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University News

Honesty is tour guides’ policy

Second in a five-part series

By
Staff Writer
Monday, April 12, 2010

Red brick buildings, wide campus greens, the New Curriculum, the Van Wickle Gates: these ideas represent Brown to the outside world.

Brown’s image, and how it promotes that image to prospective applicants, is carefully tailored to cast the University in its desired light. Administrators, facilities managers, admission officers, architects, Web designers, students, faculty and staff all play a crucial role in crafting and promoting the way Brown sells itself to the world.

The first on-campus experience a prospective applicant has at Brown likely comes in the form of a tour or an information session, which are coordinated by the Bruin Club, a student group, in partnership with the Admission Office.

“We are not trying to sell Brown to people,” said Christiana Stephenson ’11, tours co-coordinator for the Bruin Club and The Herald’s alumni relations director. “We are trying to show people what our lives are like here at Brown.”

Tours are the primary method used to show what campus and student life is like, Stephenson said.

“The information session is much more concerned with the open curriculum, advising, undergraduate research, study abroad and academic life,” she said. “But since we go up Wriston, since we go to Keeney, you can see how we focus more on campus life.”

Though Stephenson and her co-coordinator Bryan Smith ’10 agreed there is no overarching message conveyed in all tours, Smith acknowledged that there are themes the Admission Office attempts to deliver.

“In general, the stock admissions office answer is that we want to show that Brown is an elite university,” he said. “A university that is undergraduate-focused and is uniquely poised, because we — as undergraduate students — have so much opportunity to get involved.”

Currently, Brown’s hour-long tours start at the Quiet Green and end back at the Main Green, Smith said.

Along the way, high school students and their families enter Sayles Hall, walk through Lincoln Field into MacMillan Hall and exit onto Thayer Street. After visiting the park outside the Sciences Library, tours then go to Wriston Quadrangle where students see the Sharpe Refectory before passing by Keeney Quadrangle.

The tour route is not static and the coordinators — in conjunction with the Bruin Club and the Admission Office — are “in an ongoing discussion on how we can make the route better and show off more of campus in an hour,” Stephenson said.

“We are never 100 percent content with the route that we have. We are always trying to make it as current and as much improved as we can,” she added.

Balancing Brown’s image as both the happiest university in the country and a serious Ivy League institution is not always an easy task, Smith said.

“Brown is in a sticky place because we are perennially voted the happiest students,” he said. “But there is a thought that if you are at an Ivy League university, you shouldn’t be very happy.”

“I try to show that we are very happy because of all the things that happen at Brown outside the classroom,” he added.

Smith said that he tries to be quite open and honest when touring students.
“There is nothing that we try to hide in the tour at all,” he said.

“I openly tell people that the SciLi was voted the ugliest building in Rhode Island. I show the building for what it is,” he said.

That said, Smith added, there are certain areas of campus that he chooses to emphasize during his tours.

“We are trying — as new buildings are completed — to take tours to the newer buildings,” he said.

“There are obvious parts of campus that we’re excited about. I would rather take people through J. Walter Wilson than Metcalf (Chemistry and Research Laboratory),” he said.

“We want to put our best foot forward but not keep our ugly other foot hidden behind us,” he said.

Building Brown
Unlike Harvard or Yale, Brown’s buildings lack architectural uniformity. The University has had to reconcile its structural diversity by creating harmony between its contrasting building styles.

No one is more responsible for Brown’s architectural image than Frances Halsband, the University’s chief architectural consultant, who has drafted long-term campus development plans since 2003.

She spoke about some of Brown’s future and current architectural projects and how they will compare to the University’s preexisting buildings.

“Along the Walk, we are going to see a coherent and related group of new buildings that look modern,” she said about campus growth surrounding the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, which is currently being built.

“On the other hand, the new (Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center and Jonathan Nelson ’77 Fitness Center) is going to go back to the traditional Brown look and is certainly a building that will look like the old Brown campus and not the new Brown campus,” she said. “Brown’s brand may very well be the old campus quad, but that’s not what its future will be.”

Halsband expressed appreciation for both the old-fashioned and modern architectural styles that define Brown’s look.

“Brown has one of the classic New England university quads that can be found,” she said about the Main Green. “It’s one of the best.”

