participants have already created their own inside jokes, and the rest of the student body is left on the “outside.”

If the real goal of TWTP is to break down the barriers that divide our society, then we would all be better served if the program were incorporated into the Orientation. All students should learn about Brown’s history of discrimination.

When the issue of race is addressed on campus, it is often as the result of an incident, and the specifics of the case become more important than the underlying causes. We should make a concerted effort to address the issue of race so that it includes the entire student body. Everyone would benefit if elements of TWTP were included in the first year orientation.

Some would suggest that students of color need a forum to discuss race among other students of color, but TWTP is not supposed to be such a forum. It is this alternate vision of TWTP that separates and divides us and this vision is entirely at odds with the goals of the program itself. The entire Third World Center suffers from the misperception that TWTP is a forum for such complaint. This misperception is not helped when students who attended the program refer to the day the rest of the students arrive on campus as “White Tuesday.”

I reject the notion that learning of Brown’s legacy of racism and working actively to combat institutional barriers that divide us is a project for a select group of students. All Brunonians have the obligation to build a better community together. But by separating students before the first day of classes, TWTP starts the year off on the wrong foot.

Jake Heimark ’10 was a participant in the 2006 Third World Transition Program.