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Mayo '13: Desegregating Brown


For a school that prides itself on maintaining rich diversity among its student body and places at the core of its educational philosophy a belief that exposure to such diversity enriches the student experience, Brown continues to fall far short of its stated ideals in practice. To be clear, this is not a failure of the Admission Office. Brown's student body each year continues to reflect the administration's concerted effort to construct a fair representation of the global community. But once at Brown, the student body seems to diminish the value in their composition and forfeit one of the chief benefits of our community by coalescing into groups based on the very categories that Brown's philosophy seeks to deconstruct. 

This phenomenon will be more readily accepted by upperclassmen who have likely experienced this in their own interactions or who have had the time to notice its numerous manifestations on campus. As a senior on the varsity baseball team, I recognize it most prevalently in the divide between the athlete population and the rest of the student body. But for first-years, an explanation might be in order. When each class arrives at Brown, it arrives as one collective: a group united in its common fear and excitement for the impending college experience. 

Yet, as we begin to select our friendships and join sports teams, sing in the chorus or involve ourselves in other extracurricular activities, the scope of our social interactions begins to narrow. Suddenly, our social groups within the Brown community begin to resemble those we grew up in, and we surround ourselves with those with whom we feel most comfortable. Athletes roll with athletes, the "theater kids" stick with their crowd and so on down the line until the Brown community that was once vibrantly diverse and intertwined is broken down into a clumpy mass of smaller, more homogeneous circles that are content in their comfortable state of detachment. This detachment limits our exposure to people whose backgrounds and interests are different from our own, thereby diminishing the number of perspectives that we confront and consider during our time at Brown.  

But is this something that we can consciously correct? Or is it simply an inevitable result of the proximity of crowds with like interests? I believe that we ought to confront this segregationist tendency on campus and make conscious individual efforts to reach out into new social circles and interest groups that are beyond our comfort zones. This advice is probably easiest to heed for first-years. If you have just arrived on campus and are contemplating which groups to join, try not to flock with your established social group into similar activities. Branch out. Find something that you are interested in, but maybe never had the chance to do at your high school. Don't make the mistake of limiting yourself to debate or orchestra just because you were a state champion or first chair back home. If you are an athlete, try to take classes or find another group on campus that will expand your social circle and experiences beyond the field with your teammates. Stake out in a new direction and interact with people who harbor different passions. This is a foundational concept of the Brown experience, but must be met with effort and willingness from each of us if it is to be realized. 

Another problem that seems to arise is the grouping of those with similar beliefs or political persuasions into certain concentrations or courses that limit the amount of discussion between those at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. This clumping directly threatens the quality of academic life at Brown. For example, if our ECON 1720: "Corporate Finance" course is full of only aspiring Wall Street bankers or the ENVS 0510: "International Environmental Law and Policy" class is simply a group of students who spent their summer interning at the Environmental Protection Agency or Greenpeace, our academic discourse is less likely to question assumptions or challenge widely held narratives. By isolating ourselves from ideologies that challenge our own, we essentially admit the weakness of our own views while simultaneously forfeiting an opportunity to strengthen them. My suggestion: Actively seek out those who disagree with you, enroll in courses whose titles seem to challenge your view of the world and then give the other side a chance to make its case. 

The diverse Brown community is only an asset if we each make the conscious choice to engage it on both a social and academic level. While my words might not be enough to convince you to take the leap, I'll leave you with the following from the Ducasse Report of 1945 delivered by a committee charged with assessing the purpose of a Brown education: "The freedom (perspective) brings is freedom of choice and judgment, which consists in having a choice - in being aware of alternatives. The man who knows but one course, or sees but one aspect of things, or the compass of whose appreciation embraces but a limited range of values, has no choice or little choice as to the direction he takes. Unaware of his own blind spots and prejudices, he is held by them in an invisible jail." 



Heath Mayo '13 can be reached at 



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