The University uses the more traditional features of its campus to its advantage in promotional materials, Halsband said.

“I think when Brown posts the nostalgia images,” she said about photographs depicting historical areas of campus, “they are the same images that would make somebody want to go to Brown.”

“The Green is not only a piece of architecture, but it reads as a piece of social space,” she added. “It really is a gathering place for the Brown community.”

Brown has emphasized the Green in its promotional efforts for decades. The University’s promotional viewbook featured the same four-page feature on the Green from at least 1993 through 2001.

The booklet features panoramic images of the Green along with descriptions of the architecture lining it.

“A stroll around the Green affords a tour in microcosm of Brown’s history and a glimpse of the vitality and diversity of the campus today,” it reads.

Halsband also offered her hopes for the future of Brown’s architecture.

“I would hope for, and look for, more outreach into the community that Brown is a part of,” she said.

“We are going to see a campus that does not have iron gates all around it. Buildings will have more ground floor uses that are more open to the public and less closed office space,” she said.

The new brown.edu
Brown’s Web site is its primary means of communication to the rest of the world and is a crucial tool in promoting its image and themes, wrote Scott Turner, director of Web communications, in an e-mail to The Herald.

Brown is currently developing a new Web site that will include major changes to its homepage. Turner hopes these new changes will stay consistent with how the University wants to be seen.

“We expect a more consistent look and feel for the site, as a whole, and a more streamlined and less overwhelming navigation, with key information surfaced for visitors,” he wrote, adding that the new homepage will add a more personal element to the site through individual anecdotes.

“The Web presence is a chance to surface key information for audiences and to tell stories about the people who make up the Brown community,” he wrote. “We would like the new site to be as unique as the university it represents and to be highly accessible and intuitive for all audiences,” he wrote.

Turner wrote that Brown’s Web site is unique in its emphasis on imagery.

“In meetings with stakeholders we learned that users were pleased with the uniqueness of the homepage,” he wrote.

“People expect the Brown site to be a compelling virtual representation of Brown: collaborative, independent, interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial, creative, diver
se and vibrant,” he wrote. “We try to provide that experience for users.”

ADOCH and beyond
Once they are accepted to Brown in the spring, prospective students are invited to A Day on College Hill, where they are given the opportunity to experience life at Brown in person. ADOCH offers Brown a valuable opportunity to express the themes, images and messages administrators hope will draw accepted students into the next year’s freshman class.

ADOCH is “where we show regular-decision accepted students what the school is all about,” said Eddie Re ’12, ADOCH co-coordinator for the Bruin Club.

“We understand that the Brown lifestyle is our most attractive feature and that’s what we try to show,” he said. “We do that not through changing anything, but by directly showing all these things that Brown already has in place that reflect that idea.”

Reemphasized that the Brown that students see when they are at ADOCH is the same Brown they would experience during their time at the University.

“We are not here to hide anything, and I don’t think the University does anything out of the norm,” he said.

Though ADOCH is student-run, its coordinators work with liaisons from the Admission Office, which oversees the entire application process.

Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73 told The Herald that in recent years Brown has increased its focus on international, minority, low-income and first generation students.

Miller said that admission officers try to emphasize Brown’s challenging academic program, adding that some people doubt the seriousness of Brown’s New Curriculum.

“People think it maybe is lacking in substance,” he said, adding that the admission office spends a lot of time “talking about the opportunity and the rigor that are embedded in the New Curriculum.”

He added that the New Curriculum is “more rigorous than the experience at some of our peer schools,” and that it “has matured remarkably well” since its adoption in 1969.

Despite its key role in crafting the University’s promotional strategy, the Admission Office is only one player in a much larger process of selling the University to prospective students.
The Web site, campus tours, information sessions, promotional materials and ADOCH all offer a different perspective of the University. Though Brown attempts to promote its brand, it is really in the minds of students that the University’s image is created.

“Over the course of my last two years,” said Smith, one of the Bruin Club tour co-coordinators, “I have been telling people that Brown isn’t for everyone. Brown is a great place, so I don’t try to oversell things, I don’t try to hide things in the shadows.” “I just show Brown literally for what it is.”

— With additional reporting by Sarah Forman

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