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Taking Sides: Is the name “Brown” racist?

By and
Opinions Editors
Thursday, April 25, 2013

Husted 13: Yes

Hipsters constitute a powerful and pervasive contingency on College Hill. While many see hipsters as a new phenomenon brought about by the changing of the times, in reality some form of hipster culture has always dominated the Brunonian way of life. And with hipsters come irony. In fact, our school has long been at the mercy of massive ironic inside jokes undertaken by ambitious hipster secret societies.

Allow me to explain.

Who do you think thought up the big “Saturday Night Football Game” a few years ago that has become a new tradition? Athletes? Please. Getting thousands of nerdy undergrads to pretend to care about our sports teams and drink to excess while wearing “fratty” T-shirts that say “Brown State”? That sick lie could only have been massive trolling on the part of some nefarious hipsters.

Don’t believe me? Look at this past Spring Weekend. Brown Concert Agency — long known as a hipster society — brought us Big Freedia, a “female empowerment” act that consisted of 50 minutes of gratuitous pornographic female butt-shaking while “pussy” was yelled repeatedly. If you don’t see the joke that was played on you, then I can’t help you. How about Deerhunter? What is more ironic than inviting a tone-deaf man to play during the middle of a concert that thousands of people with ears anticipated for weeks? Not much, actually.

But I digress.

In 1804, the Brown hipster societies took the joke a bit too far. They renamed The College of Rhode Island to the racist atrocity we have today: “Brown University.”

At the time of the name change, the United States was still a slave-holding country. Step into the shoes of the hipsters at Brown in the ’90s — the 1790s, that is. What more ironic gesture could there be than changing the name of an all-white school to “Brown University”? Absolutely none.

And so the hipsters struck again. It wasn’t until 1877 that Brown graduated its first black students. For 70 years, countless hipster youths could snicker at the idea of going to an all-white school called “Brown.”

I shouldn’t even be saying this. But I can’t live with it anymore. Telling you this dangerous truth is more important than the awful retribution I will face from the powerful hipster elite.

I am sure you think I’m deluded anyway. Brown is just a color after all! But ask yourself this question: How many schools have you seen called White University? Or how about a less racially charged color like blue? Case closed.

Do the right thing. Join with me in a petition to change the name of Brown back to The College of Rhode Island, its rightful — race-neutral — name.


Lucas Husted ’13 is the leading scholar on racism in North American colleges. If you want to write about important issues like this, please contact for an application.


Tennis 14: No

Calling our university “Brown” is not racist. It is not racist for one very important reason. Race is a social construct. And therefore, racism is also a social construct. That’s kind of the transitive property. But if you insist on socially constructing racism, then there are other reasons why the University should not be considered racist for having the name “Brown.”

First, I have two roommates who both consider themselves to be “brown.” They don’t think the name of our University is racist. That obviously means that it’s not. Our previous University president, Ruth Simmons, is black. So there’s that. And Barack Obama is black and president of the United States, so that means racism isn’t even a thing at all anymore. Right? Of course!

I mean, come on. The United Parcel Service used to run a commercial purposefully featuring a black man with the slogan “What can brown —err, we— do for you?” If that’s not racist — and no one seemed particularly concerned about it — then the name of our University certainly isn’t.

Furthermore, if the name Brown University is racist, then don’t we also have a problem with the team names of Cornell and Syracuse University — the Big Red and Orange, respectively?  These names could easily be offensive to American Indians and anyone who has carotenemia.

Now for my most legitimate point. Brown University was named after a person — John Brown, who gave a whole lot of money to win the privilege of having a university named after him — not after a skin color. And wealth is more important than protecting peoples’ feelings and fostering a safe environment for minorities, especially when the person with the money is a white male.

But even if Brown were named after a skin color, aren’t we all brown, anyway? Color is a spectrum. We are basically all just shades of brown. It’s “Brown” University, not “Chestnut Brown,” or “Sepia” or “Tawny” University. It’s every kind of brown. I myself might fall near the lighter end of this spectrum — near the translucent end, to be honest, and sometimes I’m more red than anything else — but at the end of the day we’re all members of the same gradient. If you think of the issue this way, Brown is actually an appropriate name for the University, because it represents every member of the student body, and all of us can relate to it in some way.

