Columns

Rattner ’15: Leung Family Gallery should not be silent

By
Opinions Columnist
Friday, March 21, 2014

The University’s greatest resource is its students. We learn a tremendous amount from professors, but the most profound development comes from engaging with each other and forming meaningful friendships. Campus space should serve that purpose, and to that end, the Leung Family Gallery should not be silent.

In 1983, Harry and Sally Leung P’83 GP’12 GP’12 GP’16 donated money to renovate the main room of Faunce House in honor of their daughter, Jacqueline, who had just graduated. The University imagined a place for events and theater productions.

One hundred ten years after Faunce was erected and 31 years after the Leung Gallery opened, Brown students still do not know how it is to be used. At time of publication, a poll on the BlogDailyHerald recorded 49 percent of responses in favor of keeping the Gallery a silent space, compared to 50 percent opposed. The margin was 12 votes out of 864 cast.

When I told Jacqueline Leung ’83 about the poll, she said for her family, the original purpose of the room was not articulated and it should be used however students today see fit.

Last fall, I studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. A university with a per-student budget that is 5 percent of Brown’s, the Sorbonne has a nonexistent campus. Students commute in, attend two hours of class and return home. Never developing a sense of community, it makes for an unfulfilling college experience.

The debate over the Leung Gallery speaks to the larger question of the role of community and friendships in college. In addition to dorms and eateries, spaces like the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, particularly after the 2009 renovation, encourage students to congregate and spend time with each other outside of class.

Making the gallery a room for students to sit in silence, while nicer for everyond than being alone in a dorm or among the library stacks, does not take advantage of a great space at the center of campus. Faunce should foster and celebrate Brown’s community.

On Jan. 4, 1902, John D. Rockefeller P’1897 committed $75,000 to erect and $25,000 to maintain Rockefeller Hall. In his letter to the Corporation announcing the donation, John D. Rockefeller Jr. 1897 called for “a building to be devoted primarily to the social and religious life of the students of the University,” The Herald reported at the time.

Cheers rang out when President William H.P. Faunce 1889 read the letter in Manning Hall. The Herald’s front-page headline the next day celebrated the donation as “$75,000 For Brown’s Most Needed Building.”

In 1930, Rockefeller Jr. expanded the building and had it rededicated in honor of Faunce, the man who had initially suggested he attend Brown rather than Yale because Providence was a nicer city.

Faunce had envisioned the building providing the University with something beyond academics: “Whether it is called social or religious or aesthetic, it is all the same idea of a third greater and higher side of life,” with academics and athletics being the first two, he said.

Over time, the building strayed from Rockefeller and Faunce’s vision. In the 1970s, administrative offices gradually moved in and took over what was meant to be a student center. In the early 1980s, the University drew up renovation plans that significantly increased space for student groups.

Patsy Cole ’77, associate director for programs and co-chairwoman of the Undergraduate Activities Board, told The Herald that the new design was “in line with the building’s original purpose.” Among the changes was the Leung family’s renovation of the main room.

From 1983 until 2009 that space was used primarily for formal gatherings and often locked during the day. Ricky Gresh, director for campus life projects, who oversaw the 2009 transformation into the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, told me that public space in Faunce was limited and “you went there when you had a reason to be there.”

Gresh, whom I work for and consider a friend, said the driving purpose of the 2009 renovation was to create an open community space. Before the renovation, there was concern about the “sense of community and sense of liveliness” in the building, he said.

The Leung Family Gallery, renamed to include Jay Leung ’84, Jerome Leung ’88 and two grandchildren, was designed to be a social space, partly to relieve some of the traffic and noise in the Friedman Study Center.

The 2009 renovation was markedly successful in increasing capacity and student activity in Faunce. But entirely organically, as soon as the space opened the Leung Family Gallery developed into a silent study space.

No one — not the Rockefeller family, President Faunce, the Leung family nor Gresh — envisioned a silent study space.

None of this is to say buildings cannot be repurposed over time. Smith-Buonanno Hall better serves the community today as classrooms than as another gymnasium, as it was used until 1990.

But there is no shortage of silent study space on campus: the Rockefeller Library’s Absolute Quiet Room and the Sciences Library’s zero-decibel section, not to mention the numerous stacks and empty classrooms. These spaces should be used as they were designed — let the Leung Gallery, which is often quieter than any designated silent area, be used for “social” purposes.

The beauty of Faunce today is that students pass through for a number of reasons — whether eating, picking up laundry or meeting with student groups — and run into friends unexpectedly, not unlike libraries and eateries but in a more relaxed and better-lit building that seems to distract people from schoolwork.

The Leung Family Gallery should enhance and expand that environment. It should be a spillover for the Blue Room where people can congregate around the large tables and couches and enjoy the view of the Main Green and Brown’s first buildings.

At its inception, some imagined Faunce spreading beyond the undergraduates to become a place for alums and professors to visit. The room could fill a need on campus for places to meet with prospective students and families. Indeed, unlike any other place on campus, the Leung Family Gallery could be a room that brings together a broader Brown community than what we see in the eateries and libraries.

Speaking at the announcement of Rockefeller’s donation in 1902, F.L. Janeway, the general secretary of the Princeton association, said, “We can hardly appreciate how much friendships mean to us during our college days. But it is inevitable that we will be influenced by our friendships in some direction.”

At the heart of Brown’s campus, the Leung Family Gallery should foster such friendships and sense of community that are so critical to our college experience.

James Rattner ’15 can be contacted at james_rattner@brown.edu.

  • TheRationale

    I spy a new destination for the naked donut run.

  • OccupyLeung

    What if we just went there and started talking?

  • Tim

    “…the Leung Gallery, which is often quieter than any designated silent area…”
    I think this is the problem – somehow, it’s become a better silent area than any sign saying “silent” has managed to create, and people don’t want to lose that.

  • Nyet

    The Leung Family Gallery, renamed to include Jay Leung ’84, Jerome Leung ’88 and two grandchildren, was designed to be a social space, partly to relieve some of the traffic and noise in the Friedman Study Center.

    1) Source?
    2) So your solution is to turn it into an expanded cafeteria? Yes, I’m sure that’s what Leung had in mind.

  • Cunseth

    This was the ONLY place at Brown that I found refuge from the drunken screams, the chatty libraries, and the overstuffed cafeterias…but hey, if you and every other extraverted Brown student want to continually embark on journeys to disrupt the tranquil silence, why not disturb one of Brown’s most beautiful spaces?

    • Shhh

      Chatty libraries?
      It’s always been quiet in the stacks when I’ve gone. The AQR exists.

      Frankly, I would love a place to have a conversation that’s not in an overstuffed cafeteria. And I don’t think anyone is suggesting drunken screams make their way into Leung.

  • JM02

    As I said the last time this came up, the renovation of the Leung Gallery was a shame. There used to be contra dances and other community-building events in the space, but now it’s a place where you get glared at for breaking the silence.

    I just hope the original wood floor us still there underneath the new floor, in case a future administration wants to undo this mistake.

    It would be easy to create a space that can be used for public events on weekend nights, and studying and hanging out during the day. Just uncover the old floor, and make sure the furniture is easily moveable.