Hillestad ’15: 257 Thayer — elitist enclave

Opinions Columnist

257 Thayer: sophisticated and sustainable college living. No doubt, that’s a catchy slogan. I understand why that’s appealing to a lot of Brown students. After all, I like to consider myself sophisticated and environmentally conscious. And I wouldn’t want to feel guilty about my fancy new digs, so at least the building uses clean energy, right? It seems like a great motto on all accounts.

But I have a few other ideas that are more representative of the culture 257 Thayer will cultivate. 257 Thayer: privileged and pretentious. 257 Thayer: the ivory tower on College Hill. 257 Thayer: where ultra-rich students can network with other ultra-rich students. 257 Thayer: elitist enclave.

There are no apartments at 257 Thayer that cost under $1,000 a month. And the most expensive apartments cost a small fortune at $1,350 a month. That’s more than double what an upscale off-campus house typically costs here.

There are only a select few Brown students — or should I say parents of Brown students — who can afford that rent on top of a $46,408 tuition fee. These are the upper-class members of Brown society, which is already an elitist and privileged community. But just being a part of an Ivy League institution is not enough for them. They want to be the patricians of Brown, and like all patricians, they seek to separate themselves from the plebeians.

The 257 Thayer complex is the physical embodiment of that class division. It will stand as stark reminder of the inherent inequality that plagues Brown’s campus.

More than half of the class of 2018 — 56 percent, to be exact — receives no financial aid. They don’t need it. The $62,694 price tag of a Brown education is easily payable. It’s just another investment for them.

And for the ones who really want to flaunt their wealth, 257 Thayer is the perfect symbol of their privilege. It’s a quick and easy indicator that they come from deep pockets. Brown socialites thrive on status symbols like that. It lets them recognize one another and glom together into exclusive cliques.

The rest of us don’t want the kind of decadence that 257 Thayer offers. We don’t need it like they do. We’re content with just being Ivy League students — a status most Americans only dream of. We don’t need an HBO subscription. We can find a “Game of Thrones” stream online. We don’t need free laundry. We can find a way to jimmy the machines. We don’t need a heated garage. We don’t even have cars. Bikes will do for us.

Defenders of 257 Thayer will be quick to point out that the building is LEED certified, meaning that it is energy-efficient. While this rating is commendable, I get the feeling that LEED certification was tacked on to make the building seem more progressive. With the certification, the owners got more leases signed and jacked up the rent a few ticks. They don’t care about the environment. They care about your money.

And issues of class and inequality aside, the construction of 257 Thayer has been a nightmare. Construction workers start their jackhammers and steamrollers at unreasonably early hours with complete disregard for nearby residents, who have frequently cited the construction as a public nuisance. And Thayer Street pedestrians are inconvenienced daily, unable to walk down the street or hold a conversation in peace. The construction isn’t slated to end until January at the earliest. We have months and months of more raucous construction to endure, and all for the indulgence of the rich kids.

The sound aside, all this construction has turned Thayer Street into an eyesore. The building’s chain link fences, muddy surroundings and unfinished facade have ruined Thayer Street for me. And if renderings of the building are accurate, it won’t get much better. The stale, cookie-cutter exterior of 257 Thayer looks like it could be plopped down on any street of any college campus. But this is Thayer Street and Brown that we’re talking about. Especially for such a bloated price, I expected better.

More than anything else, I resent that the building will be at such a central location — right at the heart of the famous Thayer Street. I can only hope visitors will recognize that the people who live there are not indicative of the typical Brown student. Most Brown students are down-to-earth. Most Brown students seek to bridge the class divide, not further widen it. 257 Thayer will perpetuate the myth that Brown is just another Ivy: a bastion for inequality and privilege.

My only solace is that I’ll be long gone by the time people start to live in 257 Thayer. I’m forever grateful that I’m a member of the last class who can remember both the real Keeney Quadrangle and the real Thayer Street. It’s a shame that future classes won’t question the existence of 257 Thayer. They’ll look up at its high walls and think they’ve always stood there. I only hope they’ll look on with pity in their eyes and not envy.


Sam Hillestad ’15 proudly considers himself a plebeian of Brown. He can be reached at

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  1. because everyone who has money is inherently an unreasonable person

  2. What exactly is 257’s connection to Browh? From the website – it looks like none aside from stealing the font/coloring of 250 at Brown for 257.

    • The number of people that I have spoken to that assume that it’s affiliated, or even an official dorm is surprisingly high. That logo apparently goes a long way.

  3. “More than half of the class of 2018 — 56 percent, to be exact — receives no financial aid. They don’t need it. The $62,694 price tag of a Brown education is easily payable. It’s just another investment for them.”
    I often felt uncomfortable with my economic situation, and this was partially why. The notion that not getting financial aid means you’re ultra wealthy. Just because my family doesn’t qualify doesn’t mean it’s easy to pay for Brown. And I know your response – “poor you! You lived in a town with good high schools and high property taxes!” My point isn’t that you should feel bad for me, it’s that money is taboo and class divisions are real, and the lack of conversation and assumptions both sides make contribute to the problem.

  4. Are those 1k-1350 prices per person or per apartment? If it’s per apartment then they are right in line with providence real estate and not expensive at all.

    • But actually, can someone answer this?

    • Per person. They ARE that expensive.

      • I imagine rates have only gone up since I was there but apartments were routinely in the 500-600 range for 4 BR/2BA far from thayer so 1k for a 3BR/3BA in the heart of thayer/brown is really not unreasonable.

        • No, that’s about what rates are for normal off-campus apartments still. This is easily twice as much as most students pay.

          • Ok. So? They’re furnished with included utilities, they allow split leases, and they are literally right in the heart of campus. Yeah, it’s expensive but it’s not like “OMG WTF” expensive.