So join me in defending the name of the school that we love, Brown University: its rightful — and definitely not racist — name.


Maggie Tennis ’14 has black friends and is therefore knowledgeable on all aspects of race relations. If you want to write about race and maybe mock BCA some more, email for an application. 


Tennis’ Rebuttal: 

On second thought, I wholeheartedly agree with Husted. The name “Brown” has racist origins and must be changed immediately. It is ridiculously offensive. There’s not even time for discussion. We must act now.

When I think about my exceptional training in the field of anthropology here at Brown, I cannot help but remember what I have learned about racialist anthropology, which was a legitimate — and absurdly racist — academic discipline in the 18th and 19th centuries. This branch of anthropology was oddly obsessed with classifying groups of people by color. Of course, it is now discussed only as an example of egregiously inappropriate scholarship. But back when The College of Rhode Island was renamed Brown University, racialist anthropology was a thriving discipline.

So we can only assume that the students circa 1800 were aware of the racist connotations of the term “brown” when it became the name of their university. If they had objected to the name change, that would have been cool. I would respect that. But they didn’t, so I have to assume that Husted is correct and that these students were trying to make some ironic statement about society at the time.

As Lucas has observed, hipsterism can go too far. I mean, look what it is doing to us, even today. Just this past weekend, the hipsters’ love of irony led many of us to participate in hours of offensive and downright mediocre entertainment. At least, I hope that Brown Concert Agency’s choice of Big Freedia and her team of butts was some kind of ironic statement. Big Freedia claims she empowers women. When did empowering women go from demanding equal pay to demanding nearly an hour of butt time? The hipsters of today are making fools out of us all. But the hipsters of yesteryear had already made us all racists. In order to avoid the perpetuation of this racism, we must return to the name The College of Rhode Island without hesitation.

But, then again, who really cares? At the end of the day, racist or not, brown is just a color. The color of poop.


Husted’s Rebuttal:

On second thought, I wholeheartedly agree with Tennis. “Brown University” is not a racist name for a school. Who would even think that? Those events I mentioned aren’t even ironic, they are just normal activities — except for the butt-shaking. I’m still trying to recover from that and decide whether to press charges against Brown Concert Agency for destroying my mental health.

What really mattes is that color and race are just social constructs. If people just pretended that everyone was the same race, then we wouldn’t be different colors, or something like that. I have been taking social science courses for a while, and I’m pretty sure if we just all collectively decided that racism wasn’t okay, then it would go away. And as Tennis stated quite noncircuitously, we can’t be living in a racist society if we elected a black president. So I’ll just have to accept that now.

Even if racism exists, though, Brown was just the last name of a rich white guy. How could I not have considered that? It’s one of the most common last names in the English speaking world. Coincidentally, it was even the last name of one of the first two black graduates of Brown. Silly me!

Either way, I liked what Tennis wrote about the colors and stuff. It really resonated with me, because as a half-Hispanic and half-white person, I have always felt a little brown myself. I am glad to know “brown” isn’t an oppressive term to describe minorities, but in fact one of empowerment, used to describe all people, even albinos like Tennis. America is a great big melting pot after all, and I am glad to be part of it.

When this school first started, it was a place for rich white people to stay rich and white. Now we accept lots of different people from all walks of life. As Tennis said, our name has something to do with that!

But then again, who really cares? Brown is an Ivy League school that has no requirements. I would go here if it were called “Phlegm State.” And at the end of the day, racist or not, brown is just a color. The color of poop.


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  1. Sir Awesome says:

    Section 3 and 4 are the same… I think you posted the wrong text.

  2. a brown student says:

    all this debate and not one mention of Brown’s historical slavery and justice report, but of course hipsters.

  3. Disappointed Hipster says:

    All of that text, and nowhere do I see the words “heteronormative”, “subaltern” or “hegemony”. Hipsters, I am disappoint.

