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Bouche '14: The trouble with troubleshooting

 

At Brown, our environment is in constant flux. Just as each student we meet stimulates a shift in - or a shattering of - our personal perspectives, the projects undertaken by our deep-pocketed University continually reshape the world in which we interact. As with our own changes, some roll by relatively undetected, while others are impossible to ignore. A new electric sign does not elicit a glance, but it is hard to miss fences blocking what I thought was the sidewalk. Whatever the reasoning behind the roadblocks, we often assume that it is justified. Why would the leaders of the University place Brown's fate in irresponsible hands? We rest assured that the sidewalk will soon be replaced by something better, something even more useful - as crazy as that sounds.

But sometimes, the additions that pop up defy all logic. It seems that improvements are often concentrated in areas where no problems have been previously perceived. A few weeks ago, I stood gawking at the new upholstery and furniture in one of the Sharpe Refectory caves. I could not believe that this was how the University chose to spend its money given that our dining situation has bigger issues. Why not boost already-admirable attempts at sustainability or improve the taste of food? Though the renovation may have been undertaken with our happiness in mind, I believe that a popular vote on how to use that money would have led us down a different path.

And to those who dig the Ratty's new flair, think about the Blue Room. I love the food, but this otherwise beautiful establishment simply does not work. When it's busy, lines criss-cross and burst out the door, and the chaos is so profound that any hope of thwarting thievery is quickly quashed. Navigating efficiently is a nightmare for both staff and students - a fact that visitors miss as they marvel at vibrant colors and the sleek modern style flowing through the interior. Is it any coincidence tours start here?

But to me, the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts typifies the conflict of interest between builders and every-day users. At first, I was ecstatic to hear that a new creative arts center was in the works. My biggest complaint about Brown was the lack of resources available to non-VISA-concentrating student artists. Nearly every college I visited had a craft room or some other edifice in which any student could use arts equipment and materials for a nominal fee.

However, explorations at Brown indicated that unless one wanted to steal and pick locks, little was offered for creative amateurs. Single-section, low-enrollment, concentrator-restricted art classes almost make sure of it. When I finally saw one of our workshops, unoccupied space confirmed the senselessness of it all. Then Granoff opened, and classrooms were to be utilized for cutting-edge, interdisciplinary work in arts and multimedia. Remaining spaces turned into galleries, and rooms remain bare. When several classrooms per building are unoccupied at any given time, how useful is the addition of more empty space? After donor earmarks were accounted for, nothing was added to benefit Brown's average student. It is questionable whether this building does anything for the majority of students that will never have class inside of it.

Overall, when campus progress does not address long-standing student complaints, we can feel as though we have been overlooked in an attempt to make Brown more appealing to the public, parents and prospective students.

Yet in reality, our dissatisfaction results from nothing more than a conflict of interests. The Corporation's job is to impress donors and applicants, a necessity if we are to maintain a healthy endowment and a competitive student body. It does not monitor student concerns, so in the process, our interests and ideas can be inadvertently overlooked.

This divide between the University and the student body can only be bridged by effort on both sides. The University and its constituent departments must attempt to distribute campus-wide surveys and consider more than the "official opinion" of the Undergraduate Council of Students when making decisions. Just as in Congress, the views of our "representatives" often do not reflect the opinions of the student body as a whole. Furthermore, students must participate when administration asks for our advice. Attend UCS meetings if you can. Spread awareness when you stumble upon the inefficient or unjust. Fill out surveys. We must have both sides of the story in order to know what works and what doesn't.

For example, I have a hard time believing that the person who cuts Keeney Quadrangle into three will be remembered fondly by current students, especially when its current layout already does much to foster community and inspire interaction. However, if someone put up some thin exit signs that lay flat against the wall, that man or woman just might be hailed as a genius.

 

Adam Bouche '14 is not afraid to tell you what he thinks. He can be reached at adam_bouche@brown.edu.


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