Commencement 2009, University News

TWTP turns 40

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Third World Transition Program, approaching its 40th anniversary this summer, is the product of years of changes from its inception as the Transitional Summer Program.
The summer of 1969 saw Brown’s first Transitional Summer Program, a result of the attention brought to minority issues by the 1968 Walkout, Associate Dean and Director of the Third World Center Dean McLaurin-Chesson ’74 said, crafted by University administrators, staff and students.

The original program differed greatly from what students have experienced in recent years. The focus of the program was academic — students had six weeks of classes, including computer science, math and English, according to McLaurin-Chesson, who attended the second TSP as an incoming freshman.

The students who had been selected for showing strong promise through community service or extracurricular activities rather than a stellar academic record were encouraged to participate, she said.

The program was meant to bring them up to speed and to prepare them for an Ivy League education, she said.

The program also included a week of community building to help minority students find a home at Brown, McLaurin-Chesson said. At the time, all students attending the program were housed together in Hope College, she said.
Professor of Mathematics Thomas Banchoff taught a pre-calculus course in the first ever TSP. “For most of the people, it really was very, very helpful, and in a sense, necessary,” he said.

Many of the students arrived to campus concerned about attending a university like Brown, either for academic or social reasons, he said.

The program gave them “a base of operation,” helping them feel more comfortable at a predominantly white college, he said.

Of her freshman class, who entered the University in 1970, McLaurin-Chesson said that there were 135 minority students, about forty of whom participated in TSP. According to her alumni records, only 90 minorities graduated as part of the Class of 1974, showing the class lost 45 of its minority students over the four years.

While she said she did not know if those minority students who left the University before graduation were those who chose not to attend TSP, she said she felt the program was an important factor in her success.

But changes came in 1974, when budget cuts prompted another look at TSP.
It was said that a correlation could not be seen between attending TSP and succeeding at Brown, McLaurin-Chesson said. The program was cut to one week and renamed the Third World Transition Program, encompassing more minority groups, she said.
TWTP stayed relatively similar through the 1970s and 1980s, and contained many aspects today’s students would recognize, including the welcome dinner with the Dean of the College and discussions about issues minority students may encounter at Brown, McLaurin-Chesson said.

A sample program from 1980 lists discussion about discrimination, predictable crises, student support programs, workshops for academic success including note-taking, test-taking, study skills and time management and smaller workshops led by Minority Peer Counselors about campus organizations and human sexuality.

A number of changes have occurred in the 2000s. For the first time, students attending TWTP lived in the rooms to which they had been assigned for the academic year, McLaurin-Chesson said. Prior to that, they had all been housed together in a few dorms during the program and later had to move to their room for the year, she said.

In 2005, President Ruth Simmons requested an external review of TWTP. At the same time, she said that the fact that white students were not invited made the program exclusive, which she did not feel was right, McLaurin-Chesson said.

The program was subsequently opened to white students for the first time in 2006. So far, not many white students have taken advantage of this, she said, estimating that there are about half a dozen each year.

“We need to build more of those bridges of communication,” McLaurin-Chesson said. “There are more members of this community than are at the table.”

While some TWTP participants had been calling for the inclusion of white students since the 1990s, according to McLaurin-Chesson, there is still some opposition to the idea. Robert Smith III ’09, who is an Minority Peer Counselor Friend, said he thinks “it’s important for any kind of community to have a space to address their own issues.”
 He added that he thinks it is appropriate for white students to have that space also. The groups can then come together and have a dialogue with each other, he said.

Another significant change has been an increase in the extent to which students control the program. This past year, students worked with a faculty adviser to prepare workshop material on an issue, McLaurin-Chesson said. This is a departure from the past, when a primary facilitator organized the activities. They still keep a primary facilitator on staff to oversee the process for expertise, she said.

As for the future, McLaurin-Chesson said she would like to “do better at bridging the racial divide that does exist.” She would also like the program to focus more on how issues of racism play out at Brown, she said.

Every year brings criticisms of the program, calling for radical changes or its dismantling, but this has been happening since the 1970s, McLaurin-Chesson said, saying the program has been “routinely attacked.”

Critiques have included the idea that inviting minority students to campus early actually further isolates them from the student body and that the program engenders a hostile attitude toward white people, she said. But in the end, she said, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

Smith said the program had “a really amazing impact” on him. It “grounded (him) in a really great place at Brown.” He would want as many students of color to have that experience as possible, he said.

McLaurin-Chesson said she thinks more white students will decide to attend TWTP in the coming years, adding that she thinks they’ll enjoy the program like others have.
Andrew Migneault ’11, a white student who attended TWTP, gave it a less-than-stellar review.

“Overall, I feel the program completely missed its mark,” he said. He described the experience as being “awkward” and “racially charged,” calling the program’s methods “counteractive.” While he does not oppose the program’s existence, he said he did think the way it was handled was not particularly helpful.

The survival of the program is not in question. As long as there are issues of race, class, gender and sexual preference, the program will continue, McLaurin-Chesson said. “Once we reach utopia, we won’t need that program.”