  4. hey dont bring deerhunter into this

  5. hahahaha this is fantastic

  6. leave the jokes to the april 1st edition

  7. yo this shit is like ‘Meet the Spartans’-level lame and unimaginative. NC.

  8. really????? says:

    this is an idiotic and inane debate

  9. BROWNor Nothing! says:

    Harvard-Radcliffe; Colombia-Barnard (yes, take this forever & ever columbia!); Princeton.. Princeton; Cornell.. too many many hanging-ons like Hospitality? sigh; Brown-Pembroke.. classic ain’t it?; UPenn-Wharton (lucky i never ever use whore or war); oh…Yale-Smith what to do, right.. ; Middlebury-Dartmouth, phonetically sounds better than Brown-Pembroke but Dartmouth men have an issue with Middlebury jocks pre-2001.5 and, this told to me by a dartmouth buoy and his wife stared back at him and in my cognitive mind, i remembered all my strange encounters with aliens from U.S.A encountering legal alien me but sports jocks and, i still have my picture and, I did not copy by chatting with Andy Kim who took the GREs with me during the summer of 2001 and received 710 on Math because, the system scrambled the questions. If Brown offered me an option to obtain a second bachelor’s degree as a comparative study for a sad GIS-Spanish-German-Haifa Jewish tutored PBK who still found little love but lots of platonic friendship to get her MA or PhD so she don’t feel so unaccomplished at Great Eastern Life-OCBC …. I’m trying to right some wrongs and do some rights with just 2 years of private funding and major in Economic History _of_ Deep South and Greater Appalachia and how shall I ask for the reimbursement to visit all the shamanic bayou-living witches who did not get Salem-trialed and thriving economically.. I can include some graphical charts like an apple-crumble pie.. I’ll throw in some architectural history as well and, theatre and, music and, lacrosse or, which is the easiest gentlemen sport in the Ivy League Div I with exemplary typographies of A&f models. I need to show that there is economic life beyond such a major, ain’t it? From the potential Pembroke refuses Radcliffe to feel more Southern Love? I have to throw in some Thai language too beyond sawadee crap! and Sewanee might not throw me such a gentleman’s Aid. Can this be a BS so I feel so M.B.B.S. economist pretends he is a sex-industry slave from ‘Lesser Cambodia’ lost his connection to Middlebury but flew Southeast and landed in Providence. _Soudainement, il realise son sens de direction c’est d’accord mais, toujours il’y a des Tom Clancey type des evenements qu’elle decide, ca suffit, CRI ahhhh…, pourquoi les Etats-Unis nerdiest aime les ‘mouton’ chats!_ A BS would be a very nice birthday present that places my economic burden unto the ‘Brownie’ from Haifa that I take around 300+ buildings to see how to present her beyond her nerdy self-righteous Self. Her constituents at Chai Chee can wait 2-3 years. This is more important for her soul and, her Advisor and, her biological clock tick-tock, tick-tock. Thank goodness I’m a gay male positively single with nobody in Singapore, the Republic I can try to ask the University printer to make sure the credit is mentioned in the booklet. S/he might look up at me and say, “Are we in Manhattan in modernist brasilia-like glass structures?” Then, I might think ‘Again the same ploy to make me feel poor Americans, I have to pogrom myself homewards again like the time I felt for the Parisians? Thank goodness for Apple and digital photography to populate hot shots for the next Stern business grad I meet I will really roll my eyes on SQ. If he looks corn-fed and appropriate for CK, I’ll smile and start my, “are you from Kansas Wichita?” in the classic Hongkonger accented english 4 years in the U.S… how come still so ‘hongkie tonk’ 🙂 I have lots of humor and I slang more Eugene Lang than U!

  10. You grabbed me with the headline and totally disppointed after reading this trash. Joke, tounge in cheek, sly humor, foolish trivia, I don’t care. Waste of time for all of us. I’ll “take my side” of dollars to other worthwhile organizations beyond Brown that support causes that mean something.

  11. To quote Tom Lehrer (Harvard ’46): “When correctly viewed, everything is lewd.” Husted ’13 should have attributed the phrase “But I digress” to Lehrer which if not coined by him was at least made popular with his performance of “In Old Mexico.”

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