Editorials

Editorial: Spotlight Brown’s history

By
Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Next month’s Commencement ceremonies will mark the completion of the University’s 250th anniversary celebrations. Begun in March 2014 with a flashy fireworks display on the Main Green, the 250th has given administrators a prime opportunity to fundraise, tout the University’s expansion into new spaces and articulate plans for the future — as shown by the anniversary committee’s use of “250+” as a slogan. The use of the “+” sign laudably encourages discussions on what the community envisions for the next phase of campus history. But at the same time, we urge our readers to make sure not to squander this chance to reflect on the rich and complex lessons of Brown’s past and to take stock of where we’ve been.

An eagerness to envision the future too often crowds out a serious engagement with what we can learn from the history of a school that predates American independence. Time and again, Brown has lain at the center of profound events in both national and local history, from housing Continental Army troops during the Revolutionary War to providing a space for groundbreaking advances in computer science during the 20th century. In the sphere of human rights, Brown has produced passionate abolitionists and other sociopolitical reformers worthy of being studied by today’s student body. And the tumultuous years of the 1960s and ’70s placed our school at the forefront of the debate over reimagining the possibilities of a liberal arts education, as students and faculty members created the liberating New Curriculum, pushed for integrating with Pembroke College and mobilized to make the campus reflect the racial, religious and sexual diversity of the nation.

But too few students know or appreciate this history, and too little of the attention devoted to the 250th anniversary has spotlighted its legacy and lessons. The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice deserves praise for its efforts, including the unveiling of a landmark memorial last fall, to educate campus on the dark underside of Brown’s past. A colorful exhibit at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology contains an interesting array of Brunonian photos and artifacts from the last 250 years. Aside from these under-recognized instances, however, the community has had limited engagement with Brown’s history. In the midst of new waves of campus activism and the implementation of President Christina Paxson’s P’19 strategic plan, readers would benefit from looking at how earlier generations of students and administrators succeeded — and sometimes failed — at nurturing progress in an inclusive manner.

Brown boasts an entertaining host of “bucket list” traditions that we all cherish. Beyond just avoiding the Pembroke seal or observing the Naked Donut Run, students should talk to long-time professors about what they’ve seen over their decades on campus, seek out opportunities to learn more about their school’s past and push the 250th committee to include more history workshops during next month’s anniversary completion.

What can we learn from past mobilizations for greater equality? How can previous struggles for greater student input in University governance inform our understanding of our school’s power dynamics? The questions are myriad. The number of bold, transformative answers — springing forth from last-call chats at the Graduate Center Bar or from Main Green discussions — is endless. As we approach the end of the 250th anniversary next month, we urge Brown to capitalize on its history in order to achieve the best possible outcome for the “+” part of the anniversary’s slogan.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Mathias Heller ’15 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

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