"Think like a parent. Consider the students."
If you've walked in the vicinity of Pembroke Quad recently, you've likely seen these signs addressing the construction workers on site posted around the areas under renovation. They continue: "Please display the highest levels of respect for the Brown University students and their campus at all times. No swearing. No inappropriate comments. No smoking. Zero (!) tolerance for drugs and/or alcohol. Keep noise levels to a minimum. The success of this project is in your hands."
I'm a bit conflicted about these signs. On the one hand, I find it somewhat amusing that all of a sudden the University administration seems to think we're all delicate little snowflakes who can't be exposed to the rough, adult world of cursing - "No swearing"? Really? And tobacco usage - it's pretty remarkable that not a single Brown student smokes cigarettes, huh? My view is that you can either sponsor events like SexPowerGod for your student body or try to shelter it from anything deemed "inappropriate" - but you can't have it both ways.
Then again, I'm offended by these signs for a different reason. The problem with posting signs telling construction workers to behave themselves seems to imply that they don't have that instinct on their own. Yes, we're all familiar with the trope of construction workers cat-calling women walking by on the street and drinking on the job. When this happens it's absolutely unacceptable, but wouldn't crew foremen and construction company owners be as aware of that as someone working in University Hall? Moreover, it's not as if the average construction worker is completely unaware of the norms of acceptable behavior - presumably they are, after all, functional adults.
To be fair, I can understand what the University was trying to do in putting up these signs. Construction crews work in all sorts of environments, and one could argue they may be more used to acting in ways that are inappropriate in a place with prospective students strolling through. You can imagine what administrators were picturing - as a tour guide is telling her group how Smith-Buonnano used to be a women's gymnasium, her spiel is cut short by the sounds of two ruffians hurling expletive-filled insults at each other. It's a situation you'd want to avoid, at the very least.
So, fair enough. My issue, then, is less with the spirit of these signs than with their content. The initial "Think like a parent, consider the students" should be enough of a reminder to workers to check their behavior, assuming it even needs checking in the first place. Again, these aren't little kids we're talking about - they're adults, many of whom probably have actual kids of their own to worry about. They know what thinking like a parent means - they don't need to be specifically told not to cat-call and use curse words. If anything, a sign that condescending would just make me want to be as much of an obnoxious lout as possible just to see what they were going to do about it.
Like it or not, we face some negative stereotypes. "Ivy League" and "Harvard-educated" have become sneering insults for many people, with connotations of elitism, snobbery and an overall know-it-all attitude. At a Jets game last year, a fan a few rows in front of me referred to Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as a "Harvard f**k." As much as we love to hate on Harvard here on College Hill and think of ourselves as the "chill Ivy," people are talking just as much about us when they use language like that. For having the privilege of going to a school this fantastic, it's a small price to pay, but it's true nonetheless.
It's fair to ask why we need to care what construction workers think of us. Furthermore, it's worth asking if we should care what the public at large thinks of Brown. If they're not attending or donating to the school, why do we need to take their feelings into consideration? Strictly speaking, we don't. But if there's one thing the recent rise in crime around campus has shown us, it's that Brown does not exist in a bubble. We're part of a larger Providence ecosystem, and we'll reap what we sow. If we sow resentment, we'll reap an increasingly unfriendly local public that sees Brown less as a center of jobs and education and more as a breeding ground for elitism and condescension.
Behaviors like putting up these signs - implying that we educated few need to inform the unwashed masses on acceptable behavior - just serves to reinforce the negative stereotypes that already exist about private universities and the people associated with them. It's simple stuff: If we want to stop being seen as elitist snobs, we have to stop acting like elitist snobs.
Adam Asher '15 can be reached at email@example.com, followed on Twitter (@asheradams), and hails from Westchester, the elitism capital of the Western Hemisphere.