Donate

Columns, Opinions

Walsh ’23: Dear donors: I don’t want a state-of-the-art building. I want functional facilities.

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, April 9, 2020

Every Brown student has had first-hand experience with the abysmal quality of some of the facilities on campus. While most of us have returned home for the rest of the semester and no longer have to deal with these facilities for the time being, now it is still worthwhile to reflect on them as a community. Brown should use the time when campus is largely vacated to consider ways of improving campus life in preparation for our return in the fall — and it can begin by improving laundry facilities and making these free of charge to students. One important step to make these improvements happen is to encourage donations specifically to improve facilities.

Let me illustrate the frustration felt by many students with an anecdote. 

Back when I was on campus, I was running low on key articles of clothing, needed to wash both sets of my sheets and had no clean towels. I wasn’t able to make it back to my dorm until 10:30 p.m., but against my better judgement, I assumed I would be able to launder and dry my clothes in enough time to get to bed at a reasonable hour before a 9 a.m. class. By the time the dryer had completed its cycle, it was 12:30 a.m. and my clothes were anything but dry. Vexed, I decided to go to bed, set an alarm for 2 a.m. and pay $1.50 for another round in a different dryer. (I desperately needed to take a shower, but I had to abandon that plan given that both of my towels were still wet. I also had to scramble to create makeshift bedding, as both sets of my sheets were in the dryer.) But when I retrieved my clothes at 2 a.m., they were still wet, so I paid another $1.50 and set an alarm for another ungodly hour. After round three, my clothes were finally dry, but I woke up the next morning bleary-eyed and more than a bit annoyed. 

I emailed the Bursar’s Office to ask about the protocol for a refund. They forwarded my email to the Office of Residential Life, where, after more than a month, it has yet to be answered. While annoying laundry experiences may be a rite of passage in communal living, no student should have to throw away their time and resources to be able to meet their basic needs. 

Not only should laundry facilities be of a higher quality, they should be offered free of charge to students, as a necessary resource. Although the Undergraduate Council of Students has called for free laundry, Brown still charges $1.50 per cycle of laundry because it helps offset the cost of the machines and their upkeep. But speaking to friends at other schools that offer free laundry despite their lower endowments infuriated me. Brown must have the money to offer both free and higher-quality laundry, yet it chooses not to do so. Thus, donors — who are usually alums and can empathize with students’ frustration — should give to the Annual Fund with the intent of improving daily life on campus.

But donors tend to prioritize other areas. Brown’s Advancement Office has a myriad of noble initiatives, ranging from the Brown Promise, which eliminates student loans from undergraduate financial aid packages, to endowed professorships, which elevate the level of pedagogy on campus. These campaigns can improve both the quality of a Brown education and the standing of the University compared to its peer institutions, so it makes sense that the Advancement Office encourages donors to give to these initiatives. Moreover, donors want to be able to say — or at least to believe — that their money contributed to something substantial, like a new performing arts center or a state-of-the-art athletic facility. 

“Facilities” is a category for donating to the Brown Annual Fund online. But when I emailed the Advancement Office with questions about the Annual Fund, a giving officer told me that earmarked gifts most often go to teams, professional schools, or impact funds—which include internships, sustainability, and Diversity & Inclusion. She also wrote that donors can contribute to “The Brown Fund,” which is more flexible and is spent on whatever the University needs most. Thus, from time to time, Brown Fund money may find its way to repairing broken windows or dysfunctional bathrooms. And according to a 2012 study by the Delta Cost Project, tuition money also pays for basic facilities. Regardless, given the poor quality of basic amenities such as laundry, it is clear that Brown does not dedicate enough resources to facilities. 

Donors, I understand the temptation to earmark your contributions toward the most noteworthy and large-scale projects. Admittedly, as a member of Brown’s Wind Symphony, I am excited to experience the new Performing Arts Center. And I imagine that athletes will appreciate the renovation of the boathouse and the state-of-the-art lacrosse and soccer complex. But being able to clean one’s clothes is a basic necessity of every student on this campus and should supersede big-money projects that impact only a minority of students. 

Of course, laundry is trivial compared to certain big-money initiatives. Improving undergraduate financial aid — including instituting need-blind admissions for international students — and bolstering diversity and inclusion efforts are paramount. But before Brown spends money on buildings and programs that most students will never use, it should quit price-gouging its students on laundry.

Given the abysmal quality of basic facilities like laundry, it seems that Brown has made a conscious choice to neglect them. But making Annual Fund contributions earmarked toward facilities could send a message. Thus, current and future donors, I implore you: When you give to the Annual Fund online, check the box that says “facilities” — or better yet, check the box that says “other” and type “free laundry.” 

Matt Walsh ’23 can be reached at matthew_walsh@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

3 Comments

  1. BrownAlum73 says:

    Totally agree . . . add laundry fees to the ever-expanding list of things in life that should be free. A very sensible and practical solution to the inconvenient virtue of personal responsibility.

  2. Class of '76 malcontent says:

    Why don’t you set up a laundry service for students and co tract with a insignificance laundry to do the work? He an entrpreneur, make some money and make the university monopoly improve it service?

  3. An entrepreneur should start a laundry service and a dorm cleaning service. Unfortunately, nothing in this world is free. The schools with “free laundry” just generally raise the dorm fee a few hundred bucks a year. That is how it works.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*