Arts & Culture

Family Weekend tradition steeped in food, arts, culture

Past weekends have been host to mischief, bonding

By
Arts and Culture Editor
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Unseasonably warm weather and a tightly-packed schedule featuring sports, theater, food and more will greet families visiting Providence this weekend.

Family Weekend provides an occasion for students to spend time with their families and an opportunity for the student body as a whole to take a much-needed break from the relentless pace of midterm season.

Though it is unclear when the very first Family Weekend occurred, a previous edition of The Herald published Dec. 5, 1952 reported that Joseph Thomas of the 1954 Class Council “suggested that the class project be some sort of parent’s day with the purpose of giving fathers and mothers of undergraduates the opportunity to become better acquainted with Brown.” For the next five decades, Family Weekend has been a staple of each academic year.

The tradition kicked off under the name “Freshman Parents Day” and was reserved for freshman “parents and their sons,” according to an issue of The Herald published Oct. 24, 1963. The day revolved around a luncheon, a football game against the University of Rhode Island and a series of seminars discussing humanities, social sciences, science, mathematics and engineering, according to the Oct. 24, 1963 issue.

Freshman Parents Day expanded to a weekend for sophomore and junior parents in 1972. “We are planning a total weekend — panels, art, sports — that will appeal to the majority of parents and students with all kinds of tastes,” said Development Officer Jack Mastroianni , according to an edition of The Herald published March 20, 1972.

But 1972’s iteration of Family Weekend would not go smoothly, as pacifist and anti-war movements inspired students from all backgrounds to stage a massive anti-Vietnam War protest. A day before 1972’s April Parents Weekend, “one quarter of the Brown student body voted … for a ‘cessation and transformation’ of normal University activities,” according to a Herald article published April 21, 1972.

The war protests extended to Parents’ Weekend, where “parents (had) chances to question students about recent campus anti-war activity,” according to The Herald published the next day. “Students sometimes mistakenly assume that the great unwashed need to come on the campus to consider the war, when, in fact, it is not a new subject to most parents,” Robert Reichley, then the associate vice-president for university relations, told The Herald at the time.

But not every year can be as dramatic as 1972. 1973’s light-hearted crisis comprised pranksters putting up posters around campus advertising a made-up lecture titled “‘A Humanistic Approach to Oralgenital Relations,’ (which) was to be offered at 11 a.m. in Wilson 108 by Rev. William R. Coffin of Swarthmore Divinity School,” according to an article in The Herald published October 16 1973. When 20 first-year parents and a large number of undergraduates attempted to attend the lecture, they found that Wilson 108 could hold only about six people and the room was being “occupied by a football coach going over his plays with his backfield,” according to the article. It was later revealed that not only did William R. Coffin not exist, but Swarthmore College did not have a divinity school. After the posters were rapidly brought down by administrators, they “reappeared almost as rapidly,” according to the article.

In 1974, the great Parents’ Weekend fiasco boiled down to a production mishap, when the Brownbrokers, a student-run theatre group, had to cancel a student-written musical they had prepared for the parents.

“Though the Brownbrokers have produced original student musicals since 1953, the script selected for production this spring, Georg S, was cancelled when there were only 20 auditions for 24 roles,” wrote Steve Root in The Herald published April 24 1974.

Throughout the decades, Parents’ Weekend has unfailingly stood for three things: football games, musical and theatrical entertainment provided by various student groups and free food. So, as the weekend rolls around and the mean age on campus jumps up dramatically, students can kick back, throw midterm-related caution to the wind and enjoy a nice meal that doesn’t come out of a to-go box.