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Sarah Yu '11: For the right reasons

I had the fortunate experience last Friday to sit in the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center, manning a lonely stall for the A Day on College Hill Activities Fair with nothing to occupy me but a can of diet soda and a pending sense of doom for an upcoming thesis proposal deadline. Many pre-frosh, too shy to stop and chat and not curious enough to inquire about the foreign flag hanging above my head, avoided making eye contact with me and continued on their way toward the performances in the middle of the space.

Seeing hundreds of pre-frosh on Brown's campus for the Third World Welcome and ADOCH last week has inevitably made me think about my own pre-frosh days. In under two weeks, commitment cards with final college decisions are due for high school seniors, and a lot is at stake for them to make the right decision. For me, having applied to Brown by early decision from overseas without ever attending ADOCH, I did not spend the month of April scrambling to weigh options in order to pave out my future — instead, I went through a few months' worth of pulse-racing anxiety, hoping never to find any new information that could make me regret my binding decision.

I have recently been contacted by a colleague of my mother's whose son has been accepted to several top-tier colleges in the United States, including Stanford, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. After offering her a genuine congratulations on her son's success, I proceeded to answer her questions regarding what I thought would be the best college for her son to attend.

I outlined a few areas to look into for each of the colleges that I felt should factor into one's college decision. Availability of advising, geographical location of the college and research opportunities for undergraduate students are areas to consider that are easily overlooked by parents and students applying from overseas. I wanted to make sure that this pre-frosh was making the right college decision because of the right reasons, and not just because of the persuasiveness of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.

What would be good reasons to choose Brown? There's the open curriculum, our reputation for being the college with the happiest students and, important for me, a liberal and diverse student body. These reasons sound like good starting points for a strong argument for Brown — however, we also have to contend with some other perceptions of our school that might not be so positive. A recent Herald article ("Is Brown's popularity a passing trend or here to stay?" April 19) names some popular perceptions and stereotypes about Brown perpetuated by the media — the most common, that of Brunonians being affluent, liberal hippies.

I can see, fairly easily, how some of our good reasons for coming to Brown can be transformed into bad reasons for coming to Brown — for example, students may, thanks to the New Curriculum, face the danger of lacking academic focus and ambition, or, at the other extreme, never be challenged to step outside their comfort zones. The New Curriculum may call into question Brown's actual academic rigor. The happy majority of students might just be overshadowing a less content, conservative minority. Some classmates from my high school chose not to apply to Brown simply for its reputation as "too liberal." These concerns, among others, can be the decisive factor between a high school senior deciding between Brown and colleges higher up on the U.S. News and World Report list.

Although I often become indignant when others attempt to dismiss Brown as a quality institution due to popular negative stereotypes, I realize that there are some areas that we can improve on, institutionally and as students, to ensure that such concerns do not affect our overall image. Some academic programs can certainly work on improving their curricula to be more comprehensive and increasing advising opportunities for students. The vast differences in courseload and requirements from concentration to concentration can also be more standardized, to dispel any notions of the rigor and legitimacy of a degree from Brown.

As for the negative implications of Brown's being "too liberal," students can perhaps be more aware of the hegemony of the liberal end of a political spectrum. If, like the media portrays, students are indeed deterred from applying to Brown because of a discrepancy in political attitude, I would suggest that we turn away from any obsession for each member of the community to be "progressive" and instead work more on being "accepting." We may consider turning away from the reputation as a "hippie" school, which, in addition to having negative connotations, is oversimplifying our demographic.

I would like to tell those interested in applying to Brown an even better truth about our college than what we have right now. I would like to tell them, "I chose Brown for the right reasons, and you should, too."

Sarah Yu '11 can assure you that she does not regret accepting Brown's binding decision. She can be reached at xia_yu at brown.edu.
 




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