To Elliot Grossman ’17, facial hair is a science.
Last year Grossman, an intended biology concentrator, shaved his head and face in an attempt to determine which would grow hair faster. Though he had to cut his experiment short to shave for his Brown alumni interview, he said he relished the experience and decided to grow a beard full time.
It’s interesting, he said, “evolutionarily that we would keep the ability to grow hair on some parts of our face and only for some people.”
Grossman and several of his bearded friends have started a new student organization that seeks to bring together beard owners and other beard aficionados. The Brown University Beard Appreciation Society held its first meeting Thursday and hopes to continue growing strong.
Any interested students are invited to join the group regardless of whether they identify as bearded, Grossman said. Facial hair of all types is encouraged, though not mandatory. At the first meeting, attended by about 15 — a mix of bearded and unbearded people of various genders — members discussed plans to meet in the future, as well as activities they may want to undertake. Possibilities included designing a new logo with a mustache-clad sun, lectures on beards throughout history and a “Beards of Brown” Facebook page a la “Humans of New York.”
At the meeting, the group members introduced themselves and shared stories related to their beards.
Co-founder Mike Petro ’17 started growing facial hair around the end of his freshman year of high school. In a small all-boys school, he said, a beard is a symbol of power, and Petro’s facial hair quickly became his identity. When he was cast in a school play as the only character who didn’t have facial hair, his shaving became a major event on campus.
“There was such an uprising in my high school. I had to write an article in the paper to explain,” Petro told the group.
“I’ve never had a beard,” said Mia Rollins ’17 when it was her turn to speak. “But I’m considering growing one after this inspiring speech.”
Grossman first had an itch to start the club when he befriended fellow bearded first-years who “all seemed enthusiastic about beards,” he said.
“There’s this informal community of beards among the hirsute,” Petro said. “I wanted to give that community a physical manifestation.”
Part of the group’s intention is to provide a space for members to discuss the social implications of growing a beard, Grossman said.
“It feels like it does change people’s perceptions of you,” said Cody Mello ’15.
“People identify you by your beard sometimes instead of knowing you further,” Grossman said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, the guy with the beard.’”
Grossman said he believes bearded individuals are sometimes discriminated against, adding that a beard can carry an air of “stranger-ness.”
“I walked into a Safeway as a mother and a couple children were walking out, and she sort of corralled them towards herself away from me,” he said.
But beards offer some benefits as well, he said. “It is also nice to be remembered by people. To have some recognizable feature.”
“It probably is helping me keep warm this winter,” Grossman added, wearing a pair of cargo shorts and a black t-shirt in the throes of January. “I haven’t worn any scarves.”
Petro said he is excited about the energy members brought to the first meeting, and he hopes the group can continue that momentum going forward.
“Honestly, I thought Elliot was joking when he said we were going to do it,” he said, “and I’m glad he wasn’t.”