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Chizen '14: RIPTA's educational value

For the overwhelming majority of Brown students who are not from Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is most likely a foreign concept. While the College Hill campus fosters education through intellectually stimulating classes, it fails to expose students to a working society and engage students with a genuine community outside of the University bubble. Riding a RIPTA bus, however, has the ability to provide necessary experiential learning to complement students' education on the Hill.

Considering the buses' only route near Brown runs through an underground tunnel that travels beneath the historic College Hill, how can we blame students for being sheltered from the rest of Providence? For most students, the bus stop near campus, at the top of the bus tunnel, is merely a detour that interrupts the walk from their dorms to the Main Green. Ever since the bus tunnel was constructed in 1914, Brown and College Hill residents have implicitly accepted residing in a sheltered bubble away from a larger, unprotected society. It is time for the University to burst the bubble and become a member of the greater public sphere, and for students, riding the bus is the perfect solution. Intellectually curious students crave to understand the society around them, and embedding oneself into bus culture is an easy and accessible way to become exposed to Providence's downtrodden reality.

Riding the bus gives Brown students a unique cross-section of Providence's myriad problems. Students will witness a plethora of people who are never seen on College Hill: a Vietnam war veteran who's missing his legs, a toothless mentally-disabled woman who sings loudly the entire ride and a young adult begging for money as he takes a swig from his flask. It demonstrates an urban setting of poverty, homelessness, alcoholism and poor health care. There are also hints of the positive side of Providence's urban community. For example, a mutually respected rule exists that the first few seats are reserved for the elderly. A kind woman swipes for another woman who is short of the fare, while a man asks his neighbor how his day is going. It's a culture, a working community with all types welcomed.

The Brown ID is a free ticket to become one of the 18 million riders of RIPTA per year. It's a pass to join another community in Rhode Island where not every member excelled in high school, nearly aced their SATs and participated in all sorts of extracurricular activities. Arguments can be made that Brown is a university full of diversity, and there are indeed students of different ethnicities from all over the world. At times, however, it feels like Brown lacks different levels of success and socioeconomic differences. More importantly, everyone at Brown is here for a shared purpose: academia. The Brown community is focused on education, making it quite different from an urban community centered on working to have enough money to eat and live each day. 

For Brown to engage and possibly assist Providence, students first must leave College Hill to understand what's beyond the bubble. Riding the bus is the first step in this process. It strips students of both their expected conveniences — the bus is always late — and their security. Each stop through the city presents its unique additions to the community, featuring new problems, situations and people. I urge you to ride the bus. I know it's inaccessible and probably won't really get you to where you need to go, but that's the exact experience essential to embark on learning about diversity, and more importantly, about reality. One conversation on the bus can be a more intellectually stimulating experience than a whole semester of reading and attending lectures in ECON 0110: "Principles of Economics." College Hill has its beauty, with extraordinary people who make up the greater Brown community. I admit, there are times I appreciate an offer to ride in a friend's car to avoid dealing with the difficulties of the bus, sympathizing with others from my luxurious car window. Riding the bus, talking to Providence locals and exploring the issues exposed throughout the RIPTA process, is one of the best ways to develop empathy. Experience Providence. It's our home, and it extends beyond College Hill. This type of experiential learning is at our fingertips, or rather just a seven-minute walk down to Kennedy Plaza where your journey into the reality of Providence begins.

 

 

Steven Chizen '14 blames RIPTA for being unable to turn in his history paper. He can be reached at  steven_chizen@brown.edu. 

The ride was still worth it.


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