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Tobias'12: Better living at Brown

On-campus housing will get a new look by fall 2013 ("Campus housing to be renovated, transformed," Feb. 13). Keeney Quadrangle will be split in three and, along with Pembroke, will become exclusively first-year dorms, while sophomores will be clustered in doubles near the Main Green. Most juniors and seniors will end up living in singles and suites on the periphery of campus. The result is a complete reshaping of on-campus life at Brown.

Some have lambasted the plan as destroying first-year communities such as Perkins Hall, Littlefield Hall and Hope College. In his letter to the editor ("Letter: Housing changes to erode Perkins community"), Ben Friedman '09 called Perkins a "unique first-year experience" and lamented the University's choice to convert it into singles for upperclassmen.

However, the plan is an exciting development that, if implemented fully, could improve the quality of life on campus. A proposal to add weekend dining to the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall and to turn Andrews Dining Hall into a campus center would create a stronger Pembroke community. It would also increase sophomore housing and create more cohesive sophomore communities.

I have much sympathy for critics who have difficulty watching key features of Brown's undergraduate experience transform before their eyes. I lived in Keeney my first year at Brown, and whenever I meet a current first-year who lives in Keeney, I feel a small connection to him. We both have that Keeney sense that allows us to navigate the labyrinth that is Keeney and provides us a keen eye to spot missing exit signs. By changing the dorms at Brown, it feels as if the University is altering a small part of its identity.

However, the University is a constantly changing being, and the nostalgic concerns of upperclassmen and alumni are outweighed by the benefits of the housing plan. When Keeney was constructed in 1957 as part of a major expansion, it was probably criticized as destroying the traditional first-year experience. Now it is a pillar of the first-year experience for 600 students every year.

By consolidating all first-year housing in Keeney and Pembroke, the proposal saves unfortunate upperclassmen from having to live in Keeney again during their sophomore or junior year. While hypothetically it sounds nice to have first-years living alongside upperclassmen to foster inter-class friendships, the reality is that upperclassmen are largely settled and looking to live with their friends rather than among first-years. Yes, there are many first-years with plenty of upperclassmen friends, but most probably met through clubs or classes - not in a Keeney bathroom.

Additionally, the planned changes will dramatically increase the amount of housing available to sophomores, meaning that theoretically there should be enough beds to prevent them from having to go on summer assignment. This is definitely a good thing. And by clustering sophomores on the main campus, the plan allows sophomores to create new communities while still being close to old friends. 

Most students would probably say the creation of more cohesive on-campus communities is a good thing. While Perkins, Littlefield and Hope created strong friendships among some first-year residents, the smallness and exclusivity of these dorms created relative hardships for others. In Keeney, if a student were to get in a falling-out with the people on her floor, she could just go down the stairs and be in a completely new unit. If that same student had been in Perkins, she might have spent a lot of lonely nights in SafeRide vans going back and forth from her newly made friends.

The fact is that not everyone will magically become friends with the people on their hall. By clustering first-years together, the University can increase the likelihood that they will have at least some of their closest friends nearby.

University administrators are tasked with coming up with the best solutions to issues with on-campus housing. If this renovation plan meets its goals, it will mean a load of good things and plenty of clean, fixed-up rooms. There will be many fewer students forced into triples and stronger first-year and sophomore residential communities. Rising sophomores will have less stress approaching a housing lottery that promises to give them a relatively good room close to campus. This plan is a bold one that, if implemented properly, will change part of the undergraduate experience for the better. And to all the naysayers, keep in mind that after four years, no one at Brown will be able to remember the undergraduate experience any other way.



Ethan Tobias '12 wonders how close friends can be if they cannot withstand living across campus from each other. He can be reached at



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