  5. You probably should have taken a few math classes at Brown. First, you claim that only a “select few” Brown students can afford 257 Thayer. Then, you mention that 56% of the student body receives no financial aid. That means on top of the $46,000 tuition, these 56% pay about another $14,000 for room and board. Going off meal plan and living at 257 Thayer would easily be cheaper than these extra fees for those students and probably a fair number more who only receive a limited amount of financial aid, especially if one sublets the apartment during summer.

    Also great job generalizing a huge portion of the student body to fit your class warfare world view. Many people who don’t receive financial aid are not “ultra-rich.” In addition, not all rich people want to be separate from everyone else. Some people also simply like having HBO or free laundry, who are you to tell them what to spend their money on? Finally, you really think it’s much more ethical to just steal- pirating TV shows and breaking laundry machines?

    Good riddance

    • “Some people also simply like having HBO or free laundry”? Sure. Some people do.

      But the median family of four in this country lives on less than $60,000 a year, which is less than the annual cost of Brown, which is to say the mathematical majority of people in the United States are materially unlike the majority of students at Brown. As a longtime teacher, researcher, and community member here, I do think it’s unfair to generalize about *all* Brown students. But it is fair to say that pockets of wealth like that represented by the majority of the Brown student body are extreme outliers on the national stage, and ultra-extreme outliers on the world stage.

      I’ll add the obvious, which is that some people also *like* having warm, clean clothes, gas in the cars, nutritious food on the table, and can’t afford it, which is the point. I’d ask you not to get defensive on account of some morally irrelevant category–the amount of money the family you were raised in has–but rather to show solidarity with those less fortunate. That is, don’t justify critiques of the wealthy with smug disdain for the problems raised above–but nullify them with empathy and action.

      • What is your point though? Sure, the students living in 257 Thayer will be from families of above average wealth. Obviously. But you can’t assume that that means they aren’t empathetic and aren’t involved in actions to help people less fortunate than they are. People aren’t taking issue with this article because it “accuses” the students who will live there of having more money. The issue is that the author makes this absurd leap to accusing all of them of being extravagant attention-seeking “patricians” who want everyone to know how wealthy they are and can’t stand the thought of living near poor people – an obviously ridiculous and insulting assumption.

    • ‘Class warfare world view.’
      So he shouldn’t have a perspective based on reality?

  6. Man those elitists, so rich they are willing to pay for their laundry instead of stealing it.

  7. 257 Thayer isn’t the problem — it’s a symptom of weak financial aid and an admissions office that admits every ultrawealthy international student, hedge fund baby, and celebrity who applies.

    • Let's be realistic here says:

      I think people are overestimating how expensive 257 Thayer is. For a three person apartment it’s around $1000 per month including utilities, furnishings, and everything else. More expensive than the average off campus house, but not by an insane amount. This image of it being solely inhabited by the children of millionaires is just not accurate.

      • You’re out of touch if you think the extra $300-600 a month for 257 is affordable when the typical American family makes $46k.

        • Even at 600/month, you’re talking about 7200 in after tax income or requiring that a family makes what, an extra 15 grand a year? The point you’re responding to isn’t that the place is cheap but that the place doesn’t require being ultra wealthy, a hedge fund baby or a celebrity child.

          Regardless, this isn’t a brown owned building. This article and it’s complaints are akin to whining about providence place mall selling designer clothes.

  8. Bill Brasky says:

    “It’s a shame that future classes won’t question the existence of 257 Thayer. They’ll look up at its high walls and think they’ve always stood there.”

    I’m assuming you don’t envision these future classes having any students with engineering aspirations.

    1. no one is forced only listen music at concert hall
    2. no one is forced to $$$ for free pass to free public library.
    3. US has minimum at $7.25
    4. US has has 5 % of world population but 25% of prison.
    the idea that one has to pay $60,000 per year for a piece of paper that buys nothing nothing nothing is obsolete.
    Harvard university is doing the right thing by giving away courses for free free free.
    professors cannot take knowledge/information /books to the cemetery.
    give it all away. no one can take books /knowledge to the cemetery. give it all away for free free free.

  10. It would have been nice to see the U buy the land and make a park:
    1) better incorporate the campus into the community
    2) connect the athletic facilities to main campus / pembroke
    3) preserve the history of Thayer Street & add to it

    • reality check says:

      Buy the land? There was no land. There were a half-dozen houses prior to the construction.

      Yeah, that would have made a great headline. “Brown buys, destroys tax-paying properties to build a tax-exempt park.”

      • Although I agree with your conclusion @ such a headline, real estate IS LAND. Houses and/or lots are acquired by purchasing the LAND. The value of the property is the market value of the land + buildings & other site specific economic factors.

  11. 257 offers fully-furnished rooms for comparable prices to Brown’s dorms ($1k / month), providing internet, security, and the manager’s strong reputation having successfully built and managed student housing for college students across the country.

    Do you have any idea what the average rent is for Brown students off campus? How about after electricity/heat, internet, and furniture bills? The alternative of 257 is dealing with landlords who have questionable reputations and brokers to find off-campus living. The process of finding a place, furnishing the place, getting the internet set up, making sure it’s well kept, etc. is a complete headache and distracting from school. 257 is simplifying all of this.

    Your article lacks substance and only seeks to polarize Brown students, with snide comments like “They want to be the patricians of Brown, and like all patricians, they seek to separate themselves from the plebeians.” Cut it out. Who are you to say what the typical Brown student is?

    You write that “Most Brown students are down-to-earth. Most Brown students seek to bridge the class divide, not further widen it.” By your definition of a Brown student you are not one.

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