Last November, Christopher Unseth '11.5 made a decision that many Brown students reach at some point — he decided to go off meal plan. Unlike most of his Ratty-weary peers, Unseth decided to document his food forays beyond meal plan. He said his blog was partially inspired by "Ratty Gourmet," a blog begun last semester by twins Annie Wu '13 and Connie Wu '13.
Unseth's blog, "Off Meal Plan," reflects a growing trend among Brown students who have turned to blogging as an outlet for their interests — including topics like fashion and medical information. Whether informative, funny or personal, these Web sites have given Brown students a voice in the blogosphere.
Dorm sweet dorm
Kim Arredondo '11 began "Dorm Dwellings" as a final project idea for her studio art class last December.
"My friend Christian Martell ('10) was also interested in interior design," Arredondo said. "We started the blog to provide reasonably inexpensive solutions to making dorm life more like home life."
Posts on Arredondo's blog contain interior design ideas as well as virtual dorm tours in the style of a popular blog, "Apartment Therapy," she said.
Arredondo said that these dorm tours — which often feature the rooms of her friends — have been very popular with the blog's visitors.
"My freshman roommate, Betty Wu ('11), posted pictures of our room from our freshman year, and people like them quite a lot," Arredondo said. When entering their room freshman year, many of Arredondo's friends compared it to "going to Pier 1," she said.
Arredondo said she promoted the blog through Facebook and was inspired to include rooms at other universities after attending a conference at Harvard and viewing some of the creative dorm designs of its students.
A bigger, better blog
David Gurevich '11 also knows a thing or two about making a blog big — his "Health and Life" blog has had over 100,000 visitors since he started it during spring of 2009.
"I was in a fairly advanced biomaterials class," Gurevich said, and the professor "recommended that students start blogs as a study technique." Gurevich then did an independent study with Professor Emeritus of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine in fall 2009 and was able to make the blog more professional and increase its traffic.
Realizing the inaccessibility of many medical information Web sites, Gurevich decided to use his blog to present health-related topics in an understandable way. Gurevich, who updates the blog two or three times a week, said he reads a great deal of information about a particular health care issue before posting.
The blog's traffic soon exploded, and the reception since has been overwhelmingly positive, Gurevich said. The blog gets about one comment per day — usually very appreciative of the information Gurevich provides.
"It's really a wonderful feeling," he said.
Gurevich is very stringent about what he posts on the blog.
"How can I publish something saying one thing while there may be contrary opinions, especially with new medicines?" Gurevich said. To emphasize this, Gurevich added a policy to his Web site offering several dollars to a visitor if they find something factually incorrect.
With the phenomenal success of "Health and Life," Gurevich said he has been taking in a steady income from advertising revenue and plans to hire other Brown students and an intern to help update the blog.
Gurevich said the blog has added a lot of meaning to his everyday interactions.
"I'll be at the dentist, and I'll be able to know what's going on with a drug like Fosamax," he said.
Chasing a future in fashion
Like Gurevich, Kibwe Chase-Marshall '11 has found his blog to be an intersection of personal and professional interests.
Prior to attending Brown, Chase-Marshall spent 10 years working in New York City designing apparel and accessories and plans on pursuing a career in the Parisian fashion industry.
With his blog "Thrills of the Chase," Chase-Marshall wanted to catalogue his own style interests while working toward his professional goals.
"It bridges the gap between my friends here at school and my friends from the professional environment," he said.
Chase-Marshall said there is no "typical" post on his blog — a post may offer style insight to friends, feature pictures of new ways Chase-Marshall is wearing his clothing, link to mass-market products or show music videos that he finds stylistically dynamic.
In addition, Chase-Marshall reviews designer-level fashion collections, though he said he chooses not to be negative in his critiques.
Chase-Marshall's blog serves as a reflection of himself. "I've found a new medium in which to be expressive," he said.
Food for thought
Though Unseth began "Off Meal Plan" as a way to calm Brown students' fears of going off meal plan, the direction of the blog soon changed. As he began reading more well-known food blogs, Unseth noticed that they were a taste of the bloggers' personalities in addition to their food.
"You start to see how they weren't just putting recipes online. They were connecting them to their lives," Unseth said.
A religious studies concentrator, Unseth decided to make his blog a reflection of his own spiritual journey. Unseth said he usually updates the blog about every week and a half with either recipes or personal spiritual reflections.
Many of the recipes that Unseth uploads are his own or picked up from family members, though he also finds and modifies new recipes from other sources. "I was cooking stuff I've never cooked before in my life," Unseth said, noting that his French silk pie recipe was particularly good.
For Unseth, "Off Meal Plan" is more than just a blog — it is a way to chronicle his relationship with God.
"Our physical hunger is a metaphor for spiritual hunger."