Columns

Mitra ’18: Divine Providence

By
Opinions Columnist
Monday, November 2, 2015

One of the things I love most about Brown is its beautiful campus. Don’t get me wrong — I also love the intellectual environment, the motivated student body and the plethora of opportunities for personal growth and exploration. But on days when the sun is out and the campus comes alive, I have to admit the aesthetics are a major draw. There’s just something about the Main Green in its fall splendor that never fails to make my day.

Unfortunately, living on a gorgeous campus has a downside: I never want to leave. It doesn’t help that Brown is relatively self-contained, making it perfectly feasible to go months without leaving College Hill. But as easy as it would be to live solely within the confines of campus, I wholeheartedly discourage you from doing so. Providence has some incredible hidden treasures — ones you will regret overlooking when it’s finally time to leave.

I speak from experience: In my freshman year, I left the College Hill vicinity all of 20 times. It took me almost a year to make the short walk to Wickenden Street, and I spent months believing that Wayland Square and Wayland House were one and the same. I managed to make occasional trips downtown, but I rarely strayed farther than Providence Place Mall. As embarrassing as it is to admit, my entire world spanned approximately seven blocks. I had no idea what I was missing.

I probably would have continued in ignorance if I hadn’t remained in Providence for part of the summer. Without Brown housing or dining halls, I was forced to leave College Hill on a daily basis and explore the city. It turns out that, contrary to popular belief, Providence is an amazing place. It somehow combines that rare small-town charm with all the perks of a city.

Thanks in part to the Rhode Island School of Design, we live in one of the nation’s creative capitals. Providence has a wonderful arts scene, great local musicians and some of the best Italian food this side of New York. It might not be the most high-profile or glamorous city in the United States, but it sure has plenty of soul.

Luckily for us, it happens to be a great time to live in Providence. The city is going through a renaissance of sorts: Kennedy Plaza was recently renovated, condominiums are rising up before our eyes and the Westminster Arcade — a national landmark and the oldest indoor shopping mall in the United States — has been restored. These developments have made the city safer and more up-to-date without detracting from its old-world appeal. Make no mistake, Providence is a stunning city. It combines remnants of the past — like the Old State House and the Arcade — with modern architecture in a blend that is truly unique.

But Providence is more than just an interesting place to explore. In many respects, it is the perfect setting for an institution like Brown. It is just large enough for students to find a range of diverse opportunities for internships and public service. There are myriad ways to get involved in the community, as a quick glance at the Swearer Center for Public Service’s website reveals.

Yet at the same time, the city is small enough for students to develop lasting connections and make an impact. Brown students have a long history of activism in Rhode Island, and our proximity to the State House is an enormous advantage for the politically minded. The students in bustling metropolises like New York and Chicago might have access to more exciting lifestyles, but few would be able to make such a concrete difference at a local level. It seems there are benefits to living in an out-of-the-way city like Providence after all.

The truth finally hit me when I returned home after a grueling first year at Brown. I fully expected to savor every minute of the summer and looked forward to three months without midterms, papers and fortnightly Herald columns. Yet within two weeks, I found myself dreaming of Fox Point and Federal Hill. I imagined the sun setting behind the State House and the smell of bread at Seven Stars Bakery. I even longed for a glimpse of the hideous Sciences Library. It was official: I was missing Providence. The city may have its shortcomings — the intermittent crime alerts and violence come to mind — but it also has a subtle charm that can really sneak up on you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my unadventurous freshman year, it’s the importance of escaping Brown’s confines and discovering the wonders of Providence. I will always regret wasting a year of my Providence experience — so don’t repeat my mistake. Visit Federal Hill, walk through Blackstone Park or watch a movie at the Cable Car Cinema. Take the time to find independent, quirky restaurants and shops. Or if nothing else, make it a point to leave College Hill every few weeks.

Whenever you get the chance, break free from the “Brown bubble” and get to know the city. I guarantee it will surprise you.

Mili Mitra ’18 vows to leave College Hill this weekend — or at least go farther from campus than Thayer Street. She can be reached at mili_mitra@brown.edu

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