Against a rainy backdrop, members of the Corporation, administrators and students crowded into a tent on the Main Green on Friday to formally dedicate the $20 million Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center.
The ceremony was part of this weekend’s meeting of the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.
“Starting with freshman orientation in 1958, this building has been a very, very big part of my life,” Chancellor Emeritus Stephen Robert ’62 P’91 told the audience. In his remarks, Robert recalled some of his fondest memories at Brown centered around the building and his old morning routine of picking up his mail in the old Faunce mailroom.
He recalled one particularly vivid memory of getting a “Dear John,” or breakup letter, from his girlfriend one morning.
“My fraternity, which thankfully is no longer on campus, had an award every year for the member of the fraternity that got the best quote-unquote ‘Dear John’ letter, and I really won the prize,” Robert reminisced. He refrained from expounding more on that memory — his wife was in the audience.
Robert fell out of touch with the building until he became a trustee of the University in 1984, when he rediscovered it as a favorite meeting location for old friends and colleagues.
When he became chancellor in 1998, he was given an office on Benevolent Street.
“It was so boring and dull, I immediately stopped having meetings there and went back to the Blue Room,” Robert said.
He praised the new Blue Room as having “the best food and aesthetics of any place on campus,” noting the difficulty he encountered in finding a seat for lunch that day as a testament to its popularity.
He said the campus center is open all night most of the week, which has unexpected benefits.
“You may think that that has no purpose, but you’re wrong,” he explained to the audience taking shelter from the rain in the tent. “It turns out that on some very hot nights in the fall, at like four or five in the morning, the guards discovered many Brown students sleeping in the building because it’s air conditioned. So there’s a use of this new building that we never even imagined.”
Robert said he is awed by the building’s centrality, importance and “in all modesty, having my name on it.”
“Although I realized that God evidently rewards those who give anonymously, (President) Ruth (Simmons) wrote me a letter after I offered to give it anonymously saying she refused, so I still have a chance of getting into heaven,” Robert joked.
Taking a more serious tone, Robert explained the meaning of the newly renovated building for him.
“The thing that is so fulfilling to me is to see how it’s being used, and that to me is worth more than all the pictures, all the design work,” Robert said. “Just to walk in and see the students and others in the Brown community using and enjoying it for the purposes for which we constructed it makes my heart swell.”
The dedication ceremony included a performance by student group leaders exemplifying uses of the campus center to various student groups, a video presentation featuring administrators’ reactions to the building, remarks by Simmons and a formal acceptance of the building by current Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 along with presidents of the Undergraduate Council of Students, Graduate Council of Students and Medical Student Senate. The ceremony was followed by a cocktail reception on the second floor of the campus center.
“I’m deeply touched that this building — often considered the center of Brown — is home to the Robert Campus Center,” Robert concluded. “My hope is that many generations find warmth and friendship within its walls.”